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Tribeca: Talking ‘The Ticket’ With Star Dan Stevens, In the Oddest of All Interview Spaces

Tribeca: Talking 'The Ticket' With Star Dan Stevens, In the Oddest of All Interview Spaces

“I’m going to sit on the john…Or would you like to sit on the toilet and I’ll sit on the floor?
That’s more gentlemanly.” Dan Stevens, English thespian/New York
transplant is a gentleman in all things, even when those things include the
unusual etiquette of an interview in a hotel bathroom. Moments before, he’d
gallantly surrendered the main room to his “The Ticket” co-star,
Malin Akerman. So as I was ushered into their shared press suite, Stevens shook
my hand then led me into its glistening bathroom. He was a proper host,
offering the sink to hold my jacket and purse and asking where I’d prefer to
sit. We settled with him perched Indian style in the snug shower, me just
outside on a folding chair provided by the helpful PR team. 

Film festivals can be an endurance race streaked with strange
turns like this. But dapper Dan was clearly elated by the challenge.
He was double-fisting Starbucks, dressed in a casual cool jacket that looked
like the chic love child of a blazer and a cardigan, and wearing a jaunty
porkpie hat. “Very nice to meet
you,” he said settling in, “I’m basically wearing your top.” The
“Downton Abbey” star pulled up his pant leg to reveal his socks were
the same design as my sweater, purple and orange stripes. Clearly fate had led us to this moment in a frosted glass
shower stall. Fitting really as his Tribeca Film Festival feature,
“The Ticket,” is all about a strange twist of fate.  

Stevens stars as James, a family man and office drone who
lived comfortably and happily despite having gone blind in his youth. Then one
morning he awakes, and miraculously can see. But with this sight awakens a new
drive and dissatisfaction with his wife (Akerman), job, and lifestyle that
could tear his life apart.

READ MORE: The 2016 Indiewire Tribeca Bible

The drama plays like a modern parable, which led Stevens and I down
a discussion of religion, consumerism, and relationships as it relates to
“The Ticket.” He also shared some details on the nearly wrapped
“Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s live-action remake of their iconic
animated fairy tale. But first, we talked about the Tribeca Film Fest and New
York City. 

I feel like no one’s going to believe me when I say, “Yeah, I interviewed Dan Stevens in the shower today.”

It’s always the best kind.
You don’t have to mention anything else.

That’s our headline!

(Laughs) So, day four of
Tribeca. Have you done the full slog?

Yeah. And I’m like you, I live here in New York. So
it’s that thing where you don’t just have the festival. You have like life stuff.

(Briefly affects an American
accent) You have laundry to pick up and Seamless to order.

Exactly. It’s really like we had the same morning,
and it’s freaking me out a little bit.

(Laughs) But it’s fun! It’s
a lovely festival because it’s full of New Yorkers. It’s a very New York thing.
I love New York, so.

Yeah, you’ve lived here how many years now?

Four.

Do you consider yourself a New Yorker?

I mean, when does one become a New Yorker? I don’t know. Some
people say five minutes. There’s that whole thing. Some people told me the fact
that we survived Hurricane Sandy made us New Yorkers. I don’t know if that’s
true.

It’s a whole thing. When I first moved here, I was
told you have to live here ten years to be a New Yorker. But then I was told there
are special circumstances. Like if you’ve lived here through a crisis. Or if
you get mugged or hit by a cab, you’re really
a New Yorker.

If you get hit by a cab? Okay. Then, I’m not really
a New Yorker.

Have you not
yet been hit by a cab?

Not yet! Maybe I don’t want
to be a New Yorker. I’m sorry. I take it all back!
“The Ticket” plays like a modern
parable. Was that part of the draw for you?

That’s interesting. I
suppose it is. It’s something that came up a lot with Ido (Fluk, the
direct/co-writer), this sort of modern fable. Ido and I had both grown up in
fairly religious households and we certainly had been exposed to stories from
the Bible, as a lot of people have been growing up. And we talked about maybe
some people aren’t be exposed to that as much anymore, but I don’t think people
are seeking any less these big
questions of faith and belief and higher powers. That sort of thing is always
current and relevant. I think people are looking for them in different places
now.

Anyway, Ido and I are
fascinated by questions of religion and faith and we both know extremely devout faithful people. We both know people who have
had crises of faith, and we know people who don’t. I know plenty of atheists. I
find them all fascinating. Anyway, I think that goes to say there is a sort of
bedrock of this film that is about that. It’s about prayer. It’s about mantra,
about repetition of words, like the script he has to deliver to his audience
when he’s trying to sell them this scheme.

It feels like a homily.

Right. It sort of begins and
you’re like, “Oh. This is a pretty good oration here. This guy has (snaps
fingers) got it down.” And then
you realize he’s basically saying the same words – exactly the same words in some parts – every time. We only see that
speech three times or something. You see bits of it, and it’s like, “Yeah,
I see where this is going.” It’s kind of not working out. And yet the
prayer that he has to himself, that he repeats, “I’m satisfied with my
life and everything in it.” Whether that’s a prayer or an extract from
“The Secret,” or whatever you want to call it, it’s just words that
he’s saying over and over again.

Now, that can have one of
many effects. And in James’s case, after many many years of this. He suddenly
regains his sight. It’s something his father had prayed for his entire life, is
now dead, never got to see. That has a very profound effect on James, and I
thought it was just a really interesting story. Just that story. You put on top of that the patient/carer relationship
between him and this wonderful, good
woman Sam (Akerman), who he’s been so dependent on all these years. And he
literally wakes up one day and he sees her for the first time. And it’s not
that she’s not beautiful.

She’s Malin Akerman!

Right! It’s that she doesn’t
fit the narrative in some way. He wakes up and he’s like, “Oh! It’s not
you. You feel better than look or you feel different than how you look. Or
you’re not the woman I thought I was
lying next to all these years, or something.”
And that’s painful to watch because you’re like, “But it’s Malin Akerman!
What are you doing?!” You know?
(Chuckles.) It’s just one of those things. We’ve all seen break-ups where somebody
just goes, “Nope.” It’s like a switch that goes off in someone.

Even with the fantastical element of him all of
sudden having sight, it speaks to that moment where someone wakes up and
realizes this isn’t the life that I want.

Exactly. I think that’s a
universal thing. The blind man has been an amazing cultural metaphor for thousands of years right? He’s always
the wise blind man, the man who can see something that we can’t despite having no vision. And so we sort
of want to look at James as we look at Bob (Oliver Platt, playing a more
caustic, complaining blind co-worker), he’s the wise sage. He has a slightly
kind of fool element to him.

Because he’s Oliver Platt!

It’s Oliver Platt! He’s so
lovable and funny and charming.

And that’s also his niche, either playing the wise
man, the fool or a mix of both.

Or both, right! Obviously
there are things he can’t do that everyone else can. But Bob sees straight through James. He sees right
through him, and he can chuckle his way through it ’cause he’s Bob. That’s what
made him such a great buddy. If you were blind, sat at a desk at a job all day,
having Bob sitting next to you is a godsend! But even Bob gets to James.
Something about him, suddenly having to look at him or something, that doesn’t
please him anymore. And he just becomes very dissatisfied. I think that’s what Ido was interested in, just sort
of tipping these stories on their head a bit, shaking up the sandbox, and
looking at things from a different angle really, not necessarily wanting to
lean too heavily in one direction. But take on these big questions, but I like
films that do that.

There’s a certain keep up with the Joneses or
Kardashians or the Crawleys element inherent to modern America. As someone who
has lived in the U.K. and the U.S., how does the culture of status and consumption
compare?

Well I grew up in a Britain
that was very influenced by American
culture. A huge percentage of our cultural digest came from here, from
television, movies, products and even some food stuffs. Not many, but some. So,
it’s funny. I was actually talking with some friends this week about the
election year coverage, and they were like, “Really, you follow the U.S.
election in the U.K.?” And like, yeah
like everybody does everywhere. Yeah. America is so vast and it’s so different. Britain is a tiny little island. It
behaves like it’s not. But it is.
It’s a tiny, very diverse, curious set of islands, really.

There’s big differences. I
think if you’re in a smaller community the pecking order is perhaps more
visible. There’s sort of vast trudges of the American system that we never get
to see, because they own several
thousand acres. They fly in on a helicopter and out again. We’ll never see
those people. But you know, they exist in this country because there’s space
for them. There’s the breadth of ambition and the room to roam, and all of that kind of thing. So there’s things on a
different scale here.

READ MORE: Tribeca: 11 Potential Breakthrough Actors to Check Out at This Year’s Festival (Springboard)

The two things that people
always talk about when they come back from America to England are the portion
sizes and the beds. There’s such big beds! We went to this motel, and the
bed – let me tell you – the bed was the
biggest I’d ever seen! And there were two
of them! And we got confused as to why there were two beds in a motel room,
but there you go. But yes, it’s a big, big country and people have big
ambitions here. And that’s sometimes admirable and sometimes it has its
problems.

But you know, there’s a lot
of drive, especially in a city like New York. People are very driven. It’s not
a city where you can really afford to slack off, certainly not anymore. It
chews people up. As is London actually. London is a machine, older with a few
more cogs spread out. I don’t know. I’m fascinated by both countries, both
cultures, both cities, London and New York.

Anyway, how did we get onto that? (Stares down at the shower drain
near his dress shoes) I’m just staring down this plug hole, and my conversation
is disappearing down it, I think.

So, you’re going to play the Beast in Disney’s
live-action
“Beauty
and the Beast.”

Yeah!

What can you tell us about that?

I can tell you I’ve played
it pretty much. We’ve shot the majority of the movie. There’s some
extraordinary digital wizardry going on behind that.

So is your Beast a CGI creation or

Well, it’s a hybrid. I was
puppeteering a suit on stilts and the facial capture is done separately using
this technology called Nova, which is real pioneering stuff. We’re still doing
bits and pieces here and there, and just watching that emerge is really exciting. It feels like magic.

And you’re singing in it?

I am.

Did your wife (South African jazz singer Susie
Hariet)
help you with that?

She did! Yeah, she coached
me for the audition. It was really exciting, really exciting. Not something
I’ve done a huge amount of– (Malin Akerman slides open the bathroom’s door,
smiling.) Come and join us!

Malik Akerman: I’m just going to pee? Do you mind?

Um

(Laughs) I’m joking. I’m
joking. (Exits, sliding the door closed behind her.)

Stevens: This
is great. I’m going to do all my interviews in here. This is perfect.

So the critical success of “The Jungle
Book,” is that exciting or intimidating?

It’s only a good thing.
These movies, the technology they work, sometimes together. Sometimes it’s the
same people, sometimes its competitors, but they spur each other on. Sometimes
they are colleagues who try something out in one movie that they then use in
another, or another version of it. That stuff is developing so quickly so far
all the time, that I’m sure that by the time my kids are my age, they’ll look
at “Beauty and the Beast” and be like, “Huh, you did it like that?” But it was a thrilling
experience. And to get to take my kids on that set and show them all that stuffwas really special.

So is there much of a set? Because behind the scenes
of “The Jungle Book,” it was like a bit of set and then all CGI
scenery.

Yeah, as much of it was
practical as possible. The sets were unbelievable.
The costumes were so so lush. And
that’s Bill Condon (“Beauty and the Beast”s director). He demands a
lushness and gorgeousness from his sets. And I was this sort of strange
creature striding through it all. But no, there were real ballrooms, real wings
of castles and staircases. It was amazing.

That sounds incredible. Have you seen “The
Jungle Book?”

Not yet, I’ve been busy with
this one. I should take the kids actually, yeah. It’s a live-action remake of
the animated one?

Yeah.

So like ours in a way.

Yes. But so much was built with green screen in CGI.
It looks so real I couldn’t believe they didn’t have real sets and real
animals.

That’s great. That’s what we
hope for with the Beast. He’s going to be as real as Emma Watson and Luke
Evans.

“The
Ticket”
premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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Check out Stevens in the trailer for “The Guest,” embedded below:

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