It was always your intention to play "Coriolanus," given that you had played the role onstage, but with this project that wasn't the case.
When I received the screenplay and it came with the proposal, "Would you like to direct and play Dickens?" I certainly wanted to direct. I felt a very strong impulse. I could see Dickens was a great role. But initially I said no, then after some time when they approached someone else, I said I could do it. I just couldn't resist. I kind of love Dickens. I know people will have a mixed reaction to him. I sort of carry a flag for him despite all his flaws and failings.
Why didn't you want to play him at first? Did you want the experience of solely directing, not having to worry about your performance?
Exactly that reason. I wanted that experience.
How did this experience differ from "Coriolanus." You act in this, but the film arguably belongs to Felicity Jones.
That helped. That's part of the reason I decided to act in it. It was still sometimes really hard to do both. To alternate between two different head spaces, even the memory of it just gives me a headache.
In the Hollywood Reporter's recent roundtable discussion with directors, they each spoke of how they shut off the outside world when on set. I can imagine the process is even more all-encompassing when doing all that you do.
It's a paradox, if that's the right word. Even when directing an actor has a certain element of contradiction, the total immersion in the world of the film and in Dickens, there's a point where they crossover. It was maybe also helped by the fact that Dickens was doing everything. Overseeing everything, that all sort of bled into the nature of who Dickens was. That was helpful. But I would love to direct a film and not be in it.
Anything in the works on that front?
No, I'm going to take a long break.
Most actors hate watching themselves. How do you as a director edit your performance?
It's very painful. It's very, very painful. But there comes a point where you sort of cross over from the embarrassment and weird conflict to just going, "OK," and trusting your editor. Often it's back and forth, back and forth. I think I'm quite good at judging my own performance. Especially if I'm somehow mentally in the position of doing the whole thing. I had to do a bit of ADR the other day for something I'd done, and I really hated watching it. In Wes' film, I never wanted to see the takes. Not that he invited me. It was very useful discipline though, to have to assess and be responsible for your performance.
Are you surprised at how things turned out?
I'm really surprised. I mean, fuck, did we actually make "Coriolanus"? This pathetic fantasy (laughs). You think, Christ, we did it. I've had amazing offers that have come and really surprised me. I'm happily surprised whenever I get an offer. There's a bit of you that wants to be accepted. Even if you've had degrees of success and been blessed with all kinds of opportunities that have done well, and I think I have, it's still great when someone goes, "Will you come and do this?"