Like in all of Park’s films, there is a final twist that explains, in detail, the origins of your character and why he is the way he is. But from the moment you appear on screen, it’s never in doubt that Charlie is up to no good. Did you feel a certain amount of freedom playing a character that didn’t have to mask his evil nature?
I think so, because you can’t just play evil, you have to find some sort of psychological truth even if you don’t know what that is, in the sense that you make decisions. But it’s difficult to get in the mind of a complete sociopath, so you try your hardest and see what is captured and discuss things with Director Park. I worked closely with Mia and there are these animalistic qualities so the movement we had was like prey. We were hunting people, so it was underplayed and not hammed up so much.
There are moments that get heightened, particularly towards the end, such as that moment with Nicole. But it was a real pleasure subtly carving our way through it. As you say we know, but we still kind of like Charlie, and that’s kind of a worry for the viewer. But sex and violence, although we know Charlie’s like this, we aren’t expecting for it to be Mia’s right of passage. It’s quite disturbing to see a young girl go through that.
You expressed earlier a passion for the work of Park, so I’m guessing you’re a longtime fan of his work?
I was a paying customer to go and see “Oldboy” years and years ago when it first came out. It was actually a date movie I went to, which was a pretty weird date movie to go to. But I loved that film. It was deep, disturbing and beautifully shot and intelligent. I jumped at the chance, but he had to pick me obviously. But I knew what kind of creativity he was going to bring to the role and it was still fascinating to see how he was going to do it and the process of it all.
We showed up for pre-production and there was this folder with every scene pre-drawn out with how he wanted to do it. So that was a worry in some sense because you wonder if there is any room for maneuvering. But there was a lot more freedom there than I was expecting -- that was great. We came up with ideas, like the whistling. We have a great respect for each other, which is nice that he doesn’t thick I’m an idiot. It was incredulously rewarding and I’d jump at the chance to work with him again.
Given that it was so storyboarded, I’m curious as to what your reaction was when you finally saw the finished product.
Well, it was everything you wanted. You sort of expected it, but some of the dissolves like with the hair, you just think, “Oh my god, that’s stunning.” And that’s one of the joys about working with a director who has a longtime collaborating director of photography. Some of this stuff you get to know about and some of it is just stuff they have planned. Even Nicole was like, “I wonder why they are spending so much time having my hair brushed.” So it’s nice to have those surprises when you’re watching the film, but the aesthetic is just incredible.
This not only marked the first time Park worked with English-speaking actors, but it also marked his first time working within the American system, which is so different than the one he’s used to.
Well, he had to adapt, because he said he would have shot twice as long in Korea because costs aren’t the same. He likes to do a scene with his actors and then cut and then go back and view the take and do that pretty much every take. It must be exhausting. I don’t mind watching things back after you’ve completed the scene, but you just get used to his style. He had to work quicker than he would normally.
Everyone was always thinking there would be this massive language barrier, but actually he had such a brilliant translator. And sometimes when you’re working quickly things would become truncated and you worked out shorthand. But once you’d been working for a week, it was easy.
And you’ve worked with some great actors over the course of your career, but Nicole Kidman must have been a highlight. Were you intimidated at all?
Oh, definitely. I was intimidated by the idea of her, but then I met her and it was all dispelled. You just realize bloody hell, that’s Nicole Kidman and I’m about to shake hands with her. And then you have a chat with her and she’s super nice and funny. I wouldn’t imagine she’s any different in L.A., but I think the fact that we were shooting in her hometown in Nashville; I think she’s very comfortable there. People treat her with such respect there and it’s a very family-orientated place. My family was there and our producer's family was there so our kids all hung out on a couple of occasions. She was very generous with her time. And equally, Mia is a big star in her own way. I love her work and I love working with her and just hanging out with her was really fun.
Sounds like you had a really wholesome time on set.
I had a great time -- I mean, besides the subject matter. When it’s so off the charts like this, you find yourself goofing around a bit in order to have a cathartic leveler. It was hard work and quickly shot. But that’s what we were there to do.