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Rhys Ifans talks wizards and more…

24 September 2010

Ever since he played the dishevelled Spike in Richard Curtis’ 1999 smash hit, Notting Hill, Rhys Ifans has been known to Hollywood. Yet even he must be surprised by the sheer quality of those he’s worked with – everyone from Michel Gondry (Human Nature) to Lasse Hallström (The Shipping News), Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and Roger Michell (Enduring Love). Having recently reunited with Curtis for his Pirate Radio comedy The Boat That Rocked, Ifans now adds the much-admired Noah Baumbach to his roster of collaborators.

Written and directed by Baumbach, Greenberg sees Ifans play Ivan, a long-time friend to Ben Stiller’s restless 40 year-old Roger Greenberg, who returns to LA after a fifteen-year absence. Below, Ifans discusses the role, as well as his part as Xenophilius Lovegood in the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and his lead role as real-life drug smuggler Howard Marks in an adaptation of his autobiography Mr. Nice.



Q: Was it nice to play Ivan, a quieter character, after some of your more extravagant roles?

A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Really good. It was different and really rewarding. It was just a different thing again.

Q: What made you want to take the role?

A: Well, I loved Squid and the Whale. I loved Noah’s work. I love how forensic his writing is. It’s a rich narrative and very rich characters, in a theatrical way. Very complex adult dynamics in these people’s lives, which I found interesting. A really good use of cinema as a language. And I thought, ‘All these things are really interesting – I want to do the film.’ I can’t think of a better reason really. That’s a good one!

Q: Was it hard work to make his dialogue work?

A: Yeah, well it wasn’t hard work to make the lines work. Why it’s good writing is that they have an inner melody, I find. It’s a certain kind of natural rhythm. A very delicate place to act from, which was rewarding.

Q: You used to be in a band, like your character. Was that intriguing to you?

A: Yeah, again, being around those stories – what can happen, and what doesn’t happen, to bands. It was a familiar world to me.

Q: How was it meeting Ben Stiller? Had you met before?

A: No, actually, we hadn’t. We sat down two weeks before we started shooting and it just kinda worked. It was really fantastic working with him. To make an audience believe that two guys were friends ten years ago is an interesting place to go. It was difficult and challenging but ultimately rewarding.

Q: What about the idea of playing an ex-pat in Los Angeles?

A: I think that adds to Ivan’s feeling of isolation in Los Angeles. I think pretty much everyone in Los Angeles is a long way from home. It’s a town populated by people from a long way from home. It’s a great place to work.

Q: Have you lived there much?

A: Only when I’ve filmed something. I love going there, man.

Q: Your personal style is not unlike Ivan’s. Does it mean this was more natural than your role in, say, Vanity Fair?

A: Well, yes, of course it was! Of course! But it’s nice playing close to you. The clothes of Ivan…we spent as much time deliberating over what Ivan would wear as anything else. In Vanity Fair, it was quite straightforward. This was what they wore. But Ivan was a more involving, creative input as an actor. It’s so close, you go ‘Am I wearing these because they fit me or because they’re an old pair belonging to the character that may be too big or too small?’ The jacket I have in it, I imagined was something I had when I was a student with Ben’s character. It’s something he won’t let go of. Stuff like that – that all day makes it more interesting for an actor.

Q: Noah says he wanted you for the part because you have a genuine sweetness. Do you know what he was thinking about?

A: No! I’m genuinely touched that he thinks I’m genuinely sweet! I’ll give him my phone number, shall I? Well, he’s genuinely a fucking genius director, I think.

Q: How does it work, balancing independent films with the big movies that you’ve done?

A: I never think, ‘Big movie! Little movie!’ I’m not accountant. I just read scripts. I’m really quite stupid. I’m the dumbest blonde you’ll meet in a while!

Q: You’re in the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. How was it?

A: Magic! It was fantastic. It’s like a badge of honour. It’s like having a stripe on your arm. I didn’t expect it, but I was really proud to be in a huge national…industry in itself. Being on the set was incredible. I felt like a kid who’d got the golden ticket. Then you bump into all these other British actors that you haven’t seen for ages, and everyone has got long beards! It’s really cool.

Q: So is it a different approach from doing something like Greenberg?

A: No, you just do what is required or what is given to you in the writing. Just be truthful and whatever. Make it as interesting as possible for yourself and the people you work with. It’s no different. I really don’t feel it’s different. Different graphic equalisation but it’s the same response to every piece of material – from a place of truth. So I really don’t find it at all different. To read a bedtime story to a child or to do a Shakespeare soliloquy require as much skill and sensitivity and understanding of language.
Q: Can you talk about your involvement in the recent Bansky movie?

A: I just do the commentary, the voiceover. Well…what can I say? She’s 8 years-old. It’s amazing, the body of work that an 8 year-old girl has. How she climbs the buildings I do not know! She’s this big, and really angry!

Q: What was your experience of playing drug dealer Howard Marks, in Mr. Nice?

A: Fantastic. It was brilliant to play him. I know him. I’ve been a friend for ten years.

Q: How did you get to know him?

A: Well, he’s Welsh, and was put in prison in America. And that’s amazing! Then the Super Furry Animals got him to be on their first album, and we went and met him. He came to a gig in Pontypridd just after he came out of prison and there’s this footage of me and him backstage at this gig, shaking hands. He’s going ‘I’m going to write a book about my experiences’. And I said, ‘Listen, man, if you write the book, let me play you in a film!’ And thirteen years later it happened. So, again, it was a very rewarding film to do.



Q: Did he come on set?

A: Yeah, he came on set. But again he wasn’t at all precious about how he was portrayed. He trusted me and Bernard [Rose] implicitly and was really supportive right the way through. So it was a good experience. And Bernard Rose is just an amazing man to work with. Another energy. I loved working with him.

Q: Are there any other real-life characters you’d like to play?

A: I’d like to play Rasputin. I don’t know why. Sometimes you see a character in history…you watch the History Channel and you see a really bad documentary about them, and then you just feel it’s your duty to make a good film about them to save them!

Q: Did that feel the same with Howard Marks, though?

A: There was a bit of that, absolutely. But more so his story is an amazing story. He’s lived – and is living – an incredibly different life to something that’s out of all our experiences. So there’s that as well, coupled with…I guess every great English actress wants to play Queen Elizabeth. We didn’t have Queen Elizabeth – she was forced upon us! So we’ve had to make do with Howard Marks!

Q: He was like a gentleman drug-dealer, really…

A: Yeah, a very educated, learned man.

Q: Do you think you’re a local hero back home in Wales?

A: No, when I go home, you just go home! There’s no ticker-tape parade!

Q: Are you friends with other Welsh celebrities, like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey?

A: Oh, yeah. They all live on our street. They’re in the darts team. It’s like Stella Street! I’ve met Tom Jones but I don’t know him socially. I’m good friends with Ioan Gruffudd and Matthew Rhys, as we’re the same age group, but there’s no Welsh film community. It’s such a small niche and to generate any sort of film culture or industry is very difficult – nigh on impossible.

Q: Do people in the US know much about Wales?

A: Occasionally in America, people think you’re from just outside from Switzerland. But that’s America!

Q: Did things change after you made Twin Town? Are you a local hero?

A: In Wales? Oh, people are genuinely proud. But not all the time. No. People are genuinely proud, but as far as local hero, the local hero is the midwife, or the local hero is the vet, or the local hero is the doctor, or the local hero is the schoolteacher. I’m too far away from home to be local. There is pride, but I’m treated the same every time I go home. They’ve known me longer than…you have.

Q: Do you reflect on your past successes?

A: No. Not at all. I look forward. I don’t think back.

Q: How have you survived all the tabloid attention you get in the UK?

A: I just ignore it, or I don’t buy them. It really doesn’t affect me whatsoever. I don’t operate in that universe. I’ve far better things to do than worry about that!

Q: What music do you play?

A: The Peth, the band I’m in, have just finished a new album. That will be out next year. The Peth – it means ‘The Thing’ in Welsh. And it’s a monstrous thing! We’ve released one album, last year, called The Golden Mile. We supported Oasis this year, at the Millennium stadium. And then the new album, Crystal Peth, will be out next year. And it’s fucking brilliant!

Q: So you’re the reason Oasis broke up?

A: I’d like to think so! I got the blame for The Beatles too!

Q: So how was it to play before Oasis?

A: It was mind-blowingly exciting. Granted, we were on very early so there were only 8000 people there but it was a proper crowd. All fun was to be had by all. It was a champagne moment. Yeah, man. Proper champagne moment. Full on.



Rhys Ifans Photos | Greenberg Film Page