Chatting with Actor Matthew Goode on His Charmingly Evil Role in ‘Stoker’

English actor Matthew Goode must have an affinity for playing the role of the emotionally and psychologically destructive catalyst. We first fell in love with him in the elegant Brideshead Revisted then Tom Ford’s A Single Man and with his latest role in Park Chan-wook’s fantastical Stoker, we see the darker side of the devilishly handsome Englishman.

In Stoker, Goode plays Charlie, the estranged brother-in-law to Evie (Nicole Kidman) and uncle of India (Mia Wasikowska) who comes to stay with the isolated mother and daughter after the death of his brother. With tales of his world travels, a flair for cooking, and a penchant for gardening, he woos the unstable mother of the house, charming his way into her trust. And although India finds herself reluctant to his friendly advances, she eventually becomes infatuated with him and realizes that the two have more in common than she could have ever anticipated. Goode plays the enigmatic role to perfection, vacillating between innocence and poise and the repressed madness of a villainous spider waiting to bite.

Yesterday, I sat down with Goode to talk about his introduction to the film, taking on such an evil character, and working with the brilliant Director Park.

So I’ve been listening to the film’s soundtrack all week. It’s amazing and plays such an important role in the film. Did you know that the music would be so integral?
I think originally we just knew about Philip Glass. He had written a few of the pieces and I think I was under the illusion he would be doing it all. But I think it’s quite nice sometimes—that’s what happened with Tom [Ford] when he did A Single Man, he used two different composers—to have two different takes. I think it added a lot. And what Clint does is a very different thing.

Well, Clint’s is a character in the movie.
Yes exactly, or many different characters. But it was nice, like some of whistling I did was incorporated into the soundtrack. I was like, wow that sounds quite good!

I loved that it followed you everywhere.
A tune of a lonely man, I love that.

How did you first come into the film?
Well Colin Firth dropped out because he was too busy. He desperately wanted to do it, I know that he loves Director Park, as we all do, but he was very generous and he said, I’d love to be doing it but if it’s anyone it’s you taking it over—which was really nice of him. But it was still a process, it wasn’t offered, so I had a Skype session with Director Park for about an hour and then you know, went through the gamut of auditions and eventually my name just stayed in the hat for as long as it was and I found out a couple months later. It was kind of a long process but thank god it worked out.

What did you think the first time you read the script?
I loved it. I thought it was very different. I couldn’t really put my finger on the sort of genre it would be like and also I knew Director Park’s work from Oldboy so that was very exciting. And I hadn’t worked with Nicole or Mia but had great respect for their work. And the character— particularly his involvement in the story—I just thought was quite fascinating and something I hadn’t done, which is something you always want as an actor, something new to get your teeth into. I was like well, it’s a no brainer.

Were you nervous at about playing this very psychologically dense character?
I’m always nervous. There’s always a first day on set when you’re thinking, oh god I hope I’m not found out. I was always worried about how much are we going to show and luckily, I think Director Park and I were always on the same page of what to try and reveal and what not to reveal and do you want to answer every single question about this guy? But also, you can’t just have a two-dimensional bad guy, you have to try and psychologically make sense, certainly for the actor whose playing it and for the audience, there has to be something there. So I suppose in the sense that this is a coming of age story for India, for Uncle Charlie I felt like it was, not converse to that, but in sense he’s sort of trapped in a childhood state in some ways. All the main characters are so isolated and lonely that you know, as much as the acts Uncle Charlie and India get caught up in are fairly despicable, there is this need and that someone else is like him and he needs to be with them and around them and it’s a comfort to the loneliness.

All of the characters were very pure in their emotion, and acted on everything they felt without remorse for it.
Morally moribund in some ways, you know? They don’t judge themselves, they just do. And it’s sort of animalistic in a way and that idea of nature/nurture and if there’s a predisposition within the family bloodline to commit these acts—which is kind of fascinating. And then you think, who is the prey and who are the predators? And I think within that is that sort of triangle status is which is ever-changing.

How do you prepare to play a character like this who, you have to repress all your knowledge of in order to slowly reveal himself to the audience?
I think that’s always the same for any job that you do, you do all your preparation and then you throw it out the window and commit just to what that scene is about. You’re always jumping around, it’s very rare for you to shoot something narratively—I’ve never done that it would be a real joy actually to go on that journey. So I try not to think about things too much. And this was really rehearsed in a way that I liked rehearsing, not getting it up on its feet too much. It was very much sitting down and reading it rather than trying to block it, because often times you try and rehearse things and you’re not in the environment that you’ll be shooting in and it becomes quite confusing. So we talked about it a lot and whatever scene you’re doing,  you know where your character is on the x/y graph of emotion and the trajectory of your arc, and you go on and do it.

How was working with Mia and Nicole—someone who is such a legendary actress and then this fascinating young women who—
Is going to be.

Exactly.
I don’t think I had any preconceptions. I was slightly nervous meeting Nicole, but the great thing about meeting her is that you just go, oh god you’re so lovely and super professional and super hard-working. She’s quite inspiring really, particularly because I’m a parent now as well and you see someone who is balancing very much their work but also it’s not lost on her that she needs to get home because the kids need feeding; it’s kind of lovely. And she’s a bloody good actress and I thought the combination of all three of us was quite nice. We sort of have the same style. We’re quite good listeners and obviously my character and Mia’s character have a lot in common, so it was lovely working with her. I love her to death, she’s such a sweetheart and she’s quite shy but the more we got to know each other she came out of her shell completely with me. We used to go out a lot because its nice to relax when you’re filming so much and my family was over with me, so we’d often get a babysitter and go down and listen to some country music and hang out in bars. My Mrs. and her would go two-stepping around some honky-tonk bars. She’s such a quality actress though.

Did you spend a lot of time together before shooting, or perhaps there’s the immediacy of not spending a lot of time together because your characters sort of fall into each other and have to grow from there.
I’m sure other directors might have kept us apart until that first day because our characters hadn’t seen each other in 20 years, so they might have thought that was an interesting idea that we’d rehearse separately and then see what happens. But we spent a couple weeks together rehearsing and then went on and did it. I think if we hadn’t know each other beforehand it would have been more of a hindrance than a help. So it was good.

Aesthetically speaking, the film was stunning and so meticulous, everything from the transitions to the colors—
The hair shot? Come on. But India’s hair color is matched to mine actually and she wore contact lenses as well so that our eyes were as similar as they could possibly be because my change color quite a bit. That was tying into the idea the there was this possible pre-disposition in the bloodline, that similarity.

There was a great physicality to your character and the way he interacted with India and Evie, like a waltz between everyone
There is and particularly at the end, and Director Park was talking about this earlier, that final scene is a mirroring of the scene where she says, “But I always lead.” I think really that’s what Mia and I talked about but didn’t rehearse specifically together is the idea of prey and the hunted and the animal and this stealth to the characters, which I’m glad you picked up on.

And of course, I loved the piano scene between you and Mia.
It’s kind of out there!

Well, it was a huge moment in the film. Did you actually play piano?
Oh, I hadn’t played it in 20 years. So I took a lot of rehearsal, had a great teacher, and coming back having not played in so long and playing to a Philip Glass piece was not the easiest—arpeggio crazy!  So it was kind of tough, but we could play like a good 3/5 of the piece and were able to fake the rest by having our hands placed in the right places on the keyboard, not necessarily with the right notes. But it’s nice for the director to be able to lower the camera down and see that we were playing. It was hard because you’re sort of like, you’re doing an action that doesn’t come naturally to you and you’re also having to act at the same time, but I think it paid off really well. I think it’s a really big moment in the film like it’s a big ol’ euphemism for something else. And there’s also the element of, well is it in her imagination? There’s always that extra layer to it.

And it’s the first time it feels very sexual and you can tell she’s changing.
With the feet it’s like a Billy Wilder meets Lynch moment or something.

I loved all of the shots throughout the film of her feet actually and the spider crawling up. And you’re kind of this spider working his way into their lives.
Yes I am! Yes it is, right now! The spider found a home.

So what is the experience like of working with Director Park?
I just adore him. I really do, I think he’s amazing. I love Oldboy from back in the day, so I knew that this is a proper filmmaker with great repute and wonderful respect for his actors and the material. But I think that’s what’s so funny about him, a lot of the films he’s made have such incredible violence but actually he himself is so peaceful and charming and super intelligent and fastidious and exacting. So yeah, there was no problem. We had a translator too so there wasn’t even a problem with communication. It was fairly seamless really and I really zone out listening to him speak Korean, I find it incredibly soothing so he kept us quite relaxed with that on set really.

When you’re playing someone like Uncle Charlie, do you feel like you need to find a way to relate to him? Or do you find a way to get to the core of who he is and just understand more of his motives?
I don’t ask that question to myself but I think there are parts where you go, I don’t have to think about that, I get that. And then there are obviously bits where you have to use your imagination when you’re playing a sociopath but it has to be back up with a kind of psychological truth as well. I give myself quite a hard time as a an actor but not too much on this job, which was good.

Image via Fox Searchlight

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