Mariayah Khaderbai in conversation with Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Graham
Mariayah Khaderbai: Good evening, I'm Mariayah Khaderbai and welcome to the BAFTA Film Sessions. This is in celebration of our EE British Academy Film Awards in 2022. I'm going to start with a little bit of housekeeping. Please join the conversation on social using the hashtag #EEBAFTAs. Closed captioning is available which you can turn on somewhere on the bottom of your screen. We also have BSL interpretation. The session will run for between forty-five to sixty minutes and you have the opportunity to ask questions throughout. If you're tuning in via YouTube or Facebook, please add your questions to the chat or if you're joining on Zoom, please use the Q&A function below.
I am really pleased to announce that we have two nominees joining us this evening for a Leading Actor session: Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog and Stephen Graham for Boiling Point. Welcome. And first of all, congratulations on your nominations; both these films are astonishing. I think I'm just going to jump straight in. Both of these men, Phil Burbank and Andy Jones are lost in a way in their masculinity. They're both in great pain and we meet them at a point in their life where they're not being able to fulfill or live the lives they want to live. So I want to know, as actors, how--what it's like jumping in at that point in someone’s life? Maybe Benedict, I’ll come to you first, kind of jumping in at the heightened time.
Benedict Cumberbatch: Thank you. Uhm, it's a transitional moment in this character's existence. Everything that he's kind of built over twenty-five years that he's wanting to celebrate in the opening of the film is being challenged by a brother who's looking to a future rather than past, a partnership that comes out of his brother doing that, a love for a woman and it is that literally that point of change, which is the sort of key ingredient for the conflict both within him, but also the conflict he causes within the main core set of characters; Rose, this barkeep in town that his brother George falls in love with and her son Peter and I think, I don't know, I imagine Steven might feel the same about this, but I feel you know you've got to jump in in the middle with any character you play. Well, I'm forty-five, I can't remember how old you are, you look a lot younger than me but it's—you have to bring some life experience and lived life to a character, no matter where a story begins, so I think from that you then build an empathy and an understanding for why the action and the trajectory of decisions and choices and everything that then unfolds within that two-hour story span, which in our case is a linear narrative happens, and it's all the work you do on the person that you don't meet off screen before the first page of the novel, or the script. That--that's the stuff that kind of you want to bring as the subtext or just a knowledge of that character, so it always feels like you're jumping in in the middle. Yeah, I, I think you see enough in Phil’s example of a man who, you see him you know straining to have something like normalcy, something like the routine or what is expected to happen in that moment. He's a very controlling character, so you realize through his petulance at things not being under his control and circumstances being different to what he'd imagined them or wanted them to be, that there's something deeply damaged about this volatile, angry man, something that's not being satisfied. So and I think that then speaks to why he is so petulant and that kind of emotional immaturity that stunted growth that's at the center of him.
MK: Yeah, you begin, you begin your… You loathe—well I did—you loathe the man in a way to begin with and as the film unfolds you kind of catch yourself between loathing and empathy, and it's that kind of really fine balance going between the two and kind of as the narrative unfolds, you realize, kind of this trauma that he suffered and that’s similar Stephen, for Andy as well, they're kind of both these men are coming from a place of trauma that's kind of had a direct impact in a way on their masculinity. And so Stephen and I just want to talk about the notion of kind of masculinity and being a man. When we meet Andy he's going through a crisis of kind of addiction, through his family breaking up, not living with his son, and so the same in the way that I asked Benedict, what is it like coming into a role at that point?
Stephen Graham: Uhm, I completely agree with Benedict. You know a lot of the work as actors we've done before that. I mean, I am a little bit older than you, I'm forty-eight.
BC: You don’t look it!
SG: So you know you've done a lot of that work previously, and especially with, particularly with this story. As soon as we meet Andy, he’s already saying sorry, he's already apologizing.
Which I think was very, you know, that was a really clever decision that we made straight away. As soon as we meet him and we're with him on this journey for an hour and ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. Immediately starting off by saying sorry and it's also, it just shows you completely where he’s at as a man. You know what I mean? And then we go on this journey with him. But like Benedict said, a lot of that stuff is done. It's the stuff we do in the house or it's the stuff we do in our down time. I've always got a little pad or something with me when I'm getting into a character and you just jot stuff down, information down and it goes from, you know basically that kind of Stanislavsky stuff. But you're creating a whole life about where he was born, what school he went to, what his mum and dad were like. And you build this kind of yeah, you build a back story that you can then go anywhere with in that respect, and what that enables me to do personally is to just stand in the truth of the character that I've created with the director as well, you know what I mean and with the rest of the cast, but also it gives you freedom then to play I feel personally, because then there's no real right or wrong. You're just experimenting and seeing what's happening. Then you can pluck an idea from one of the sparks. You know what I mean; it’s whatever idea is the best idea in the room. And that way you don't take it personally and you're solid within that character and that structure that we’ve--that construct of the character that we've created.
And for this particular story it's in the title: It's a man at boiling point. Everything’s just collapsed; everything’s falling away from what he's had. You know what I mean? You can see he must have had a good life. He has been successful. But now because of his addiction and his demons and his own fear and self-loathing, it's just slowly falling away from him. And you get to see in that sense, the masculinity that's…I suppose you see I had a back story where it was kind of issues with his father and stuff so it's him trying not to be what his father was, but his father was an alcoholic.
So for him, it's always been a part of his DNA. It's been there since he was a young boy and to watch that kind of the upbringing that he must have had, and he's trying his hardest not to be like that with his son and then eventually you end up creating the same mistakes that you've seen. You know what I mean? That kind of indoctrinated background that he’s come from. But then just as soon as it's--As soon as we begin with this film, as well, it was, you know it was ninety per cent improvised over the process, so everybody else is on that same page as me with the created character that we've all got and then you just throw it all up in the air and we play, we have the structure of it like you know, like what Benedict said, it's the story, it's the structure that's within that story. But then we all improvise and then you’re just one big movement and machine I suppose, in a way you know what I mean?
BC: You sound like you had a, uh, a tougher gig in a sense, but I mean very enjoyable to create that from scratch. I was working off this incredible blueprint of a book, so within that though, there are massive amounts of flashbacks and incredible insights into who this character was as a child, how his parents taught and treated him, what they expected of him, the kind of pressure of conformity that was there very early in his life that he pushes against again and again in the film and makes him the person we meet in the beginning frames of it. And I think it’s—all the kind of notepad work, a lot of it was done was done through that. There's one key relationship with his real father figure, which you talking about your dad made me—your characters dad—made me think of, which is Bronco Henry. And that's really a pivotal, pivotal relationship in this man's life; someone who he was in love with and had a relationship with, as well as him being his mentor. But huge age gap and he was nineteen when he saw him trampled to death in a corral.
So that for me, kind of keyed into that sense of arrested development that results in this, this sort of, this anger in this man, this masculinity, this need to prove himself as something other than this true, I guess, authentic self which is a man who's loved another man and doesn't know where to place that in the world and the time he lives in and the culture he's in, but also within himself in his own body. He can only really associate that with something that's very deep in private in moments in the film, when he's away from everybody else. But I mean what a gift, what a gift. Thomas Savage’s novel, I mean it's one of the Great American novels in my opinion. I mean, it's just one of those books where you get, you know, a character in a phrase, an entire world in a page. It's just it's majestic writing, beautiful, very accessible, but really scalpel-like about character and time and place, so a lot of my heavy lifting was done with that, but Bronco is very lightly touched on, so we had to improvise him and I wrote letters to him from me and also as him back to Phil in the time that they were lovers, try and make that somehow feel authentic. And like, like Stephen says for me, it's a jumping off point to feel free within the process of the day so that whatever you're committing to, it's the same with learning lines and just getting all that done. You, you kind of, once that's there it's then about just letting things be free and all of it, all the work you do before stepping in front of a camera for me is about feeling confident in my intuition so that I know I can feel something and let something come through rather than getting in the way of it and managing it too much and intellectualizing it. Just to actually breathe it and, and you said, you know, working with others… For me, I've never worked in parallel with a director so kind of closely and for a long period of time. I mean this, I usually kind of, you know, make the plane as it's taking off, but this one I had a few months of other things going on, but of continued communication with Jane and whether it was going around the National Portrait Gallery looking for just something to trigger a visual clue or a sense of the world or one character, or an aspect of the era. Or whether it was just getting to know one another as people who were trusting each other to work together and also just conversationally. But we did dream therapy! We did dream analysis, which is a real trip, the idea that you can just drop a tiny suggestion on a notepad or in a mantra or some kind of thought process before you sleep and then let your subconscious do some of that work. So as if having a book wasn't easy, I then fell back on dreaming for inspiration, but boy is it there after the first few dry spells of worrying about whether I, you know, in the dream.
I thought, oh Christ, did I lock the door, or is the oven on? And Jane was dreaming of flowers exploding with blood. I exaggerate but not far off and then eventually you know that silt from the bottom of the well kind of gets a little bit more interesting and stuff comes up, which I never would have thought of looking there for before. So that was a very new experience for me.
MK: You've kind of touched on so many things I wanted to go back to the—
BC: Yeah, sorry, I'm—
MK: No, no, no, it's great. The Thomas Savage novel and kind of that being, you know, your Bible more than a jump off point. But how much of the physicality of Phil Burbank is in that 'cause it's like, uh, it's a you, for me, I've never seen before in terms of kind of the stance and the hands and the walk and banjo playing and cigarette right? But it seemed it so effortlessly… It's like you've been doing it for your entire life. But how, yeah, how much of that is kind of from the book and how much of that is working with Jane?
BC: Uhm, it's, there's a lot of guide in the book.
You know he stands with his hands held behind his back, straddle-legged, his sort of poise, his animation and how characterful he can be in entertaining people, what a good mimic he is and of course, recounting this really daunting list of masterful skills he can, you know, do with the ease of a man who's been doing it for all of his life whether it's whittling or whistling or braiding or taxidermy or ironmongery or banjo plant? I mean it just goes on and on, let alone the horse riding and the roping and the cattle ranching. It's pretty daunting for a man as far away from my character’s lived experience as I was at the beginning. But you know Jane and Tanya and everyone in the production were very secure that I get there, but said, look anything you feel insecure about we’ll help you with and so I gave them a list which was endless and I went to a place in Montana. I went to stay with the real deal, a man and his wife, Randy and Jen, who live on the Prairie not far from the sort of Rocky Mountains and I learned to braid,
I learned to treat hide, I learned to it cut it and bevel it and just get it straightened, soak it and stretch it and then braid it and he's a master at that. He's a master and he starts for rope all around the world, from all around the world.
He also flies around the world doing horse clinics, so he’s a masterful rider and he's lived the life of a cowboy his entire existence, so that was an amazing person to be with and then I went off to two different ranches to two different branding events where you brand, inoculate and castrate the cattle. And you know—
MK: Just a regular day at work!
BC: Yeah, I mean, I mean God, what a life? So lucky; when would I have had that opportunity otherwise, or the excuse to just turn around to my wife and family go ‘see you, I'm going, I'm going away for two weeks’. That would be a divorce situation, but it's work, I'm going to work. Yeah, I was lucky but uhm. Yeah, and I mean, bless you for what you said about how accomplished I looked or got away with looking. It's a pretty terrifying thing, because, again, that's the stuff that it has to be in in your body and it has to—there has to be a sense memory and a muscle memory behind it, but you also have to let go and stop obsessing about the fact that you've just rolled a really fat one instead of a rail thin cigarillo in one hand whilst you're riding a horse, and that the light was right, the horse was right, the dialogue was good, the other actor was good and however many hundreds or thousands of cattle you've got behind you were good. So the fact that you didn't roll a cigarette well, you’ve got to let that go. But knowing that you're playing Phil Burbank and doing that's pretty tough. Uhm, so I think a lot of it is helped by, you know, framing it in a certain way, and I don't mean cheating it but just giving it space when it needed space and not focusing on his skill set when it wasn't it wasn't necessary. Uhm, but yeah I definitely—I've experienced all of those things; I'm a master of absolutely none of them.
MK: They will come in handy one day again, I'm sure.
BC: No, they won’t!
MK: Talking to kind of learn skills on the job and having space to develop those, Stephen kind of doing a one take film and then head chef-ing your way through the whole kind of eighty minutes. The skills kind of kind of to be believable as a chef, kind of what were you thinking with kind of one take, you know? Is it thrilling, was it kind of I've never done this, or was it because the story really served you know, having that method?
SG: Well, it began life as a short. You know what I mean, we began life as a short film and it was basically, if I'm brutally honest, it was to help my mate Phil maybe get an agent. That was the main reason for doing it. He did one film and he said, ‘look, I've got a part in this. Would you please come and play the trainer, the boxing trainer.’ I said, ‘no, no, no go on you do that one yourself. Let me see what that's like and I'll have a look down the line,’ and I thought it was a beautiful little story. And then he told me he had this idea about a chef based on—because a lot of our stuff is based on Phil's experience, because Phil was a chef, he was a commis chef and head chef for a good number of years while he couldn't get no work as an actor. And he kind of, that was the job he then ended up doing for a long time. So a lot of it is based on his own experiences and that kind of world. He just really felt that there was a great story to be told in that world because of the kind of nature of what those kitchens are like and the atmosphere that's in them kitchens. And also it's very kind of you know, I'm not speaking out of turn at all, but it's a kind of work hard, play hard kind of industry and it's that very much, you know everyone’s there, eeveryone’s in the fire together and then at the end of the service there's a release amongst everybody to know what I mean. So we wanted to try and capture that atmosphere of—and you said it beautifully before we started this interview, you said you really, you know you had a few friends that worked in that industry and said how true to life they thought it was.
SG: And that's the reaction we've had from lot of people. So when he first mentioned about doing it for a short, I thought that sounds a bit of fun, I've never done that before and it was great because Phil was a chef so he taught me how to you know debone of fish and stuff like that and to cut the meat and to—we went to a huge restaurant where they did, uh, they were doing covers of 180 for an evening and we watched the atmosphere in there and it was manic. And then we went to this other place in Manchester and it was like, it was beautiful.
It was a Zen kitchen, everything was methodical and every one spoke really quietly and lovely and it just—there was no, there was no franticness at all. It was a beautiful place and the food was delicious. So I was like well which one of them are we going to do? You know, we'll find somewhere in the middle, hopefully. So that was our aim. So, sorry, it went from the short and the short went down really well and he got a really great agent and then the agent went ‘why don't you think about making that feature?’ And then he said to me ‘do you want to make a feature?’ And I thought about it for a split second and then, you know, I said ‘yeah, OK, let's go for it’ and that was, that was kind of where it started, but a lot of it is based on Phil's experiences in the kitchen of people who he’d worked with or stuff that he'd seen. Or you know he doesn't mind speaking about it his own kind of addictions and stuff that he suffered himself and the whole kind of bottle with the chef. That's based on a real person, someone who he worked with that used to do that. You know what I mean when we find out at the end what's in the bottle? That's based on what's that happened to him. So it was great, you know, very much like what Benedict was saying there. He went and met that wonderful man and his wife out there in in the Prairies and you just absorb that knowledge from them people. So for me to go to Phil, so how do I do this bit again, just show me and you watch and you just you like a sponge, you just absorb it all, you know what I mean, cause you have it on tap. And then when it comes to it, one of the most important things that I felt we had to get right was the plating up for the chef, 'cause it's like it's the chemistry of cooking it up then when it's plated up, that's that, you know, that's where—that's what makes a chef a top chef for a not so good chef. It's the placement of the of the meat, of the of the duck and like the vegetables and then what you do with your jus. That kind of flare of artistry, do you know what I mean? It was great fun doing that kind of stuff, and we even, we spent a night in a proper kitchen and we had a little go and then we'd send the food. Yeah, but it was, it was amazing. It was a wonderful experience. Very hard job but yeah, hopefully you know we managed to capture all of that kind of researching, and like Benedict said, it's great to have somebody there who really knows that world and then you can just pluck the ideas from them as well as yourself.
MK: Is that how you're plating up at home now?
SG: No, no, it’s not at all!
MK: I won't ruin it for people at home that might not have had the chance to see Boiling Point yet but there is a, there's a plating up moment that is terrifying, and you've never—that's a sentence I thought I would never say. But yeah, watch out for that for that moment. You both mentioned your incredible directors, Jane Campion and Phil Barantini. I wanted to talk about the DOPs on both these films if that's OK, kind of for The Power of the Dog, Ari Wegner and Matthew Lewis for Boiling Point. Just in terms, kind of with The Power of the Dog first of all, what's captured kind of I think it might be emblematic of how Phil’s feeling kind of there’s this expanse, but at times there's also moments of claustrophobia and terror that, you know are shown through the frame and then for yourself, Stephen, kind of being that one take and you being the heartbeat of the film and then Matthew having to mimic your beat.
Those kind of working together must have been kind of such important relationships with both of you on set and I just wanted to talk about kind of, yeah, the preparation, how the working relationship is for an actor and a cinematographer, especially in these two roles where it seems so imperative.
BC: Uhm, Ari is a child of light. She just has an incredible gift. And while we were in a very spectacular part of New Zealand doubling for Montana because of the kind of 360 degrees of near wilderness, or at least un0interfered with land, let's put it like that. There was a lot of that that was there for nothing, but what was brilliant about her as you alluded to in your question, was the idea that she could move from one scale to another with such ease and she could dig into a character, hold on a shot, between her and Peter our editor and Jane, you know. But a shot that she created and found with Jane. They had an amazing language at the beginning and I actually I found that a little bit unnerving to begin with because Jane and I had had such an intimate sort of preparation for the job and then suddenly there was this other person who was going to be recording. And you know they'd be over there and I'd be doing this and it's sort of going, What are they cooking up between them, but you know and so for a large majority of the time, I guess, my relationship with Ari was just to let her alone and pretend that she wasn't there.
Yeah, and especially on the day because I was in character for the whole of this shoot it—she said to me she only really met when she was kind of crying at the end of it. She said ‘Oh my God, I'm now hearing you, I'm seeing you for the first time. I've not met Benedict until now.’ And she was so sensitive to that and I kind of felt that and I really felt it in the moments where Phil’s vulnerable and exposing himself, not just physically but psychologically to the kind of truth of his character, to being in that isolated moment and feeling able to perform without any restriction, to just find something, and knowing that she will in a very, very delicate and sensitive way and essential way, capture it through the interplay of light and weather and me and the nature around me, but also the horse and just… It was very, very intimate. It was like the three of us on set, my myself, Jane and her and that that was sort of a treasured memory in a way because it was just something we all sort of let happen and she was very light on her feet. I noticed a couple of times, you know, a lot of track laid down for a big shot or a crane come in and then they’d just find something much simpler and we’d go well why don’t we just look at it from kind of over here. It was always about character, but when landscape and scale was involved it was again about character. It wasn't just to let the film breathe or for you to have an idea of context.
It was to understand what that space means for different people, whether it's George who's growing sick of the routine of it, whether it's Phil whose command of it and belonging to it is so primal and so much about who he is; he is the outside, he is a man of the soil and the blood and the sweat of working with animals and men in that space. Or whether it was Rose, whose alienation becomes even more acute as she, you know, enters this huge ranch and its surrounding countryside and while she's found this intimacy and love with her husband, she's being psychologically tormented by a man who seems to be everywhere, whether it's in the sound of the wind or the hills or the door closing and yeah, I was only really well able to marvel at Ari’s achievements when I first saw the film in London a long time after finishing it.
And then you know, because I had such a sort of singular focus on what I was doing, I wasn't producing this one or directing, my singular role was just being Phil Burbank, which was enough, and I just sat back and thought… I was just blown away by what I'm contextualized in as far as her work goes. It's just, it's exquisite. And she picks up, just picks up on your rhythm, so she knows how to how to really feel your performance in this space. And she knows when to be very close and when to retreat, and every bit of the language that her and Jane had, that I was sort of slightly jealous of to begin with, is born out of an intimate understanding and love of the story and you realize when you see the whole thing together how everyone was pulling in the same direction on this.
MK: Speaking the same language without knowing it.
BC: Yeah, completely. Completely. Out of love for the material and the characters, you know.
MK: So Steve, with you and Matthew you must have had to do a dance and a routine, something that kind of…I don't know, how much rehearsal…You couldn’t either—he couldn’t have missed a beat and you couldn’t have missed a beat.
SG: It was one of the most unique relationships with a DOP I've ever had in my life, and I've been very blessed to work with some magnificent DOPs. But this twenty-four year old lad, twenty-two Hannah’s just made me aware of, no he’s twenty-three now but he was twenty-two when we did it. He was absolutely amazing. Let's not forget for me this film, I mean, it's an ensemble very much so in my eyes as well, because you don't only, you know, we made a conscious decision with the feature rather than with the short. With the short we always follow Andy everywhere, everywhere Andy goes we go but with the feature it was kind of, we would let other people take us on different journeys which you know… There's a wonderful, beautiful moment where we go outside with the dishwasher while he goes to meet the girl in the car and then we come back in. There was something about which, to me we were in this London kitchen, it's all very hectic and chaotic and then the film just took suddenly just took a little twist and I felt like we were in some French film for a little bit then, do you know what I mean? When I say it was such a unique relationship is we rehearsed for… we rehearsed the characters and we rehearsed the dialogue and stuff for maybe two days in total.
On top of that, then we spent two days walking through it with the camera and that would be with Phil and would be with Matt. And we walked it through and we'd walk it through slowly, piece by piece, by piece, by piece. And he'd move around and he'd make sure 'cause he also never wanted to hit the same kind of shot or rest in the same place twice. So he was completely aware of his surroundings and his environment, and then when we came to do like we call it a dress rehearsal, let's say. It was [claps]. You know 'cause sometimes I go off at a different pace and just to—like Benedict rightly said, you know our aim is to forget that they’re there and I the camera shouldn’t even exist, it shouldn't exist, it doesn't exist. Some actors you work with it does exist, but that's a different story. So our aim is to try and pretend it's not there. So that's OK for me, but so when I'm going off, when I'm suddenly going to go over there now and maybe twice before I've gone over there at a certain pace and then he feels me coming at another place and just to watch and to make, to see how he moves back was unbelievable. And he never, ever he—there was once, at one point he rested the camera, and for the whole time he's got this device that, you know have you seen them little new devices, now that they haven't, it goes over the top and
BC: Yeah, yeah.
SG: It's stuck out and he's got this little camera attached to him and his back at the end of every take we had a masseuse for him because his
back must have killed him. But there was one point, this is kind of how attuned we got, how in tune we did get and it's the actual take because the tape was the third shot. We only did four takes.
SG: I knew we'd get it on the third take. But we only did four takes because of COVID. We were scheduled to do eight, but there was one bit where I was waiting as he's—because also as well, don't forget it's kind of in that weird sense it's kind of like a play where you're in it, but also, there's moments when you're not on camera and you're getting ready to get to another exit or get to another place while the life and the action is carrying on for the audience and inside that room. And I had to go out somewhere then I come back and I'm waiting. I'm supposed to wait for him to go past me on this little tiny narrow pass. That was the other thing you know, it was a real restaurant we were working in, it was a real kitchen. It wasn't a set that was created. And as he's due to come past me, I suddenly looked and I saw that the bin was in the way and for a split second I went ‘Oh no there's the bin,’ and then I looked back and then this might come on backward and I just thought ‘oh what were we going to do?’ So I grabbed the bin and ran as fast as I could and give the bin to I think it was Alice, give the bin to Alice and then ran straight back.
And then, as he comes, just as he goes past me, I'm like right OK we need to do the thing, and then you straight back into it again. Do you know what I mean? It was a wonderful thing and it basically was, all of the cast did a choreography. It was choreographed to a tee really so then I could play within that structure, you know what I mean?
MK: Let's talk about the rest… Oh I was saying let's talk about the rest of that cast as well. Watching the film, uhm, it feels so authentically the London I know, with the kitchen staff, the front of house, the people in the restaurant. It's cast in a way that is so believable, and I know this was the first production for your own company Matriarch as well, so how involved were you in that casting process?
SG: Heavily, heavily involved in the casting. I wanted, you know, and Phil as well and the rest of the rest of our producers, we all wanted to make it as real and as authentic as possible and that was, you know, that was—diversity was our key component. So that we all felt it massively. And as well with the philosophy of our little production company, it’s to give people an opportunity, to try and give someone a chance that wouldn't normally have that chance. For example, Matt, you know, Matt wouldn’t have… It's the, you know, people with money wanted to come in and go well maybe we shouldn't. It's like no, no, no, no this is who's doing it, we need, you know at some point we all need to be given an opportunity. Otherwise, we'll never get that opportunity and we'll never know what we're capable of. So right across the board the casting was integral to making this as real as possible and also trying to give as many opportunities to people as we could. There's one or two of our cast who you know it was only their second job. And one of them now is like she's gone on, she's flying, she's doing a huge Netflix series and she's just landed another big feature film and she's flying. But this was only a second, well her third job 'cause she was in the short as well. So that is what we really wanted to capture here and we wanted to try and make it a truthful and authentic as possible. And make it feel like it was a real kitchen and to have these flavors of you know, uh, our lovely pregnant Spanish woman who's washing the dishes. When I looked I was like, oh, she was really pregnant like not just pretend pregnant. She was pregnant. She's had the baby now, so that in itself, you know what I mean, it was a wonderful experience. And to me, as Benedict will rightly back me up in this, you know I always think casting is key. I think the casting is key to making the film a success. You know what I mean? If you get the casting wrong at any point, it can be drastic, but it's also about, for us, personally, it's about creating opportunities and giving people a chance, you know what I mean?
MK: Well, that is a perfect segue into one of the questions that has come through asking if, or talking about up and coming talent, and is there anyone that, you know, people may not have heard of at home that people should be on the lookout for? So Benedict, I'll come to you if you can. Yeah, behind the camera in front of the camera, you know either.
BC: Sure, sure. I mean, Kodi is, as he often says, you know, I've been doing this for all my life and you think God you’re a baby. I started at his age, but he is an extraordinary accomplished actor. He's been working as a child actor for a while, but this feels like a sort of a really important progression for him where he's proved his worth in a spectacular way. It's a phenomenal performance and like Stephen was saying casting is key. I mean, you know, Kirsten obviously you know, Jesse you know. But for me, the first person I thought of as George was Jesse Plemons and there was a to-ing and fro-ing with the dates and another casting idea and Jesse thought I don't know if I've played something like this before and he can speak to that, obviously, but then Kirsten got cast and I was like come on, it’s got to be Jesse, this is just perfect and they're so good they had to obviously undo the language of intimacy they have as a couple and despite there being chemistry, you have to you have to learn it afresh for your characters. Stephen knows, you know, he’s worked with Hannah his Mrs. And it's a different thing, it's very different, so there's that. But as far as a discovery, I feel that this is for the world at large or a larger audience. But you know, I am talking about someone who's been in, you know, the The X-Men, who's been in—oh gosh what else has he been in?—Let the Right One In, was one I remember, The Road, you know, he played the kid in the road. So it's just, yeah. He not at the beginning of his career, but it’s just an amazing moment for him nonetheless.
And behind the camera I mean we had quite a few very well established people, but I guess Ari is the youngest of those who are established and people may know her work. I guess BAFTA winners would definitely know work from Lady Macbeth, which was just a masterful piece of cinematography and together with Florence Pugh's performance just had me spellbound the whole of that film. She's very, very, very remarkable, and again, she's done quite a bit since they—Jane and her actually met on a commercial, so they already had a previous, but it is, it was the first feature that she's done with her and she's remarkable. So those would be my 2 picks. I don't think I'm—probably, well actually, a lot of our cowhands as well. There was a first time actor who came all the way from Australia, well ‘all the way’ from Australia, we were in New Zealand, still quite away, who was used to working sheep ranches out there who was amazing. He was just the real deal and he didn't know whether he was going to continue with the acting, he was going back to his day job, but he just was so… it gave us all that buzz. Not that we needed it, especially with COVID stopping production, we all got that fresh feeling of quite how unique what we do is and how lucky we are to do it and not take any of it for granted, because it was taken away for a while and it looked like the film might be in real peril of not being completed. Amongst us, yeah, he was just this joyous light. In fact there were three non-actors in our in our company of ranchmen. Somebody told me long time ago I'm not allowed to say cowboy anymore, which I find it odd 'cause Ryan who is a cowboy, calls himself a cowboy. But anyway, so I always hesitate: ranch hand is, I think, the term I'm supposed to say, but you know, he was, the three of them were extraordinary and I think you'll see a lot of those boys in separate fare, but yeah.
SG: Uhm, that's a great question because I could pick any one of them. I think personally.
Especially, we’ve already spoke about Tom and I think Phil. Max, Max sorry—I called him Tom. Definitely, I think Phil Barantini will—I think he's a wonderful director, you know he really is. He's got such a beautiful temperament and manner on set and how he treats everybody on set it’s beautiful. And he's, you know, he comes from an experience of being an actor, so he has that knowledge and he really appreciates and respects the process. And there's Lauryn, for me—Anna, what’s Lauryn’s second name? How do you pronounce it? Ajufo. Lauryn Ajufo who was, who is magnificent. She's beautiful. I love that, you know, I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but you know the moment I mean at the table and the moment that happens, well, how the camera just stays back and we just see it go through her face.
And yet it's something you know that I know the discussions that her and Phil had about that, and she used a lot of their own personal experiences and their situations as well.
She for me was a standout, they were all… But I feel bad picking any one particular person because it was a beautiful job to do. It was the most exciting job I've ever done because of that kind of difference in the ages amongst all of us, but also in the experience of us, you know what I mean? Someone brand new and you feed off,
With Benedict like you were saying about that ranch hand, the cowboy or the ranch hand. You watch them and you marvel at them, at what they do and you go wow and it excites you again. Do you know what I mean? And then you just bounce off each other, really. To me, I always use that reference and Anna gets annoyed because I always bring it back to football and it's passing the ball to me, passing the ball, you're just passing the ball to each other all the time, you know what I mean? And that, that's the joy of it, and with this beautiful cast, like I say all different experiences, it was just a wonderful, wonderful job to be a part of and it was the most exhilarating yet the most Zen-like I’ve ever had to be and the most Zen-like I’ve ever been on a set because you were right in that moment every single time. You were in it you were captured in that space in time. Without sounding pretentious, that hour and ten minutes or whatever we were all on fire for that hour and ten minutes. Every single one of us, the energy in that room was palpable.
It was one of the most amazing experiences apart from getting married and the two kids I have. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It just was, the energy in it. And I don't want to sound like some weirdo because we went to a spiritual place in there. Benedict’s done beautiful plays and he's done Shakespeare and he'll understand what I'm saying in that play context. But to have that context as well in in a film with that not wanting to get anything wrong but then if someone does drop a plate, you drop a plate in the restaurant, don’t you? So you just carry on you just go with it. You just let it be a part of the piece. So in that respect for me it was beautiful and I learned so much from these people and these young up and coming actors because I fed off their hunger as well. You know what I mean. And I was the oldest one there, the old statesman of it all. But it was a wonderful experience and it's unfair for me to pick anyone out because I hope they all flourish in the careers that they have in our profession, hopefully, from the bottom of my heart I mean that.
MK: It does really sound for both you kind of that both of these films have been completely unique, kind of career wise for both you and kind of what you've learned about yourself,
what you've learned about craft of acting and what you're hopefully taking forward, kind of in everything you're doing as well. Maybe I'm overstepping, but you know, it seems it's been, yeah, a really special time.
BC: Oh, very much feel that, very much feel that.
MK: We have so many questions from the audience at home. The first one is from Jessica Romero: The Power of the Dog has been a watershed in your career. Phil is an extraordinarily complex character, and shows human vulnerability and emotional dependence behind the rude personality. Could you tell me why you think it's important to portray him in the twenty-first century?
BC: Because there are many of him still in the world and I think if we're to teach our sons to be feminists, if we're to teach equality, if we're to understand what poisons the well in men, what creates toxic masculinity, we need to understand and look under the hood of characters like Phil Burbank to see what their struggle is and why that's there in the first place because otherwise it will just keep repeating itself.
And while we're thankfully moving into a space now where survivors are being heard and supported and protected, and we've got a way to go on that still, don't get me wrong, but I think we also really have to look at the root cause of the behavior that these people have suffered from and this man, trying very hard not to say anything about a very odd reaction that happened the other day on a radio podcast over here without meaning to sort of stir over the ashes of that. I won't get into the details of it, if it's hit the news at home it has, it has here, but someone really took offense to… I haven't heard it, so it's unfair really for me to comment in detail on it, but really took offence to the West being portrayed in this way. And beyond that reaction, that sort of denial that anybody could have any, other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they're born, there's also a massive intolerance within the world at large towards homosexuality still, towards an acceptance of the other, of any kind of difference and no more so I guess in this prism of conformity in the sense of what is expected of a man in the sort of Western archetype mold of masculinity.
And so I think to deconstruct that through filters, to look at that. It's not a history lesson and I mean need we look much further than what is going on in Russia at the moment to understand that somewhere in the mind boggling idiocy of that man’s megalomania is some damage. There's some damage there, and we saw it in a president of the country that's hosting me at the moment, though, you know these, these people still exist in the world and whether it's on our doorstep or whether it's down the road or whether it's someone we meet in a bar or a pub or I don't know, on the sports field. There is aggression and anger and frustration and an inability to control or know who you are in that moment that causes damage to that person. And as we know far, far more openly now as I was saying, damage to others around them. I think there's no harm in looking at a character to try and get to the root causes of that. I mean, this is a very specific case of repression but also due to an intolerance, a societal intolerance for that for that true identity that Phil is, that Phil has, that he can't fully be. But I think the more we look under the hood of toxic masculinity and try to discover the root causes of it, the bigger the chances we have of dealing with it when it arises with our children, in playgrounds at school, with their friends, in the behavioral patterns that we might see in innocent play and just understand, yeah, how to how to police that and how to teach something that includes their feelings and holds them in that emotional space so they can be what they are being in that moment, but not cause damage to themselves or others. That was a long answer!
MK: Do you think it is as simple as talking? I know that sounds like a really silly thing to say, but for me when I was watching The Power of the Dog—
BC: It's very—it’s easy when you’re talking about films and you know with like-minded artistic folk and it's much harder to go up to the guy at the bar who wants to glass you and go hey, look, I'm really sorry things haven't worked out for you until now. It’s very hard to know how to mediate it with in real life, but I think that's one of the great things we get to do as storytellers in culture is to be able to siphon it into metaphor, to sort of let it kind of let the light, you know, peek through the crack a little bit. Hopefully it might touch someone or ignite a conversation about it that might reach someone like that. It's much harder to go out and kind of billboard that as a problem because of course the massive aggression, and defensiveness, you'll meet with that, as well as the fist or the weapon or whatever it might be.
Yeah, it doesn't necessarily find a good space and a time to be aired in in everyday life, and I think that's why art and storytelling of any kind, whether it's a song lyric or a, you know, someone speaking of their own experience, a lived experience, or whether it's a piece of piece of art or poetry or film, can sometimes do that.
I really do believe that again without sounding too pretentious I just I think that is one of the things that art categorically is socially, societally, incredibly important for at every level, at every level you know and that's why yeah, that's why I think I'm very passionate about it being something that's introduced to kids at school and it's funded properly, and it’s something that yeah, it's part of the growing experience. In order for these kind of messages and ways of examining problems to happen in a in a safe way, in a metaphor or parable.
MK: I know that Stephen you've talked about this previously and maybe not here, but kind of acting and playing roles and telling stories and other people’s stories has perhaps even saved you a little bit as well. Kind of being able to connect with the human experience, through different—being different people makes it easier for you to be able to connect kind of with the world at large, but do you both feel kind of that's the one thing that kind of being an actor, the privilege it perhaps gives you as well?
SG: Yeah, uhm, but also you know, just to reiterate what Benedict just said. Look, I know a lot of it is entertainment and don't get me wrong some of the stuff we do is entertaining massively, hopefully, hopefully, but then occasionally you are allowed to either you know, be seen on screen or even more appropriately, come through that little empathy box that's in the middle of everyone’s living room and if you can penetrate through that.
And like Benedict said if you can cause some kind of discussion or throw something up for debate which breaks the normal of what may normally happen in that household, or you create a platform for someone to go ‘Mum, do you know what…’ or ‘Dad, I was just…’. If you can create that atmosphere then to me that's a gift. And to be able to be in a position where we can put a mirror up to society and say let's have a look at ourselves here for a second. Be it in whatever format that may be, let's just take a little look at us for a second and see how we conduct with our fellow man and see are we kind, are we being sincere or where are our motives from? I think to be in that position is a huge privilege and a huge honor for me. Just for me in particular to be able to go down that road of being of being an actor, you're like a young lad that wanted to act and get on a bus and go into the Everyman New Theatre, for me that was a wonderful opportunity and to meet lots of like-minded people, you know what it mean?
That was where I got to meet kids with posh accents, kids who had purple hair and listened to Morrissey. Whereas I was just a break-dancer who had a nice pair of Adidas trainees. But you know, that was where we all got to have our place to come and meet like-minded people and to be a part of these stories and to take what we learned there back into our households and back into our friendship groups. I think for me it was imperative in in informing the man who I am today. It really was. Hopefully what Benedict—I completely agree with what he was saying, that it gives us that experience to be able to create this place for our children to try and raise the children to the best of our abilities. We’re given a platform to be these rounded, honest decent pure individuals. For me, it’s integral and it
really is, I feel so blessed to be able to do what I do. What Benedict was saying earlier on, you know throughout the pandemic and stuff like that, the luxury of the job that we do, and it's not a job, it's a vocation. It's a vocation. It's not a job. I don't dig ditches, you know what I mean? I don't, I'm not doing, I'm not working on the railroads and all of those jobs that are honourable jobs in their own rights. But I'm very blessed and very lucky to be able to do what I do, I feel, personally. To just be able to be in things that have a voice, I suppose, or to be able to give people a voice is a blessed place to be personally as an actor.
BC: I agree. It's true, yeah, I agree.
MK: I am going to pick one last audience question to end on. I'm going to pick one that
ends us all on an optimistic note: Which film do you always come back to? The one that brings you joy?
SG: Very easy for me.
BC: Go on.
SG: It’s a Wonderful Life.
BC: Oh, you're kidding me. It’s a Wonderful Life?
BC: I was going to say are you going to say It’s a Wonderful Life? And I've seen it so many times.
Sophie said, oh, it's playing—we were up in Edinburgh with her family there and she said it’s playing at the cinema. I said, I know it backwards, but I went to see it and oh my God. I mean, again, lucky us to have that gift of amplification for some of what we do as well as the thing in the corner of the room, which is equally, I admit, you're absolutely right, it's—to have something in your home is a really profound way of experiencing art. But to see that film large for the first time in a cinema was amazing and it’s everything, isn't it? It’s like Jimmy Stewart’s acting, everyone’s acting, but Jimmy Stewart’s performance in that is just phenomenal. And it doesn't age. It is a master class and yes it is a very uplifting Capra movie, but it's not sentimental. It's not cheap in its in its sentiment at all. Everything’s so richly earned in it and it's just, yeah, it's a very, very beautiful story.
SG: It just fills my heart with gratitude that film.
BC: Yeah. Every time.
SG: Yeah, no matter what, yeah.
MK: That that's the perfect, perfect way to end.
BC: Two in one.
MK: Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Graham, this has been great. Thank you so much and congratulations on your nomination. Well deserved. And for the audience at home, if you want to tune in on sat Sunday the thirteenth of March, Rebel Wilson will be hosting the EE British Academy Film Awards on BBC One in the UK at 7:00 PM. Thank you so much, it’s been great. Wishing you all of the best and I'm always, Stephen going to be calling it the empathy box from now on.
BC: The empathy box.
SG: It's not my own, I got that off Jack Thorne. It’s not mine.
BC: It's pretty good.
MK: Goodnight everyone, thank you.
SG: Thank you very much, lovely to see you.