It’s safe to say that Matthew Goode has never had a role quite like the one he has in “Stoker.” It’s a dark psychological thriller in which he plays Charlie Stoker, a mysterious man who returns to his family mansion after his brother dies.
It isn’t long before it’s clear that Charlie (who has a thing for belts) wants to have inappropriate relationships with his brother’s widow Evelyn (played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman) and his niece India (played by Mia Wasikowska) — and the results could be deadly. At the New York City press junket for “Stoker,” Goode talked about this unusual role when I sat down with him for this interview.
Did "Stoker" director Park Chan-Wook want you to play a scene in many different ways or did he want you to do a scene in straightforward manner?
It was fairly straightforward most of the time. Ultimately, one of the things we were on the [same] page of was I have a certain dislike of films, not necessarily in this genre, that spoon-feed an audience and we have to try and seek to answer every single question. There is an element of interpretation for an audience around this. Certainly, it’s very difficult. Although it’s an evil character, per se, he’s got to find the psychological truth to him, as close as you can in imagination.
Although it’s a coming-of-age-story for Mia [Wasikowska]’s character, Charlie is slightly trapped in the past. What director Park wanted was [a question] about bad blood: Is there a pre-disposition within the family bloodline? Do you inherit these things? A nature versus nurture kind of idea.
I like the idea that he’s masculine and physically strong, but at other times he’s not an innocent but very child-like. It’s all about loneliness, for me. They [the Stokers] are very detached.
Geographically, you have no idea where this is going on in America. I know it’s a Gothic fairy tale that was shot in the South, but it’s not depicted as being in the South. I [as Charlie Stoker] am wearing sepia-colored clothing and [am] very WASP-ish and preppy and seem to be from a different era.
Again, it taps into that thing of a trapped childhood. So in answer to your question, we did turn up the child occasionally and bring it back, and sometime within the same scene. It was quite underplayed, I hope.
Is it more fun for you to play a creep, compared to playing a romantic hero?
I think so. Haven’t done too much of either, really. I think it’s fun to have a really good script and to work with Jacki Weaver and an incredible bunch of actors. The main thing though is Park Chan-Wook. He is a f*cking magnificent auteur.
Considering what he depicts on screen, he works very peacefully. He’s very calm and considered and thoughtful. He’s got an amazing heart and a fierce intelligence. And the amount of work that went in, way before pre-production. We arrived and every single frame is storyboarded and beautiful drawings — it wasn’t like stick men and arrows — which is somewhat disconcerting.
“Is there much for me to do here? You seem to have it all mapped out. Am I going to have to be trapped in each frame because I’ve got to be standing like this?” Not at all. It was very collaborative. We were very lucky.
Can you talk about the piano scene with you and Mia Wasikowska? The scene is portrayed as having a lot of sexual tension, much like foreplay.
It’s almost euphemistic in its own way, the construct. I hadn’t played the piano for 20 years. So I make a next appearance with a Philip Glass piece. Oh sh*t! Very arpeggio. Luckily, my hands were big enough. It was great.
We were able to get three-quarters of it down, which means it’s much easier for your director. It’s kind of nice because we understand the vocabulary of the film. Anyone someone starts playing a musical instrument [on screen], you’re like, “Are they really playing that?” So it was nice for him to be able to dip down and “they are.” And some of the stuff we had to fake because it was just too [difficult].
But there’s very sexual quality to that [scene]. It’s nice because they can’t touch each other — by nature, they don’t like to be touched — but they get as close as they possibly can. You look at the feet. It’s kind of like Billy Wilder meets [David] Lynch. But it was a lot of fun to do — really, a lot of fun — and very liberating, actually, once you’ve done all the months of rehearsal that we had to do it. I like to think, anyway. It’s difficult doing that and acting at the same time.
Did you have to show any musical skills in the miniseries “Dancing on the Edge,” which is about a jazz band called the Louis Lester Band?
No, Chiwetel Ejiofor [did]. I’m the guy who finds the band. I’m a journalist. I write for the paper called the Music Express, which is the forerunner to the New Music Express (or NME) in England. That’s one of the reasons why I love the band, like many people do. I don’t have the ability to play this new wave of jazz music that’s coming from America. So it was great going to the set every day. We had some of the best jazz musicians in England. Just fabulous, really toe-tapping stuff.
“Stoker” screenwriter Wentworth Miller has a prequel written called “Uncle Charlie.” Do you know about this prequel?
I have it in my possession, but I’ve never read it because it might piss me off if it’s never made and it’s really good. I would’ve read it if director Park had [said to], and if there was stuff in there that you want to put in here. And he decided that [there] wasn’t. I haven’t read it, but I hear it is good.
Did you and Park Chan-Wook talk about why Charlie was so fascinated with his niece India?
It wasn’t really a back story. We talked about it. It was my rehearsal on this job. A lot of times you’re not actually going on to the location you’re using until the day you’re doing it. So you’ve rehearsed it in some completely different place …
We talked about it at length. One of the reasons why there’s this attraction. It’s not a sexual thing. It’s this idea of loneliness and a recognition of someone who’s the same as him. And so he’s waiting for the right time. It’s almost a polite way to wait until, age-wise, that she’s seen as an adult.
Did any other movie characters inspire the way you played Charlie Stoker?
No. I tend to use still life these days. Bizarrely, on this [movie], there were some Gothic fairy-tale drawings — I wish I could remember the name of the artist — that captured the mood of what I think he was trying to achieve … We were in a steak restaurant having a lovely time. Margaritas were passed on and let’s drink some whiskey. And we were quite merry. We were conversing a lot in English.
And there was this painting. It was quite small, and it was in the corner of the room … and I was like, “That’s it. That’s Uncle Charlie.” It was a period thing, a 1920s guy, something in his eyes. I said, “Director Park, come look at this.”
And he came up to it and took a photograph and said, “Uncle Charlie.” Done. That’s why I love him. He’s a very collaborative. He’s an amazing. Thank God that f*cking painting was there.
Were you at the “Stoker” premiere in Park Chan-Wook’s home country of Korea?
I wasn’t. I was on “dad duty.” My other half was at work, and she was traveling around, and I was kind of gutted. I didn’t want Mia to be on her own, not as in I was worried for her safety. It’s not the nicest thing to have to go and promote a movie on your own. It’s a long travel.
So no, I didn’t actually go, but I would’ve loved to. It was a bit sad, really, because I felt I was letting him down a little bit because he’s so beloved out there. It would’ve nice to show it in his home country with more of the cast there. Nicole [Kidman] was working too. I couldn’t have taken [my daughter] Matilda over there. It would’ve been very tough on her. I missed it.
Mia Wasikowska said that you both went to honky-tonks in Nashville in your free time while you were filming “Stoker.” Can you talk about that?
Hell yeah! We did. It was great. Particularly, there was one bar called Robert’s that I was a big fan of. They’re all very similar. The musicianship is kind of amazing. So that was something I never really got out of: doing the tourist-y thing.
I think it’s nice to have a multi-generational thing — 75-year-olds or 80-year-olds two-stepping and youthful and a couple of fights over there and peanuts on the floor. I just love that kind of music. I didn’t know a huge amount about it. My missus likes a bit of country and western. And the stories are good.
And we used to go watch the Time Jumpers as well, at the Station Inn, who are incredible. And Vince Gill plays there every Tuesday night. Wow! Eric Clapton studies his moves, so I was just sitting there in awe.
Most of them are battered 70-year-old musicians but just so good, like, real “put a smile on your face” stuff. It’s great and relaxing — not that I ever really take my work home with me. “Let’s f*cking leave Uncle Charlie for a little bit. Let’s pick him up tomorrow.”
Do you have any stories about working with Nicole Kidman?
Nothing crazy that I can remember, apart from how blown away I was by how professional she is, really. It’s inspiring to see someone balancing being a brilliant mum and doing her work. You can’t help but have a preconception about what she’s going to be like.
I lived with her on screen ever since I saw her do “BMX Bandits” when I was 8 years old. If someone had told me at 8, “You’ll be doing a film with her, and you’ll probably be holding her boob,” I’d have gone, “I can’t believe it! How amazing!”
I don’t even know what my preconceptions were, apart from I thought I probably wouldn’t have much access to her outside of work. She was incredibly generous with her time. I think she got very comfortable because I don’t think she thought I was an a**hole, which is lucky. [My daughter] Matilda was out with us, and [“Stoker” producer] Michael Costigan had his kids, and we went to a pumpkin patch with Nicole. It was just very nice to see.
She’s also so much fun. I think people might think she’s a little bit cold because of the characters she plays. She’s actually hilarious. So it’s nice to have that access, isn’t it?
Given that Park Chan-Wook did so much storyboarding, were there any visuals in the “Stoker” movie that weren’t in the storyboards? And if so, which of those visuals surprised you the most?
I remember the Nicole [hair] thing. I was like, “Jesus, no wonder he spent so much time getting that shot of my hair.” That is one of the most beautiful dissolves I’ve ever come across. Wow, it was just stunning.
So there were surprises like that, but in general, no, we knew the quality we were in involved in, just the nature of how he worked with [director of photography] Chung-Hoon Chung. He wasn’t so strict with the storyboarding that he wouldn’t on a dime change his mind about how he was going to do something, which was nice.
Do you think “Stoker” is a story of female empowerment?
I think in the sense of Mia’s character, it’s a coming-of-age story. She [as India Stoker] goes through quite a change. She starts off as very insular. She is empowered by the end of it … There’s an animalistic nature of the film, like, “Who’s the predator and who’s the prey?” I think there’s a little bit of that going on there too.
What can you say about any of your upcoming projects?
I’m only in the first two scenes of “Belle,” which was so much fun. I’ve worked with Emily Watson before, but Tom Wilkinson, I just adore! And also [I worked with] Penelope Wilton. So it was like working with a couple of old friends again. Amma Asante is the director. It’s a really, really interesting piece. And it’s got a lot of cool younger actors, like Sarah Gadon coming through. [I play] Captain Sir John Lindsay. So there’s that.
And I’m very fortunate to be going off and doing “The Vatican,” a bit of telly for Showtime. It might go to series, which you never can predict. It’s with Kyle Chandler, who I love, and Sebastian Koch and Bruno Ganz. I play Bernd Koch. And Sir Ridley [Scott] is going to direct the pilot and produce it. And Paul Attanasio, who’s an amazing writer, he hasn’t written the series yet. I’m sure he’s on it. So that’s exciting. And there’s a couple of other projects that I’m really excited about that I can’t talk about.
For more info: "Stoker" website