Rhys Ifans Interview

Rhys Ifans Interview

Actor Rhys Ifans’ latest film is Nanny McPhee, where he plays the cowardly brother-in-law of Maggie Gyllenhaal, but he’s also well known for starring in films like Notting Hill, The Boat That Rocked and the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Here he talks to View London’s Matthew Turner about Maggie Gyllenhaal’s English accent, playing a villain and getting filthy with Katy Brand.

What attracted you to the role and how did you get involved?
Rhys Ifans (RI): Well, I hadn't done a kids' film before. I haven't got any children myself but I've got loads of like godchildren and nieces and nephews and what have you and I just thought that I should at one point do something that they can actually come and watch. And Emma very kindly offered me a part in this and I'm a huge fan of Emma Thompson, she's just such an amazing actress.

And I just wanted to kind of disprove the adage that you should never work with animals or children – this is a farm populated by children, so you couldn't get any worse on paper, but it was brilliant, man, from day one. And also, just being offered the part of ‘the villain,’ I kind of wanted to – you know, you could have gone one way with it and played the villain but what I found more interesting about this guy was his utter sort of ineptitude and his cowardice. And I think that's the truth of it – you can't play a villain. A villain doesn't get caught but cowards and idiots do. And that's what this guy is.

I particularly enjoyed your scenes with Sinead Matthews and Katy Brand as the two female loan sharks. Were they all pretty much on the page or did you improvise them?
RI: No, they were pretty much on the page, but often [director Susanna White] would be laughing so much she'd forget to say cut so it would just get filthier and filthier and filthier [laughs]. But yeah, Katy and Sinead were a formidable pair of girls. Or just a formidable pair in Katy's case [laughs].

Were you impressed with Maggie's English accent?
RI: Maggie's? Maggie Smith's?

No, Maggie Gyllenhaal's!
RI: Oh, Maggie! Oh, right. Yeah, it was amazing. I didn't know she was American until week three! She was just phenomenal to work with, yeah. What a, you know, ‘proper’ actress – you know what I mean?

Did she keep up the accent off camera then?
RI: Yeah, she did! She'd slip occasionally. Only if, say, you split a hot cup of coffee on her she'd maybe turn American, but for pretty much the whole time she was like flying the flag, yeah.

Do you have a favourite scene in the film, either that you're in or you're not in?
RI: I just love the whole sequence where Nanny McPhee takes the kids to London and the film just changes, it changes colour and London becomes like this really – you really get closer to the war somehow and what it does then is it just accentuates this magical veil these kids are living in. I just love that device in the film and London's shot so interestingly.

Was there anything cut out that you hated to lose?
RI: I don't remember. Probably – there always is. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff that I improvised leading up to the scene or after the scene which has been cut, obviously because the film would be five hours long, but there was a lot of kind of really idiotic messing about. There is definitely an adult version of this film on the cutting room floor somewhere.

Did you base the character on anything you'd seen before?
RI: No. I mean, the natural thing to do would be to play that St Trinian's spiv –‘ello, darlin’ – but this guy, this is a country boy who's gone to London, failed miserably and come home with his tail between his legs, so that's all I was interested in. With an ill-fitting suit, like a guy who isn't good enough to be a spiv, that's what I wanted to do. So no, I hadn't seen it before.

What's your next project?
RI: I'm just about to start a film called Anonymous with Roland Emmerich, David Thewlis, Vanessa Redgrave and many more. It's set in Elizabethan England and it asks or almost answers the question that, possibly, William Shakespeare was not the author of his works. So yes, more controversy. A spanner in the complete works.

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Content updated: 21/03/2019 23:35

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