Wall Street Journal Interview with Matthew Macfadyen (July 2010)

The Wall Street Journal has interviewed Matthew Macfadyen and discusses his thoughts about The Pillars of the Earth and The Three Musketeers in 3D.  Read the full article here!

July 23, 2010, 2:00 PM ET

Matthew Macfadyen Talks ‘Pillars of the Earth’ on Starz, ‘Three Musketeers’ Remake

Sex and violence are on full display in Starz’ eight-hour miniseries adaptation of Ken Follett’s “The Pillars of the Earth.” Set in 12th century England, the story uses actual historical events as a backdrop, but primarily revolves around several generations of fictional characters as they construct — or block the construction of — a cathedral in Kingsbridge.

While physical construction of the cathedral is left to Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell) and his stepson Jack (Eddie Redmayne), the religious infrastructure’s spiritual head is the earnest Prior Philip. As played by Matthew Macfadyen (”Pride & Prejudice,” “Robin Hood”), Philip is one of the few kindhearted characters in Follett’s $40 million epic. Speakeasy talked to Macfadyen about his role in the series.

The Wall Street Journal: Given the epic size of this miniseries, how long was filming?

22 weeks — it was a long time, but left from time to time because I’ve got three kids and tried to see them as much as possible, and it was pretty easy from where we were [in Hungary and Austria.].

Prior Philip is one of the few “good” characters in the series. What attracted you to the role?

I liked him — I liked that fact that he is good, but not a goody two-shoes. He’s quite vain in his way and he’s quite political and hard-nosed, but fundamentally, he wants what’s best for the church. And it was just something different. Also, as an actor, sometimes you crave a bit of security, and those five lovely months of shooting fitted in with the schedule. And of course, the cast was great.

What was your favorite scene to shoot?

This is a wishy-washy answer, but the scene I enjoyed doing most was one that went wrong. There were lots of farmyard animals on set and there’s one scene where I’m on a soapbox asking the villagers to work for nothing to build the church and there’s this donkey on-set that’s bleating very loudly and farting all over the dialogue. The production crew recorded it and gave it to me at the wrap, this “donkey breaking wind” tape. So whenever I see that scene I laugh.

Ken Follett’s books is now being re-released as an amplified e-book, complete with video excerpts from the miniseries. As an actor, what’s your take on the trend towards watching films on smaller and smaller mobile screens?

It sounds great but I imagine it can be unsettling — so much about reading is having your own version of it in your head, isn’t it? So if you read a chapter and then watch a bit [of the film], you might just think ‘Ugh, my Tom Builder didn’t have a beard.’

Personally, I’m very happy to watch things on my iPad as I go back and forth between fittings and the like. I don’t mind. I’m sure it’s much nicer watching a film on the big screen, but I can’t remember the last time my wife and I were in the cinema watching a proper grown-up film. Because of the kids, we tend to watch on TVs and laptops.

You’re about to start shooting “The Three Musketeers” for Paul Anderson.

I’m having quite a nice month of getting ready for it, doing horse-riding and sword-fighting and fittings and all that. It’s being shot in Germany, near Munich and other Bavarian locations, and a little bit of studio work in Berlin.

Have you done sword-fighting for any previous roles?

Once or twice in plays, various Shakespeare things. It’s all really good fun — childishly good fun.

Most cinematic version of “The Three Musketeers” tend to be rather lighthearted. What’s the tone of Mr. Anderson’s take?

It’s quite comic-book-y. It’s written by Andrew Davies [who wrote "Bridget Jones's Diary" and the 1995 "Pride and Prejudice"] so it’s quite campy, but in a right way. Plus, it’s in 3-D so it’ll look cool.

Will it be your first film in 3-D?

Yes…. I haven’t really seen any 3-D films. I’ve seen “Up” and all the Pixar films, but I missed “Avatar.” I can’t imagine how it’ll be.

How do you choose your roles?

They sort of choose me, really. Unless you’re a very, very powerful actor, projects land in your lap and you go, oh, that’s a nice offer or gig and you have to jump for it. For me, I like doing films that are different from what I’ve just done. My heart sinks if I feel like I’m doing the same thing again.

“The Pillars of the Earth” debuts tonight on Starz at 10 p.m. E.T.