Matthew Goode, 34, the devilishly handsome English actor best know for playing aristocratic good-guys in “Match Point,” “Brideshead Revisited,” and “A Single Man,” is now playing a charming sociopath in the thriller, “Stoker,” which opened March 1, 2013.
In the South Korean genre iconoclast director Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film, Goode plays the charming but mysterious Uncle Charlie, who after a long absence returns home to his brother’s family, which consists of a sexually frustrated widow, Evie (Nicole Kidman), and a strange niece, 18 year-old India (Mia Wasikowska), who is just discovering her sexuality.
Soon Uncle Charlie has designs on his niece, India. Wasikowska (“Jane Eyre,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Kids Are All Right”) plays the peculiar India with just the right mixture of intensity and other-worldliness. It’s at her father’s funeral that she spies a mysterious man in shades peering down at her. He’s the uncle that neither she nor her mother even knew existed.
Just a week earlier India’s father died mysteriously in a car accident. She is grieving greatly for her father, while furious at her mother for not grieving enough. Soon, pervy Uncle Charlie insinuates himself into their household, and pesky inquiring folk begin to disappear.
“Stoker” is a mix of Hitchcock thriller and American Gothic fable, with all the kinks of the genre, including bloodline curses, sexual undercurrents and extreme violence. Park Chan-wook, most famous for 2003’s cult film “Oldboy” (Spike Lee is filming a remake), is known for stylish thrillers full of violence and vengeance. The film begins with a sense of dread for the audience and never lets up as bad things keep happening. Potential lethal objects are shown for a purpose. When Charlie takes off his belt, it’s not to change his clothes.
Thursday afternoon at a junket for “Stoker” at the Crosby hotel, the first thing I noticed when Goode strolled into the room was whether he wore a belt. I commented and said I would move a few seats away and he laughed.
How did you feel about being cast in this role, as a charming serial killer?
Matthew Goode: Typecast again! It’s a Park Chan-wook film, so in some ways you can’t help but go ‘I think I’m doing something right.’ I was lucky. My good friend Colin [Firth, with whom he starred in “A Single Man”] became too busy to do it. That was the first time I’ve ever had that happen. You read about it and you go, “You lucky bastard, walking into that role.”
It wasn’t offered by any stretch of the imagination. It was a process, as you’d imagine with Mia and Nicole already attached to do it, and director Park and a really great script. I knew it was going to be competitive. And a few of my good friends were in the hat, but it just comes down to the director’s taste and, luckily, on this occasion he went with me, so that was nice.
You’ve worked with British and American directors. What is the difference with this director’s style? It doesn’t look like a Hollywood film at all. What was his approach?
I don’t think it’s any different ultimately if you break it down to its bare bones. It’s still people talking to each other, listening and responding, that’s being captured by a camera. That’s not me being facetious, but he’s so fastidious. I haven’t seen anyone come to pre-production with 90 percent of the film properly made in his mind, and then drawn out, frame by frame, which was in some ways disconcerting.
It’s all pre-determined … He storyboarded the hell out of it, beautifully. Not stick men, but beautifully drawn images with a team of people doing it. He was like, “We can’t start filming in this location yet because I haven’t got the color of the walls the same as this eggshell.” Holy shit! That was mind blowing.
He had to adapt himself because of production costs in Korea, which are less; he would have taken twice as long in Korea … Just his meticulous nature, I suppose, and we were very lucky to have his long-term cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung.
But I think ultimately, the script is quite sparse of language. There’s only one person who has a real speech in it and that’s Nicole, and so that’s linked to the kind of operatic nature. I wouldn’t say it’s the most naturalistic dialogue. It’s very pointed … Everything is there for a reason. It’s a clue for something else, and that adds an extra level of intrigue to this weird bunch of characters.
What was it like working with a director who doesn’t speak much English?
It was actually very easy. He understands more than he can speak. And trust me, if you get a couple of stiff Lagavulins into him, you can’t stop him. Ultimately, and I don’t mean to sound facetious, the only thing that was tricky at the beginning was, who do I look at? It’s very easy. You look at him and then you look at the translator.
How did he direct you?
You start at the beginning of the day. We chat about the scene. And once you’re in the scene, you have the translator come over quickly and just tell you, and everything became kind of truncated and you work in a kind of shorthand. And between different set ups, maybe different scenes, you have more extended conversations, and if not, just gesticulate wildly.
The “Stoker” screenplay is by first-time screenwriter Wentworth Miller, who is an actor (“Prison Break”). Did you feel it was written more from an actor’s perspective?
The best compliment I could pay to him – and it was written under a pseudonym so we didn’t know – I might have entered into reading it first time around thinking, “Wow, this is an actor’s perspective,’ but it read like a really great screenplay. You didn’t think of it concentrating more on the actors than anything else. It was just a really bloody good piece of good.
What was it like shooting the piano duet with Mia? Do you play the piano? How challenging was that scene? [The duet is composed by Philip Glass and performed by Sugar Vendil and Trevor Gureckis, but there are close ups of Goode and Wasikowska playing the piano while they lean seductively into each other.]
It became liberating in the end, but I hadn’t played the piano for 20-odd years, so coming back into the fold piano playing with a Philip Glass piece was unbelievably daunting because it’s so arpeggio. But luckily, I don’t have a bad size hand, so it wasn’t like having to leap or anything like that.
It was hard work, but it was really great working with Mia. We learned about three-quarters of it, cause some of it was just too hard, too much going on with both hands. But we were able to fake some of that, so he was always given the opportunity to shoot the whole thing from whichever angle he wanted to.
And we kind of recognized that in the vocabulary of filmmaking, where when someone starts playing a musical instrument you’re like, “Hang on, is he really f…ing playing that?” So Director Park was able to dip down and you go, “Oh, they are!” It’s sort of nice. It’s not a trick on the audience, but it’s a nice payoff for the audience.
So you were playing?
Yeah, we did. We were able to do the whole thing.
The audience will think it’s CGI.
CGI, we just have green gloves on. [He laughed] … I just love working with Mia … Due to the nature of who’s the hunter and the hunted … She works like I did in many ways … You’re listening and you’re not doing much and that’s my school, which is trying to be as naturalistic as possible even when you’re playing a sociopath.
How do you think Charlie saw his relationship with Mia? Is she a lover? A protégé? This movies brings up so much about evil inherent.
It’s what Director Park called bad blood, that there is a predisposition in the family bloodline to do these acts. And Charlie, my whole thing with him is he’s isolated. He’s lonely. It’s not a vampire film, but there are things about it that are similar. The idea of it that he is trapped in the past and never really grew up … there’s almost an innocence to him … He must have heard that this niece, she’s like him and that for him is very powerful in his life. I’m finally not alone in the world.
We didn’t seek to answer every question. Audiences are far more intelligent, and I think it gets boring when this is concrete. With these kinds of complex emotions, I don’t think you can answer those questions. It never got to the length of it becoming a sexual relationship, but, as you can see, when Mia is in the shower, there is and always has been a very strong link between sex and violence … What it is also suggesting is that each generation becomes slightly stronger and more intelligent.
What was it like doing some of the murder scenes?
It was slightly uncomfortable in some ways. When we were filming with Alden [Ehrenreich from “Beautiful Creatures”], we had to hold up filming for several hours because there were some issues of safety. I’m coming up from behind and I have to loop a belt over, but because I can’t see him, we had to get it right, so it was slightly choreographed. [Goode waved his hands around to indicate the signal Alden gave when the belt was too tight.]
At the end of “Stoker,” Mia is definitely a woman. Is she better off having met him? Has she found her true nature?
Is she better off? Is the world better off? Ultimately, she’s essential to the story, and so we are kind of bizarrely happy for her to get away from the tendrils of her mother, which is, again, another complicated relationship.
“Stoker,” rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, opened in theaters in limited release on March 1, 2013. Check out the trailer below, and look for Matthew Goode in the upcoming Showtime series, “The Vatican.”