Come inside for a few new pictures and interviews of Ben Whishaw promoting the magical “Bright Star”…..
New pics from TIFF
Good Prattle interview
Considering the background of Keats and how distinctive and well-chronicled he was, how did you prepare to play him?
I suppose I just tried to understand as much as possible and read as much as possible. I did a lot of reading. I read about four biographies and all the letters, which are really the best way in because they’re so incredibly intimate. They must be the most intimate kind of literature, really. So—letters, poetry, biographies. And then I suppose we never wanted it to be academic about it so we just—both Jane and I, we read a lot and then we found the right key for our story, our poem. It’s a poem, really, on a story, which is all it can be. So I think Jane was a big influence as well on the way we represented him because I think she had a very particular film in mind.
So how familiar were you with his work before you started working on the film?
Not at all familiar. I think I’d read something at school, one of the sonnets maybe, but other than that really nothing. So it was a journey into the unknown, but I really was totally, totally won over. I’ve always enjoyed poetry, but I really had a prejudice against that era of poetry because I always think it’s not going to—I don’t know, I just made the assumption that it wouldn’t really be for me. And I’m really grateful that I’ve had this sort of privileged way into the poetry, understanding it through a human being who wrote some of it; it makes it more accessible.
One of the things that’s really interesting to me about the story is that it’s kind of like a love story in a straitjacket. You’re so limited as to what you can reveal and you’re supposed to convey this passionate love of two people’s lives in face and in gesture and I just wondered what kind of how you worked that. Did Jane ever say if you were going too far, or—because there’s so much restraint in the role—how did you play with that?
It’s funny because until we started showing the film to people I never even thought about it being chaste. I knew that there were limitation on the relationship, but they always felt more like limitations that were on most relationships in those days. I remember in one scene where Abbie and I were sitting together surrounded by my friends and Abbie and I instinctively put our hands on each others knees and then Jane was like “No no, there’s no way you could ever do that.” [laughter] It’s ridiculous. So I was aware that there were restrictions, you know, but actually when we were rehearsing and filming it always felt, like, very passionate, very sensual, which is perhaps something you don’t see very much now. But I think just because it’s only a kiss doesn’t mean it’s not as powerful and sensuous—as electric and explosive as something more obviously, um, fulfilling. [laughter]
My theory is that calling it a chaste love affair is part of the marketing to distinguish it and associate it with Twilight and it is exactly what you would expect from that time. There’s the line when you won’t go any further with her and you say “I’m a man of conscience.”
Yes, that’s when Keats is about to leave and Fanny says “I’d do anything” and he says, “I have a conscience.” Yes, that’s true.
That was actually a shocking line to me. Did it feel that way in the writing?
It’s interesting to hear other people say so but, no, it didn’t feel that way to me, no.
Do you think Keats knew that he might not return back and that another man might come and marry her?
Well, I think he absolutely knew he was going away to die, and that’s what they say in that scene: “Let’s pretend I’m going to come back.” His whole family had died that way, of illness, and there’s absolutely no doubt in his mind.
One of the things that I find absolutely fascinating is that Keats’ circle of friends is sort of like a collection of misogynists in a way—it’s like a no-girls-allowed club. And I was interested in what your take was on Charles [Brown, played by Paul Schneider], because there’ a lot of ways you can read that friendship.
Well, when we were preparing the film and discussing it, we just thought that they were great chum. And I think that of Keats’ friends it was a peculiar friendship and some couldn’t quite see what Keats thought of this guy, because he was Keats’ best friend, but I always thought Charles grounded Keats; he kind of stopped him disappearing into the ether. And I think he had an earthiness as well, Keats, which is shared in the letters. And I think there was jealousy, perhaps, because there’s a strong friendship and then there’s this third party who’s getting more attention, and I think that’s something we encounter all the time in our lives—a love which is invaded by a romance. It kind of alters the balance.
And Keats is investing in this girl and he’s taking care of her and Brown came off as more of a jealous wife than as a friend.
Well, that’s something we talked about, and Paul would have his own things to say, I’m sure!
Even though we’ve referred to it as very chaste, at the same time it kind of seemed to me like an un-corseted period piece (pun intended) because, even though there was very little physical romance, the language and the way people interacted was so much more relaxed. For example, Keats and Brown are dueling with celery sticks at one point! I wondered if it felt like that as well while working on it.
Well, Jane definitely didn’t want it to be stiff and formal or in any way like we were acting in a period film. I think she absolutely wanted it to be relaxed and natural and she is very interesting to watch on set because she sort of gets herself relaxed and then just listens and sometimes I’m not even sure if she’s watching but she’ll sort of go “I listened. I listened to you that time. I heard what you were saying.” And that was totally what she was working for, that it should just speak beyond the period, and she’s also interested in everyday-ness and domesticity much more than in the kind of social side of things. And Keats was famously uncomfortable in those sorts of situations, which is why I think she honed in on the private and the intimate.
What was uncomfortable with Keats? On the set—what you just said about Jane being very relaxed, you can sort of see it in the eyes of each person in the film—and I wondered about that. Did you have a long rehearsal period?
We had over three weeks’ rehearsal, which was amazing. Quite rare on a film. And it was great. It was a strange kind of rehearsal because we spent a lot of time lolling around on couches, looking out the window. Because I come from theater so I expected something more disciplined and rigorous. And Jane encouraged us. I had a headache one day and Jane said, “Well, sleep,” so I slept for three hours. [(dodgy)laughter] But there was a kind of strange method in there and it was to do with just being present, not forcing anything, being relaxed with each other, able to be completely vulnerable with each other.
I think we see really clearly when Keats is interacting with family members. Tell us about interacting with the younger cast. You don’t get to see the brother too much.
Well, you don’t get to see him too much, but he’s kind of hovering around!
It’s very naturalistic.
Yeah. Well, Keats had a younger daughter—no, sorry, I’m not talking about a younger daughter, I’m talking about a younger sister. Frances Keats, whom he was very protective of; I believe he left everything to her. And even though it’s not mentioned in the film, I think that Fanny’s sister Toots is a little sister—it’s a little sister relationship. And Jane is also magnificent with children. She loves their energy. And, if anything, I think she wants us all to have the purity of little children because they can’t lie about things.
I thought it was very interesting that scene when you two were doing that very chaste kissing—just like any two teenagers do—and you were trying to keep Toots from finding out.
Where were you filming? Did that sorta do any work in terms of immersing yourself?
Well we were filming in Bedfordshire, which is not that far north of London and probably looks a lot like Hampstead would have looked in those days. Definitely fed the work we were doing. In the spring you feel that kind of… you feel romantic in the spring. [laughs]
I just wanted to break away for about five seconds and ask you about… you played Hamlet in a production that was probably one of the first age-appropriately-cast Hamlets ever and I just wanted to ask you what that was like, especially knowing that there’s not exactly a precedent of Hamlet being played by college-age actor.
It was amazing. But it was about six years ago and I had a wonderful time but I was very, very inexperienced, which was probably a great thing. It meant that I wasn’t really aware of—you know, of how badly it could go wrong. [laughter] But I was kind of flying by the ssss…skin of my teeth, or whatever the expression is. I think now I look back on it. If I were to do it again I would probably do it very differently. But I think not knowing what I was doing actually was perhaps key to the way I played it and the way the whole production kind of played out.
Back to this film—I wanted to know, when you were researching Keats, what sort of stuck out? Particular poems or letters that sort of colored your portrait?
So many things, and I keep forgetting, but they’re so rich in literal gems in phrases he’d coin or things he’d come up with. I suppose the one that became a kind of philosophy for the whole way we approached the film was this idea that he mentions in a letter called negative capability, which is sort of talked about in the film when Keats is talking about diving in the lake. And it’s this negative capacity to be in uncertainties or doubts without any irritable reaching after fact or reason. That was what he admired in great writers, but I think it’s kind of a philosophy of life or of being present in the mystery and being happy with not understanding everything. And that became a very important thing for me to remember, for all of us, actually, in the atmosphere on set.
Ah, I think we only have one more question left so I’m going to try to sneak in two. <[laughter] What’s coming up for you in the future, and what do you think Bright Star is going to say to audiences?
I’m doing some theater next. I’m doing a play in London, and then I think a play in New York. I hope that what I love about the film—aside from the fact that I find it a very moving story, and I’m always moved to tears when I see it, and it seems to have that effect on people, not just me or the people who made it, but it seems to move people, which I love. And I think that’s what Jane wanted, for people to feel kind of sensitized and in touch with what they feel, which is what I think the romantic poets were all about, really. They were all reacting to what was happening in the world, which was this mechanization and industrialization of human beings, and they were putting people back at the center and nature back at the center of life. Which i what I think the film is trying to do, and we’ll see how the world will take it or be interested in it. I don’t know. We’ll see.
Where did you train?
I went to RADA in London.
What play will you be doing in New York?
It’s called The Pride. Directed by I think Joe… Mantello? Yeah.
Well, thank you so much!
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