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INTERVIEW WITH STUART TOWNSEND ('Guy')

Rebecca Murray

 

Interview with "Head in the Clouds" Star Stuart Townsend

"Head in the Clouds" is a sweeping romantic tale set in between the two World Wars. Off-screen couple Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron star in "Head in the Clouds" as lovers whose lives follow wildly different paths.


Writer/director John Duigan describes the film as emerging from his desire to somehow express the tension between two diverse points of view when it came to living one's life and the larger world picture. "The period between the wars is something I had studied extensively at university. In essence, you have the climate of the Roaring Ď20s as a response to the appalling carnage of World War I. Psychologically, a lot of people were trying to close their eyes to the possibility of another dreadful war, and this was especially true in Paris, where there was a very vibrant cultural scene."


Duigan speaks highly of his entire cast, in particular his "Head in the Clouds" leading man Stuart Townsend.


Duigan acknowledges it's Townsend's character who brings the audience into the story. "I think his performance offers a sense of great nobility," says Duigan.


What is your perspective of this whole couples-working-together thing?
We've been offered two scripts to work together that year and it was just the wrong story, and this one was just great.


Are love scenes easier or more difficult because you're a couple?
They're easier, but it's still awkward because there's a gallery of people watching you, mostly lads. But it is a little easier because you don't have to do the nervous chit-chat, you know?


Is it easier to show intimacy and emotion when youíre involved with your co-star? Stuart Townsend Charlize Theron
When you're acting, you're to love the character, and to love a character I probably have [to] imagine a character then superimpose Charlize onto your face, and then just go for it. What is harder - I looked at it, and I worried about it - is that we know each other so well, there is a familiarity, and there might [not] be enough friction and tension, which creates chemistry. So we're always conscious and we're always aware [of it] that the chemistry didn't come off on screen. Sure we like and love each other, we know each other, but sometimes that doesn't translate. That is something I was always aware of.


Did you grow tired of seeing each other at work and at home?
Not normally. I never thought it would happen, but the film was so intense. She went to London for like 10 days and I had to stay in Montreal for the end of the film, and we were like, "See ya later," because we just spent SO much time together, day in and day out and it's intense, you know? So, it was nice to have a little break. Every relationship needs a little break. It's good to have space between people.


Why is the 'romance and war' genre still alive?Because romance and war are still alive (laughs). You know, you can find parallels in what's happening today. The first day of filming we were doing the Spanish Civil War sequence and I was in my military gear with my gun and they said, "Action," and I was shooting and killing people. I go back to my trailer and turn on CNN and it's the first day of the U.S. invading Iraq. There it was, it was different costumes, a different time, and desert, but the same old shit, you know?


Head in the Clouds

I think it's an amazing period of time, too - WWI and WWII, the Spanish Civil War. My character was like a lot of other people and was very idealistic and went out to fight for the good cause. I think in that time of WWI, the sacrifice was there. It's not like we really have to fight for anything like that anymore. I personally don't believe that. Back then there were great evils, and now there's just great propaganda. I'm so anti-war. If it was back in the day I might have gone to war, but now no way. I'm not dying for some rich guy.


Youíre not an American citizen, are you?
No. But in my case, I spent the last two-and-a-half years writing a political script about when the WTO came to town in Seattle in 1999, and it's very political. It's weird because I'm Irish and [itís] an American story, and I want to get that made. That's what I want to do, that's what I can do. I'm not interested in Irish politics at all. I'm fascinated by American politics. Bush is amazing. He's politicized the whole world. He's done a great job. When Clinton was in it was just all blow jobs, and s***, you know?


Are you trying to become an American citizen?
No, no, not yet, no. I am more political, but [Charlize and I have] not had a conflict. Charlize loves animals. She'll helps out with a lot of animal organizations, and belongs to them, and helps in a myriad form of ways. And the reason why I wrote the script is because a lot of my friends are activists and environmentalists and for years I've heard about the state of the world. And you think, "Jesus Christ, I've got to do something." Then Sept. 11th happens and people around the world, even if they weren't American, made you feel like there's a crisis and [youíre] thinking, "What are we doing?"


What attracted you to this character?
What I love about him is that he falls for this girl. He's from another world, he's shy, working class, underdog, not very worldly, and falls for this woman who's privileged, aristocratic and bohemian. I don't think he cares about any of that stuff. He falls in love with her, and I love that because you can't tell your heart what to do.

They live in Paris in this idyllic life with Penelope [Cruz] and it's very bohemian. It's a piece of paradise and for a lot of people that would be it. And it's not enough for him because he's realized there's other stuff going on. He's in a bubble, but there's more.


What the biggest difference between you and this character?
It's a different time. He went to war, and I wouldn't go to war. No way. Whereas back then, I don't know, maybe I would have. The choices would have been so different, especially if I wanted to be an actor.


I definitely have the capacity to fall in love like he does, but it's different. Probably, I would have fought for her a little more, I think. He's a little cooler than I am. When they have their discussions, he doesn't push things, he just lets things happen. I'd probably push things and rock the boat. He's a quieter character, more introverted. There's moments and scenes they have where the argument was done, it was over, and he kind of let that happen. I probably wouldn't. I would have fought it.


You've played a few bisexual characters in the past, do you think it's easier to explore that in film?
Nowadays, yeah, people are much more comfortable, and that's what's happening with you people today. Yeah, it's mad. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is a mainstream hit. Homosexuality is accepted. There's nothing to do anymore. I mean S&M stuff 15 to 20 years ago was like (whistles) and now it's mainstream. Everything alternative and cult ends up mainstream. Try to be original now, forget it. As soon as you are original, something comes down and throws you into mainstream. So, I think a lot of things are accepted.


There are some good things about that, especially for kids nowadays. It's tough for them growing up and trying to be different! I think it's great. It shows that we're evolving, that we can get beyond the whole sexual thing. It's interesting that gay marriage is so controversial and religion still has such a stranglehold on our brains. Especially the Irish Catholic guilt. You must be born with it or something, but it still exists. It will gradually fade out. It's a good time.


There is innovation. It's like music, there are only so many musical notes, there are only so many computations of musical forms that exist. If you put that music into a computer, they'll probably give you some number but out of that number we have jazz, blues, so many different genres, and so many different innovators and genre. Most music these days, to me, is just crap, but occasionally there's stuff in there that's incredible. There are some innovations and my analogy is the same for film, it's such a young art form, a young language, and two or three times a year, I see a film and go, "Wow, that's different." And there are thousands of films being made now, but there's still room for more original film and more original music.


For me, if everyone was making great movies, that would be one thing. But the opportunity to do a good film is so small nowadays. It's like winning the lottery to be in a good film. So, when something when "League of Extraordinary Gentleman" comes up I do it because I need some money at the time and I want to work. I don't do it because I'm proud of it, and it didn't do anything for my soul. I need some cash and it's something to do.

This is the first film I've done in three years that I'm proud of that I've done. I like it and I don't care what anyone else thinks. It's a good story, and I know it will affect some people. Some people won't like it. And that might [not] happen for another three years, you never know. I might do another piece of s***, you never know.


This was shot in a lot of interesting locations.
Montreal was nice, that was where most of it took place. Then in London for a week, then in Paris for a week and that was just heaven. In the summertime, we shot in amazing locations. It was the end of the film, we were partying at night, like the French do, bottles of wine and cheese, and it was one of those lucky weeks I'll never forget. Getting paid to work in Paris, who'd have ever thought? We were shooting in Paris: Point Neuf, Sacre Coeur, Luxembourg Gardens, the Chateau for three days. We didn't have any time. We were working, and the film was winding down. In the beginning, you're just focused and want your energy for the next day. But [on the] last leg you can push yourself and don't get as much sleep. You're an exhausted heap, but it's done.


I had to learn French. That was a bit scary. They all speak French, I don't. It was fun and challenging. I did not have to a perfect accent because I learned it. It was a low maintenance acting job.


Charlize said being in a relationship with you allowed her to manipulate you on the screen.
I agree. It was nice to have your heart broken by your girlfriend and then go home by the end of the day and hang out and order room service. It's nice to explore different aspects of your relationship that way. She's great at not bringing it home. When she did "Monster," she never brought home her character.


That's a good thing.
Head in the Clouds Thank God. I was worried. To be honest, I did a film called "Resurrection Man" and I was in character and I wouldn't be able to stop it, and probably [brought] it home. Like "Monster," I don't know if I could not have brought it home. Thank God she didn't. This wasn't an in-depth character study, but it was me and trying to stay true to the character. There's very few characters that have really overtaken me and it took like six months, it was always there. Friends would say, "That f***er is still there." And it was this character named Victor about Ulster Loyalists in the '70s in Belfast, they would go around killing people viciously and I was the leader of the gang. It was just mad. We filmed in the hard core places of Manchester. It was a dirty film, filmed in winter, everything about it was violent and tough. I couldn't get out of it. I tried to go to Italy, and everything was still black around me. I wish I could do that, just shake it off.


Were you on the set when she did "Monster?"
No, I left her alone. Why would I want to be there? I did not want to be around her. If I was going to do that, I would need my own space. I came for a weekend in between, and it was great, but the rest of the time I knew she was working hard. I would need that space.


What about you and Charlize tying the knot?
I keep hearing that we're doing that.


Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell arenít married.
We're not getting married ever then. But there's so much pressure to get married from like the media, not from my family, they're like. "Whatever, it's your life. If you're in love, you won the battle." We get phone calls from Dublin cake companies saying, "We'd like to make your wedding cake because you're having your wedding here, right? In two weeks?" It's mad, you know? Most people get married for the wrong reasons because their relationship is a little soggy and they want to spruce it up. But we're happy. You know, why ruin a good thing?


What about the paparazzi?
Before the Oscars we could go around anywhere, now they're chasing us a bit more. Long lenses, all that. My instinct is to punch them, but I know I can't do that. I guess I can, but one thing I do is to have a camera and film them - but I always forget to bring the camera. It's not like we're Michael Jackson and living in a glass dome. 99% of the time we're living a normal life, and 1% they're following us and it's a little weird. It's worse here than abroad. When we go to London on holiday, no one knows us.


What's next for you?
I'm going to do a film in three weeks called "The Best Man" in London. I really want to get this political movie made, because politics is back in film and dissent is heavy. It's a good time for it now. "Battle of Seattle" is what it's called. I want to direct and produce it, not be in it. I wrote and conceived it. It's my baby, I don't want to let this go. [Iím] looking for money.


"Best Man" is a romantic comedy. I don't like romantic comedies. This character I play is rather fun, but it's kind of formulaic. He's a best man at weddings, a couple of them.

If there was another "League" movie would you be up for it?
Nope. I got lucky because everyone else had to sign a three picture deal, and I said, "But I die," and I couldn't be in a three picture deal, so I'm not contracted to them. I only have the one picture. Somebody could have said, "It's very easy to resurrect the character," but I don't think it will ever happen.


What about other parts that weren't right for you, other projects that team you and Charlize up on screen?
One was fluff, it wasn't a great story, it was crap. This one was just something I loved. We didn't feel any pressure that we're together. I think most people will not even know we're together, which is great. We're not like Ben and J Lo jerking off. It's not being a promoted as a 'me and Charlize' thing. We're just promoting it as a film.


Was Charlize around for any of the scenes with you and Penelope?Stuart Charlize Head in the Clouds
No, she didn't want to come, and I wouldn't have wanted her to come. But she wouldn't come if there was heavy petting. Why would you do this to yourself?


I hope most people don't know we're together. I think some couples would do three movies together, and I wouldn't see she and I together again and again. I don't think real couples should do that so often. Maybe they did that in the studio system days.


What did you do to prepare for this role?
We looked at a lot of photography of WWI and the Spanish Civil War. And then you put on the costume, and the costume is huge, it has to be something special. There's so many examples where I'm in the costume and looking in the mirror and suddenly there it was, and I can't explain that. It's wearing those period clothes, the hats, and the setsÖIt puts you in that world very easily. You do have to use your imagination, but it's easier with the right costumes.


How was working with John Duigan?
He's a great director. He did "Romero" and "Flirting," and I'm a great fan. I was really excited. He'd written it and there's something when you've written the film. He's very private and introverted and he dragged a lot out. He fell in love with Charlize. He loved the film, he knew the history, he was a historian almost. He put the background in and most of it you won't even know. There's a scene in the Luxembourg Gardens [and] there's tomatoes there. I wondered why all these tomatoes were there, and he explained that the Germans took all the food supplies and they had to grow them there to stay alive. And [itís a] quick scene that there are tomatoes. It's a small thing, a quick, scene, but the fact that he put that thereÖAnd the care, that's important.


INTERVIEW WITH STUART TOWNSEND ('Guy'):
From Rebecca Murray, credit to Alexandra

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