Dafoe remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last starring role

SHARE Dafoe remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last starring role

In “A Man Most Wanted,” director Anton Corbijn’s film, based on John le Carre’s novel, Willem Dafoe plays a British banker living in Hamburg, Germany. His character, and a key account his bank controls, is central to this tale of espionage, set in the contemporary world of terrorist threats.

The Oscar-nominated actor phoned earlier this week to chat about the film — Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final starring performance — and what it was like to work with him on this project.

Q: In many ways your banker character here — Thomas Brue — is far different than those you’ve done earlier — yes?

A: I would say so. It’s not often I play someone so wealthy! And he had a great wardrobe. The wardrobe always is important.

Q: When you put on those gorgeous suits like he wore, did that help you get into character to play him?

A: It does, and I’d like to mention that those clothes were really something. I’m not a total fashion guy, but those clothes were kind of a hybrid of German and English taste, which is very much a part of this character — an Englishman who has long lived and worked in Hamburg, Germany.

Q: Is it fair to say that playing a subtle, understated character — like your Thomas Brue character here — is more of a challenge to play, than, let’s say, one that is more over-the-top?

A: I don’t know, everything has it’s own challenges. It often has a lot to do with whatever the tone of the movie is. I would say, the most difficult thing is to find the tone of the movie and inhabit that world in a way that you can best integrate your character into that world.

Q: As is often the case with LeCarre’s stories, there’s the issue of who can you REALLY trust. Wouldn’t you agree?

A: The answer is: Nobody! Of course, the way that all is presented here — based on the source material of LeCarre’s book — is really special. LeCarre is a genius when it comes to giving you everybody’s point of view, remembering that everybody — in their own terms — is trying to do the right thing. There are no cartoon bad guys here. They’re trying to do the right thing — the German intelligence agents, the CIA, the liberal lawyer played by Rachel McAdams — but all the individuals are flawed, because they’re human. It’s interesting to see this one central character — this immigrant Chechen guy coming into the country of Germany — from all these different points of view.

Then it’s fascinating to see everybody swept into the vortex of this complicated plot mostly unwillingly.

Q: What was your relationship like, working with the director, Anton Corbijn?

A: I’d had known him and shot with him as a photographer. I originally met him when he shot me as a photographer. As a director, he’s an artist and he’s patient — waiting for the subject to reveal itself to him. I imagine that comes from shooting as a still photographer. He’s intuitive, he’s sensitive, and emotionally he’s very fluid and subtle. He likes actors, he gives them a lot to work with before he actually shoots, during the rehearsal process, but when he finally shoots — he’s very decisive. When he feels he’s got the shot, that’s it and he moves on. There’s no back up shots. No extra insurance. Once he feels like he has it, and he feels it deeply — he’ll toss off any extra coverage and he’ll just move on to the next scene.

Q: Tell us about working with Philiip Seymour Hoffman in this project.

A: I didn’t know him personally so much beforehand. I had, of course, known of him and his work in the theater and film. I know he had come to see me in some performances in the theater — and I had seen him a number of times on stage. But I didn’t really know him socially.

So the most interesting thing, was how immediately comfortable I felt working with him in this film — from the very beginning. Maybe it’s because we both come from the theater. He was very easy to work with. He was a sweet, easy, thoughtful, smart actor. What can I say? I liked him and I was happy to work with him.

Q: You shot the whole thing in Germany — almost entirely in Hamburg. What was it like working there?

A: Hamburg actually is really a character in the movie. It’s so central to so much of the story. Le Carre was stationed there when he worked in the intelligence service. So he knew Hamburg very well, and Hamburg is a very particular kind of city. It has specific identity. When you are there, you can see it’s story really played out. I can’t imagine shooting this film anyplace else.

It’s a German city that has a heavy English influence, partly because it’s a port, partly because it’s very wealthy — there are lots of international banks there. The fact that I was playing this English guy living in Hamburg, you could feel that community.

Q: Did you talk to your own banker to get tips on how to play this guy?

A: [Laughs] I did some research, but I didn’t talk to my personal banker. In the novel [the film is based on] there’s a lot of information about the Tommy Brue character, the nature of the bank’s history and his father. Of course, you don’t necessarily get that in the film, but you don’t really need to know that to get the main story.

I also talked to some people to understand how certain things work in an international bank like Tommy ran. To get some of the social manner and the accent of that character, I found someone who had a similar background to Tommy Brue — who had worked in various places in Europe, and was educated in various places in Europe.

I had him read my dialogue, so I had a good model for the accent —which is a very particular accent and not necessarily one that is easy to find.

Q: A film like this raises the issue of being safe in the dangerous world in which we live. Your thoughts about that?

A: I think there’s always the question of the greater good. The rights and innocence or guilt of an individual, versus the safety and well-being of the larger group. And I think this film is a fairly even-handed look at a situation like this. You can see the dangers and you can see the possible abuses of having these agencies trying to protect the security of borders and the people who live within them.

Q: Separately, I know you are a great advocate of the benefits of yoga. Does doing yoga daily help keep you centered and focused?

A: I think so. I’ve done a daily practice of yoga for many, many years and it’s a good way always check in with your body, take inventory, see how your brain works and see how your body works. The human body is like a laboratory where we constantly need to be testing and learning how to make it better — and healthier.

Q: Your character here was so different from another one in a film still in theaters, “The Fault in Our Stars.” How was it doing that film?

A: That was certainly a very different kind of character from Tommy Brue in ‘A Man Most Wanted,’ that’s for sure! Plus, he was far less attractive — really quite nasty, but in the end you understand why he is the way he is. Frankly those kinds of characters are often more fun to play — I certainly enjoyed playing him.


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