Jamie Dornan (“Wild Mountain Thyme”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors, presented by Amazon Studios. For more, click here.
Jamie Dornan and Eddie Redmayne began their time in Hollywood as roommates: Reunited on a video chat a decade later, they reflect on driving their tiny red rental car around Los Angeles, only to be rejected at auditions over and over.
It’s notable that both actors find themselves juggling art-house fare and franchise work, making them two of the most recognizable leading men of their generation. In Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix), Redmayne plays antiwar activist Tom Hayden as he faces federal charges for protesting at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. And in John Patrick Shanley’s “Wild Mountain Thyme,” distributed by Bleecker Street, Dornan portrays Anthony, an Irish Mr. Darcy who can’t figure out his feelings for his neighbor (Emily Blunt).
Jamie Dornan: Let’s start by talking about “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and your portrayal of Thomas Hayden. I have to start by saying I didn’t know a lot about that trial. You are brilliant in it, as you are in everything. How was your experience making that movie?
Eddie Redmayne: Thanks for being kind about it. I think you know that Aaron Sorkin has always been someone that I’ve sort of loved, and whose work I’ve been kind of mildly obsessed with. So it was genuinely one of those moments when the script arrived that it sort of felt too good to be true. And I kind of said yes before reading the thing.
There was actually that slight hesitation, when you really love someone’s work, and you can’t quite believe that they’ve invited you to the party. And then there’s the fear of: What if it’s the one shoddy one they do? Because I’ve done that; I’ve worked with brilliant actors who never do bad films, except for the film I do with them. But it was brilliant, and a really riveting read.
Dornan: Let’s take ourselves back about 10 years ago. “The West Wing” was the only television show you’d ever watched in your life. And you were just obsessed with it.
Redmayne: Yeah, yeah.
Dornan: So much of the movie reminded me of the courtroom dramas that were such a part of our viewing experience in the ’90s: “A Few Good Men” is the most quotable one. To be in one of those table-slamming courtroom dramas is so exciting though.
Redmayne: Oh, I did actually slam the table. I even slammed the door at one point.
Dornan: You did?
Redmayne: That was quite satisfying. Mark Rylance got the mother of all slams, and that was genuinely terrifying each time.
Before I worked with Aaron, I read all the stuff. I remember listening to a podcast with Jessica Chastain [about how precise Sorkin is]. The specificity is huge. And I wondered how you found it with John Patrick Shanley. Had you read the play? Did you guys shift anything in the adaptation?
Dornan: I didn’t read the play, and I spoke to Shanley about that before we started shooting. I said, “Should I make myself very in tune with ‘Outside Mullingar’?” — what the play was called. He saw this as a separate thing. It lived in its own world. I haven’t really done a play; many of the scenes very much felt like theater, particularly the 20-minute scene that Emily and I have.
Redmayne: The two of you in that scene really blew my mind. You go through so many different rooms of emotion. Would you do those in single takes?
Dornan: We did. I think it’s really dangerous as an actor to have a very set way of what’s going to happen when you hear “Action!” That scene, because it was so long, we’re going through the entire history of this complicated relationship between these two people.
Luckily, by that stage, Emily and I were so in tune with these weirdos that we were playing — and so in tune with how they were, and the effect that they had on each other. If Emily, as Rosemary, moved toward myself as Anthony, I recoiled. I just did it naturally because that’s the energy we’d created. That was honestly three of the best days I’ve ever had at work.
We’re so lucky that we’re both here, working with Shanley and Sorkin, and we’ve just been given these words. And we both know how hard it is to sell words that you don’t believe in and that aren’t great.
Redmayne: There’s a sort of sadness, I found, when the words are that good. There was a slight desperation that, when the words are that good, they can be heaved around. They can be played in a thousand different ways.
Redmayne: I found this very unique feeling on “Chicago 7,” going home at night. “Oh, I don’t get to say those again.” And the weird thing with jobs, you find that years later, occasionally, walking down the street, and the odd line from something will have remained. It tends to be something that gave you joy in the playing of it.
Dornan: I’ve never done a job where I was so physically bereft when I finished it. We’re in the west of Ireland where it’s an all-Irish crew. Everyone’s having a good time. It’s just one of the crews where it’s buoyant. You can feel it. It’s raining all the time. No one cares.
And all the Americans, just loving it. Americans have a bit of a fascination with Ireland. When I finished, when we wrapped, I went into my trailer and had this strange, physical reaction to not getting to have another day with these people on the set. I sort of collapsed and cried, and it was like, “When does that happen with my work?”
Redmayne: Because it was risky. I thought a lot of what you did involved great confidence in this film, to be playful in the way that you were.
Dornan: To be confident playing someone who has no confidence. I don’t have a lot of confidence, and we all have huge insecurities as actors. I feel like with Anthony, I’m able to express all my awkwardness and all my weirdness that I have as Jamie.
Did you see parallels between the world in which “The Trial of Chicago 7” is set in 1968 and the current world we find ourselves in, with the craziness of the landscape of the election in the States? And that sort of constant rift between what the people want and what government is giving?
Redmayne: What was weird about this movie is that Aaron Sorkin wrote it, I think, 14 or 15 years ago. And it’s taken that long to get made. There’ve been trying to make it with different casts for years and years, and I think that the question has always been: Is there an audience? And are the themes resonant enough? We finished filming in late November 2019, and since then, it’s become sort of scarily and eerily relevant in a way that no one predicted.
The film was meant to be released by Paramount in the cinemas, and Aaron really wanted it out quite sort of urgently. And so Netflix ended up releasing the film, and the extraordinary thing is it’s gone into households across the world where democracy is being challenged frequently, and it has been seen.
Dornan: We’ve known each other forever and been best friends for 15-plus years. We lived together in L.A.
Redmayne: You’re aging pretty well, mate.
Dornan: We look better than we did when we met, probably, in many ways. Some pretty terrible hair going on. I remember that it was 2009, because — let’s set the scene up a little bit. We weren’t working a great deal.
Redmayne: At all. At all.
Dornan: OK, we weren’t working at all. We’re going up for a lot of stuff in L.A., a lot of the same stuff sometimes, which was depressing. I think we lived together for about three months. And there was so little to do — if we didn’t have an audition. The reason I remember it was one day we went to a Pottery Barn or something, and …
Redmayne: I’ve still got it.
Dornan: We made some crockery. We made plates and clay pots, and I remember we wrote the names of all these actors who were our gang. Everyone has done pretty good. You’ve got an Academy Award. I mean, it’s kind of insane.
Redmayne: I’m slightly embarrassed you’re putting that out into the public arena, given I used to tell my parents that I was going to L.A. in January to endlessly slave away to try to get work.
You and Andrew Garfield and I were texting, trying to remember what those things were. And one of them was “BioShock” [a movie based on a video game, which never got made]. You remember “BioShock”? We were furious with each other as we were going through it, and competing for the same role.
I remember auditioning for “10,000 BC,” which involved being topless, running around, like in Egypt. I mean, look at me. I’m sort of pallid, white, moley. I was always two hours early or an hour late to auditions, endlessly running these lines. But it was great in the sense that you got to try everything and fail hard.
Dornan: Totally. There was just so much failure. I just remember your rental car — the foot area of the front passenger seat was a sea of failed audition sides. You were just shucking them down there after coming out of one of those auditions, going, “That’s another fail.”
Redmayne: From the second you arrived in L.A., you went hardcore on rental. You’d come with a bit of modeling money. You were driving around in some swanky thing, where I would go to the rental car that you had to take a bus for about three hours from the airport to get this little, red sort of tiny little thing.
Dornan: I’ll never forget your red one.
Redmayne: And then one year we got invited to some Oscars watching party, and everyone turned up with their valet, but I turned up in my little red car.
Dornan: You were trying to be very tactical when you left, because we were talking to quite cool people, and you didn’t want them to see what car you had. And you were like, “No, I actually think I forgot something. I’m going to stick around.” And I was like, “No, Eddie, front up! Get your car.”
Redmayne: We’ve come a long way since those days. I feel so privileged that I — and I know, you — have an element of choice in what we do work-wise. It’s not just flinging a lot of stuff at the wall.
Dornan: And hoping, will it stick?
Redmayne: I never take it for granted, getting offered stuff and having a say.
What happened to me was one film changed that. It’s not like overnight you’ve become a substantially better actor. You’ve just been lucky getting the extraordinary part with a great director, wonderful co-stars, and the alchemy of filmmaking has worked.
Dornan: I was with you when we were in Istanbul together, when you found out you were doing “Fantastic Beasts.” We were all just so excited. I celebrated like I’d just got some big job. And it was such a lovely thing to be with you, because you’d had a rough year, winning the clean sweep on the awards circuit [for “The Theory of Everything”].
What can we expect from the third installment of “Fantastic Beasts”?
Redmayne: I can’t tell you anything other than the fact that I think I’ve got some night shoots in Watford, in Leavesden, [England], that we were meant to shoot in the summer in water. But now obviously because of lockdown, and the film shutdown, they’re being shot in early December. And suddenly you find yourself swimming outdoors in British winter.
What can I tell you about the plot? Really, not much, mate. I mean, when you come over for dinner, I can tell you. Except — I can’t, because that would be the NDA that I signed. [Source]