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Dan Stevens on ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’, ‘Legion’ Season 2, and Gareth Evans’ ‘Apostle’
By Christina Radish 9 hours ago
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From director Bharat Nalluri, The Man Who Invented Christmas shows the wild journey that Charles Dickens (brought to life in a tremendous performance by Dan Stevens, who humanizes the author with all of his emotional ups and downs) took, in trying to revive his career. He mixed real-life inspirations with his vivid imagination to come up with the characters (including Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Christopher Plummer) that filled his timeless classic A Christmas Carol, which forever changed the way we celebration the holiday season.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Dan Stevens talked about why he was intrigued by this project, the sparkle of Christopher Plummer, what made him most nervous and why he was excited to play Charles Dickens, his own favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and how getting into his head changed his appreciation for the author. He also talked about Season 2 of his FX series Legion (returning in 2018) and why it will never follow a traditional format, and the appeal of the Gareth Evans film Apostle.

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Image via Bleecker Street

Collider: Of all the projects you could have done, would you ever have imagined that you’d be doing an origin story for A Christmas Carol?

DAN STEVENS: No, that definitely was not on the cards. But like most of my choices that are lead by script and character, this project had intriguing elements, all over it. I didn’t really set out to make a Christmas film, but it had a lot to say about a favorite author of mine and about the artistic process, and it had a lot of social commentary, in general. It was a very, very intriguing prospect. And there was Christopher Plummer.

What was it like to work with Christopher Plummer, as the Bah Humbug over your shoulder?

STEVENS: He was full of wit and sparkle, and it was a great joy and privilege to get to work with him.

Was it ever hard not to crack up while he was there and you weren’t supposed to acknowledge him because other people weren’t supposed to see him?

STEVENS: Yeah. It’s a very, very funny conceit, and it’s a great way into looking at a creative process, making the character part of the character development. A great deal of the writing process is internal, which we have to externalize, in order to make it interesting. With Christopher, it’s not only interesting, but also very fun and playful.

What were you most excited about, in taking on Charles Dickens, and what were you most nervous about?

STEVENS: I was most nervous about destroying his legacy for generations. And I was most excited to take down a figure off the shelf from which he’s most often regarded and approach him as a human. He had a very childish, playful and silly side with a great sense of humor, and he could also be rather depressive and dark with a great sense of pathos and tragedy. That’s inherently an interesting man, right there.

Obviously, it’s hard to predict what might happen in the future, but if you had a ghost from Christmas past or present show up for you, would you be worried about anything or anyone, in particular?

STEVENS: God, that’s a big question! I’m sure that there is, and I’ll probably have nightmares about it now.

Image via Bleeker Street

Did you have a favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol, prior to doing this?

STEVENS: Yeah, I’d probably say The Muppet Christmas Carol. That’s a firm fixture in our household, every Christmas Eve. I like Bill Murray’s Scrooged. That’s pretty awesome. And the 1951 version with Alastair Sim is a classic. Growing up in England, we would see that a lot. That was a big part of our Christmas.

Because the work of Charles Dickens is so well-known and classic, he’s not someone who we think of as having had flops. How much do you think having three consecutive flops really affected him?

STEVENS: There’s something universal about the artistic process. He was a very ambitious man who had great plans for his work, in terms of the breadth and scope. You could see him constantly reworking ideas and coming at similar ideas from a different angle in different books. He really had three back-to-back not successful books. Oliver Twist was a huge hit, but you get to Barnaby Rudge, which I don’t blame anyone for not liking, and American Notes, which is quite interesting but not a real crown pleaser, and then Martin Chuzzlewit, which was also weirdly quite critical of the Americans. He upset too many Americans and came home a little bit disheartened. He just wasn’t quite sure how to get back on top of his own ideas. So, we find him at quite an interesting moment, in his career and his life. He’s got four kids and one on the way, and mounting debts, so he was putting himself under an enormous amount of pressure, anyway. But then, he decided to write a new book by Christmas, in six weeks time, that mined a religious festival that nobody was celebrating, in the way that we think of it now. A lot of people really thought that he was quite mad. On top of that, the story had science fiction elements, with the character time traveling through his own life, past and future, learning moral lessons. It was a very, very strange idea to come up with, but it was the sort of idea you’d only come up with, if you were under an enormous amount of pressure, and you were very creatively gifted, as well.

I loved Dickens’ title suggestion of Humbug: A Miser’s Lament.

STEVENS: We had good fun with that. There were a bunch of improvs that day, of different working titles of what it might have been.

It makes you wonder whether the story would have had the same appeal, with that title.

STEVENS: Yeah, maybe not.

What do you think Charles Dickens might have thought of this film and how it portrays him?

STEVENS: I have no idea! I hope he would have liked it. Very often, you question whether you can separate the art from the artist, and it’s interesting to examine the human mind-set that goes into creating these epic works that have such cultural resonance. What was going on, in order to provoke that. That’s very interesting. And it’s such a universal tale of hope, in times of bleakest despair. I think that’s definitely something worth exploring now.

Image via Bleeker Street

The Christmas holiday and Christmas traditions are such a big part of people’s lives now that it seems impossible to imagine a time when it wasn’t that. How important are holiday and family traditions to you?

STEVENS: Oh, very important! It’s a wonderful celebration. The winter solstice, alone, is worth a celebration. It is a wonderful moment to remember that the light will return, after the darkest hour of the year.

Did getting into the head of Charles Dickens change your perception or appreciation for him, at all?

STEVENS: Definitely. I’m not an expert on him or his work, but this has definitely given me a fresh appreciation of his work. I’ve re-read some of his books that I studied, as a teenager, in a drier way. Now, the characters are much more vivid, for an appreciation for the kind of man that he was.

Do you feel like playing David on Legion helped you in having conversations with fictional characters from your imagination?

STEVENS: Funny enough, I went pretty much straight from the set of Season 1 of Legion, over to Dublin to start working on this film. There was about 10 days in between them. So, there’s probably more than a hint of David in there. Dickens was operating on quite a strange level and genuinely manifested these characters. There are accounts from his daughter, encountering him in his study, making these bizarre faces and noises. He really was aware of the performative aspect of his characters and couldn’t really work with them or use them until he’d manifested them in his study. The film takes that step one step further and actually has them there, involved in the process.

What can you tease about Season 2 of Legion, in contrast to Season 1? How will it be different, especially now that you’ve already laid the groundwork for what the series is?

STEVENS: It’s nice to have a little bit of groundwork because going into that first season, we didn’t know what to expect. Nobody did. There’s not really been a show like it. It’s nice to have a little bit of bedrock now. I hope it’s even weirder and more wonderful than the first season is. I’m really enjoying it.

Does the second season follow a more traditional Big Bad format, now that the Shadow King has been revealed as the antagonist, or will it be more complicated than that?

STEVENS: The words “traditional format” don’t really apply to Legion.

Image via Bleeker Street

Do you feel like the show really built on what you learned from making the first season?

STEVENS: I hope so, yeah. We’ve moved locations. The first season was shot in Vancouver and the second season is in L.A., which is interesting and different and great. We definitely incorporate elements of that move into the show. We’re aware of the change of location, let’s put it that way.

It seems as though Noah Hawley is very collaborative with his actors, even though he doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s going on. What have you learned about yourself, as an actor, from the experience of working on Legion and collaborating with the mad genius of Noah Hawley?

STEVENS: That’s a good question. What he demands of his cast and filmmakers takes a great presence of mind. We’ve had a lot of interesting and varied directors want to come and play on the show, and you have to just be present in each scene and be prepared for the extraordinary turns and elements that get woven in. You never fall into that procedural rut, which certainly keeps you on your toes.

Apostle sounds like it’s going to be pretty dark and intense. What was the appeal of that story and character for you?

STEVENS: That’s my Brexit movie, and the appeal was really Gareth Evans, as a filmmaker. I thought The Raid and The Raid 2 were extraordinary, and I also loved the segment he did on V/H/S 2. He worked quite closely with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who created The Guest. In the process of working with them, they were like, “We think you’d like this guy, Gareth.” I have a lot of love for Wales, as a country, and the Welsh people, so to get to be a part of Gareth’s first British film, filming in Wales, was pretty special. He really is an extraordinary filmmaker, and it was a very intense experience.

How would you say the movie compares to his previous movies?

Image via Bleecker Street

STEVENS: Well, I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t fully answer that. It’s not The Raid 3, which I have to keep reminding people of. I would have loved to have been in The Raid 3, but I’ve gotta work on my kung-fu. His appreciation of cinematic violence basically makes him the Welsh [Quentin] Tarantino.

Since leaving Downton Abbey, you really have done a little bit of everything. Do you feel satisfied, creatively, in what you’ve been able to do as an actor, since making that risky move of walking away from a TV series, at the height of its success?

STEVENS: Yeah, definitely! It’s been the most extraordinary five, almost six years now. I’ve been exploring a lot of different avenues with a number of very different and very, very exciting filmmakers and writers. That’s been the trip. I like to find something very, very different from the last thing I did, which might be similar to something I’ve done before, but as long as it’s different from the last thing I did, it keeps me entertained.

Do you have any idea what you might do, once Season 2 of Legion is done?

STEVENS: Not quite yet. There are a couple of things in the works. Last year was very busy, and I went straight from Season 1 into this. If I could have done it again, I might have given myself a couple more weeks off, but that’s often the way. We’d all like to give ourselves a couple more weeks.
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9 paragraphs. Over 200 words. One man almost shitting himself with rage that a black actor or a WOMAN might get to play a fictional character.

Priceless.

rec time: #1 - 10 'Classic' British films that are genuinely terrific

Months ago recently I promised matineemoustache some (mostly) 30s and 40s British film recs, and after much faffing I have come up with a few lists. I thought I would start at the very beginning, as it were, with a few reputed classics.

If you’re like me, the more people tell you something is A CLASSIC and THE BEST FILM EVER then the more likely you are to put off watching it in case either a) it isn’t and you have to disown them or b) it is and you feel stupid for not getting around to it for decades. Also, we all know the 100 BEST lists are for shouting at and disagreeing with. Saying that, eight of these films are on the BFI’s 100 Best British films list (from 1999). See if you can guess which two they missed off.

So, here are my ten CLASSICS that I love dearly, but I think anyone could enjoy. In a scientific criteria I have just made up, basically you should find these enjoyable even if you don’t fancy anyone in them. I tried to be sensible and not just say ‘watch all the Powell and Pressburger’ but there are some directors who crop up more than once. 

Oh, and these are not in order. Don’t make me do that. 

The Third Man [d: Carol Reed, 1949]

I often say this is my favourite film of all time, but am I sure? Well, I watched it last night for the first time in ages and HELL YEAH. It is just so fucking great. I would not change a thing. It has it all; pitch-perfect casting, gloriously atmospheric cinematography, fabulous locations, that uniquely wonderful zither, and it has director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene at the top of their bloody great game. It’s a zippy thriller, it’s a wistful romance, it’s a story about friendship and strangers, about moral dilemmas and all the shades of grey in the world. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s (as Greene always is) clear-eyed and incisive. In lots of ways it’s completely not what you expect from a 1940s British film: it’s cynical, international (a good chunk of the dialogue is not in english), stylish, worldly. And yes, it has Orson doing that speech, but the preceding scene in the ferris wheel car is even better. 

I don’t usually care if people don’t like my favourite films but if you don’t like The Third Man, I might have to get up and leave. 

A Matter of Life and Death [Powell & Pressburger, 1946]

P&P make films that are intelligent, funny, beautiful, modern, engaging, and most of all, human. They actually make me proud to be British. If you’ve never seen any, AMOLAD is the place to start. Ostensibly a romance, it covers friendship, philosophy, death, Anglo-American wartime relations, poetry and ping-pong. It’s feted for being technically innovative, which it is, but it’s also a bloody glorious film. Stuffed full of great characters and great (and beautiful) actors, it has a lightness of touch that belies its themes, and is truly, wonderfully, life-affirming. 

Kind Hearts and Coronets [d: Robert Kramer, 1949]

The blackest of the Ealing Comedies (a good rule of thumb: if it’s by Ealing, and it’s got Alec Guinness in it, it’s worth watching), and though it’s famous for having Eight Alec Guinnesses, he is more than matched by Dennis Price giving an effortlessly delicious performance (a career best). Murder and class snobbery in Edwardian England, with a fabulously Wildean script and beautiful cinematography and direction. It’s not at all cosy and repressed, in fact it’s remarkably grown-up and fresh. And if that’s not enough, it has Joan Greenwood at her very, very best.

The Lady Vanishes [d: Alfred Hitchcock, 1938]

30s Hitch is my favourite HItch, and while you could argue (and I would agree) for The 39 Steps, this is my favourite. Perhaps because it’s more confined (an inn, and then a train) and so there’s more sense of threat, oddness and social comedy, or perhaps because it’s got a clever, grown-up and funny Launder and Gilliat script, Charters and Caldicott, and Michael Redgrave at his swooniest. Also, I’m a sucker for detecting, especially the amateur detective. It’s a beautiful encapsulation of Englishness, from the negative (tawdry affairs and a reluctance to get involved with any trouble) to the positive (tweedy snarkiness hiding understated kick-assedness). It’s also less about macguffins and set-pieces than some Hitch films, and so it hangs together much more pleasingly and consistently as an actual story (slight though it is). 

Brief Encounter [d: David Lean, 1946]

A film I put off watching for years, because I thought I knew what it was like (stiff-upper-lip drawing room repression) and I am not a great fan of Lean. Well. I’m an idiot. If you don’t like romance, especially the this-will-tear-your-heart-out-and-leave-you-howling-into-a-cushion kind, this film is not for you. But if you do… add to that the gloriously luminous Celia Johnson and her bottomless eyes, and Our Trev being his most engagingly tweedy, as well as decency and social comedy and crosswords and trains, and you have a film that is much more passionate and grown-up than you might have expected. 

The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp [Powell & Pressburger, 1943]

When I’m not saying The Third Man is my favourite film, I’m usually saying this is. One of the most intelligent, humane, funny, beautiful and entertaining 'war’ films ever made (how easy it is to forget it was conceived as a British propaganda film), it’s even more astonishing that it was made during the dark days of 1942/43. Spanning forty years and many moustaches, it’s about romance, soldiers, national identity, change and resistance to change, amongst other things. But it is at heart the story of a great friendship. If you don’t come away from it in love with at least one of the main actors and/or characters, then I fear there is no hope for you in this world.

Keep reading

Just some further thoughts since I have begun to watch JoJo’s bizzare adventure

-damn JoJo, he thicc

-at times it’s like watching a Charles Dickens adaptation except where everyone is s h r e d d e d

-I never thought my knowledge of Mary queen of scots would come in handy for a fucking anime

-bizzare truly is the only way to describe this

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Leave Comedy to the Bears, Ebenezer

by Andrew Root

Jim Henson was dead, to begin with. A freak bout of pneumonia had taken away the man who was at the centre of countless projects and characters; the very voice of Kermit himself. Richard Hunt—who performed Beaker, Scooter, Sweetums, and Statler, among many others—had also died, and the number of beloved characters that had been shelved out of respect was ever growing. How could The Muppets survive after such a monumental loss? It would be foolish to think that the idea to shut down Muppet Studios wasn’t bandied about across more than one boardroom table. How do you come back from that? How do the children find the strength to go on when the father has died?

One of the truly remarkable aspects of the Muppets was that despite all of their endearing self-deprecation (early Gonzo) and in-fighting (Fozzie vs. Statler & Waldorf), they were not only susceptible to, but also revelled in great moments of pure, unadulterated optimism. During the climactic showdown between Kermit and an obsessive restaurateur in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, the beloved frog (then still performed by Jim Henson) delivers one of the most genuine, heartfelt, and unquestionably true monologues on the nature of friendship. What he says is this:

I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And, well, it kind of makes us like a family.

Over the course of his journey, Kermit’s dream has been scoffed. He has encountered hardship after hardship, not least of which is a psychotic frog-leg enthusiast, and as Kermit struggles to find the words to reconcile his frustration with his pursuers and his generally positive outlook on life, he stumbles on this immutable true revelation on the nature of friendship; that what you are doing with your life is not as important as the people that you are doing it with. This may well be the central ethos to the entire family of Muppet performers. What choice did they have but to pick up and keep going?

Choosing their next project would be an incredibly difficult task. It would need to be a story that embodied their commitment to positivity, featured a wide variety of memorable characters, and had a solid emotional core. By choosing to adapt Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, they got all of those things. At its heart, this story is about redemption, about coming out of the blackness of solitude, denying cynicism, celebrating love, and above all, carrying on tradition. In embracing these themes, the Muppeteers were also committing to a sea change; with Jim gone, the status quo had been swept away, and shaking things up was a necessity.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is a true ensemble work. Michael Caine brilliantly fills the shoes of Ebenezer Scrooge and provides a performance with seemingly boundless range. He is cruel and flinty; broken and remorseful; joyful and loving; all without sacrificing the continuity of his character. Seeing Scrooge experience happiness is like watching a newborn fawn finding its legs. He simply does not know what to do with himself! Caine’s performance is also noteworthy for being one of the only human characters in the film, a stark contrast to 1984’s cameo-packed The Muppets Take Manhattan (Kermit and the gang’s last big screen outing). With fewer humans filling up the scenery, it’s up to the Muppets themselves to fully populate this world. The way that these characters are used is another indicator of the evolution of the Muppets; for one thing, Kermit and Fozzie don’t have any scenes together. The original trinity of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear is downplayed in favour of the interactions between Gonzo and Rizzo. The chemistry between these two characters is unmatchable and completely fresh. Kermit and Miss Piggy form the emotional core of the film, ruminating on the nature of family, love, and togetherness, while Gonzo and Rizzo form more direct connections with the audience, breaking the forth wall with delicious precision and intent (when the narrators don’t want to stick around because the story is getting too scary, it’s a fairly good indicator that something frightening is about to happen). How does one talk about the casting of a film in which most of the characters are puppets? “The manufacturing?” Whatever the vocabulary, the characterization is beautiful. With 20 years of characters to fall back on, it would have been easy to rely on established personalities rather than forge ahead into new territory, but here again we find the Muppeteer’s commitment to change.The three ghosts that Scrooge encounters work so well for their particular idiom that the idea of shoehorning Scooter into the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past seems perverse. Where Muppet cameos are used, the old familiar faces appear in ways that instantly resonate (Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim jumps instantly to mind, as do Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and the ingeniously named Robert Marley). It’s a clear indication that the Muppeteers are not resting.

Much credit must go to Brian Henson - Jim’s son - who picked up the reins and directed this film as his first feature. While it may seem strange to comment on mise en scène in a film that contains talking rats, it is an important aspect of what makes this film so well-crafted. The Muppets are always shot to fill the frame, a trend which would diminish with each subsequent Muppet film until (during the ghastly Muppet Wizard of Oz), the puppets are relegated to the bottom half of the screen.

Look at this frame from 1999’s Muppets From Space. That is 18 inches of wasted headroom. Perhaps it was the changing trends in aspect ratios that forced the Muppets into wider and wider angles, and that Muppet movies were meant to be seen in the old 4:3 home video format, but whatever the case, that the Muppets are treated with the same (sometimes more) care as the human performers speaks volumes about Brian Henson’s commitment to his father and his friend’s creations.

Just as Scrooge found salvation in his fellow man, so too the Muppeteers must have found solace in each other. When Scrooge is confronted by the regret of how he spent his younger days, and how the manner of his ways cost him the love of his life, he curses the Ghost of Christmas Past. She replies by saying “These are the shadows of the things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me.” Above all things, the past is unchanging and unapologetic, but the future (so terrifyingly depicted here) is mutable. Every year that passes is an opportunity. Jim Henson is gone and we cannot change that. What we can do is try our best to live up to his ideals and the ideals of this film; to make a positive connection with the people around us, and to revel in the togetherness of loved ones, whatever form they may take.


Andrew Root is a writer living in Canada, and a Senior Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room. This piece originally ran on the site in 2010.