Dan Stevens on ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’, ‘Legion’ Season 2, and Gareth Evans’ ‘Apostle’
By Christina Radish 9 hours ago
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.
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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