Stoker Star Matthew Goode on
Evil, Parenting and, Yes, Belts
You probably recognize actor Matthew Goode from his performance as Adrian Veidt in 2009’s Watchmen, but the British actor boasts a surprisingly varied and impressive filmography, including Tom Ford’s A Single Man and Woody Allen’s Match Point. His latest role is in director Park Chan-Wook’s English-language debut Stoker as the deliciously villainous Uncle Charlie to Mia Wasikowska’s India.
Due to his character’s predilection for murder, Goode singlehandedly makes the belt one of the most horrifying items in your closet – and he absolutely nails the fine line between hyper-magnetic and insanely evil. We sat down with Goode while he was promoting Stoker in New York City, and he discussed the advice dispensed by co-star Nicole Kidman (who plays India’s mother Evelyn), the disturbing day his daughter visited the set, learning to play the piano for a particularly memorable duet with Wasikowska, and what the film’s theme of parenting means to him.
SPINOFF ONLINE: Of course you’re wearing a belt. Of course.
Goode: These had better be good questions, that’s all I gotta say!
You do realize, thanks to this role, you’ll never be able to wear one of those without people scrutinizing you for it.
Without their eyes wandering down to my nether regions! That was the big plan!
I must say, you look pretty convincing strangling people with that belt in the film. It’s all in the wrist, right?
[laughs] Oh, pretty much. You know, years of training! You just make that stuff up as you go along, really.
You’ve worked with a really varied group of directors — Woody Allen, Tom Ford, Ricky Gervais, Zack Snyder, and now Park Chan-Wook — do you choose your projects both based on the challenge of a particular role and the challenge of working with a different type of director?
I’m not the person who’s able to pick and choose their roles. But I know that Nicole [Kidman], for example, has said that she’s interested now — there might be a film in the studio system, but she loves independent film and she thinks that’s much more where her desires are, and the films she kind of likes. And so I think she is able to say to herself, “I like to choose projects not only based on the material but also the filmmaker,” which is wonderful for her. And I think I just happen to have been quite lucky in the fact that the material that I gravitate towards or the people that’ve thought I am going to be better suited to it – because it’s not my choice, they’ve picked me. I’ve been lucky as hell, and the parts have been quite varied.
And this part, particularly, is pretty delicious.
Yeah, it’s mental! It was a real gift, because my mate Colin Firth was meant to be doing it, but they just couldn’t work out the schedule for him. He was really gracious, he was like, “I’d love to be doing this, because I love director Park, but if anyone had to do it I’m really glad it’s you.”
Were you familiar with Park’s work before you signed on for the role?
Yes, I was a paying customer to go and see Oldboy, and I thought it was phenomenal and deeply disturbing. But I love the way that he crafts a film — you can really see the care and attention that has gone into every shot, so I knew we were going to be in good hands with this one.
Any particular Park Chan-Wook movie moment you consider most shocking?
This one’s sort of different, but my family was there. I had my daughter on set with me one day. It was not during a strangulation scene [laughs], we were just playing around. And we were viewing, what seems quite an innocent thing, the young Uncle Charlie leading his brother and going down the slide. And I was like, “This is so deeply disturbing that I’m watching that with my own daughter in my hands.” To her, it was just like kids having fun! I thought the younger me far scarier than I was — he had such a look on his face!
Charlie is such a great character – he’s as magnetic as he is evil.
He was super-fun to play as a character, but there’s a moment like — you can’t just play bad. I wouldn’t even know how to start playing bad, or what that even means — it’s so two-dimensional. So you have to find some sense, despite his despicable acts, some kind of psychological truth of why. And director Park talked about bad blood, and the idea that there was a predisposition within the family bloodline to want or need to commit these acts, and where does evil come from, is it nature or nurture? And for me they’re all very lonely, isolated characters. So I felt like, as much as this is a coming-of-age story for Mia’s character, Charlie’s kind of trapped in the past.
Even the tenor of Charlie’s voice gives that away a bit.
Yeah, some of it was slightly higher than my normal timbre but we liked the idea of going between very masculine and adult and this idea that he’s also still like a man-child and he never really grew up. But we wanted that to be able to change within seconds in the same scene, to keep people guessing a bit. It was never our intention to answer every question with the film – there are many interpretations, there’s lots of symbolism that people won’t get on the first viewing.
I’m sure people will have their vampire theories, most notably because of the title.
He [Park] wanted to get rid of that name, but then they kept it. I think it works. I like unanswered questions and the possibilities of not limiting anyone to one interpretation. It’s a very well-crafted film.
I think you should know, you and Mia have officially dethroned Big for best on-screen piano duet.
Big? I love it! That was a good call! It’s definitely the best euphemistic piano duet!
Were you guys really playing?
About three quarters of it. We took a lot of lessons! Because neither of us play — I hadn’t played for 20-odd years. Mia was better, I have to say, and she had slightly harder stuff to do. It was worrying, because it was like, “I’ve got to act, as well as remember what I’m doing with my fingers!” But it was quite liberating, in a way, at the same time. We both really enjoyed doing it. And they muffled the piano, as well, so it didn’t make any noise. So you could sort of possibly hit a wrong key and be OK!
I love the music in this film. I’m a big Clint Mansell fan.
He’s amazing — it’s another character in the film. I like the fact that he kept my whistling in!
So that wasn’t scripted?
I can’t remember if it was in the script or not, I don’t think it was. But I’m not saying, “Clever old me!” [laughs] I think it was something that director Park and I came up with and it stuck.
It’s interesting that you had your daughter on the set of this film, since — thematically — so much of it is about being a parent. I adore Nicole’s monologue where she ponders why we have children and says, “We want someone to get it right this time.” As a parent, what’s your take on that sentiment?
Well, we didn’t have a child to mend the relationship, we were pretty happy! [laughs] But there is an element, not just having done this film, but we all have parents and you see some interesting stuff over the years. And no one knows – great parents can have a serial killer. There’s no rhyme or reason for why people get fucked up. So as a parent you’re kind of like, just making it through the day.
I saw it as a comment on the ripple effect of parenting, how our parents try not to make the mistakes that their parents made, but they make new ones, and then you try not to make the mistakes your parents made, and so on, forever.
Totally, yeah! I’ve got to stop saying I love her too much, because I never heard it too much from my parents — they were quite conservative — so me and Sophie, we’re always like, “We love you we love you we love you!” All day, every day. She’s like, “Get off!” But it’s important!
You’ve been a romantic lead, you’ve been in a big-budget graphic novel adaptation, you’ve been in period pieces, now you’re in a horror movie. I think you should be in a sci-fi film next.
Oh, Christ yeah!
Perhaps Prometheus 2, since now we know it’s officially on. It’s perfect — you just worked with Ridley Scott as a producer on this film!
Well, I’m going to go work with Ridley — he’s shooting a thing called The Vatican. He’s going to produce it, he’s shooting the pilot for it. So that’s happening. But yeah, I’d love to do Prometheus 2. Because, Fassy — Michael [Fassbender] — will be in it again. I love Michael so much, he’s such a fun guy. So yeah, anything that he’s in would be great!
Stoker opens today.