Ioan Gruffudd – Exclusive Collider Interview

     November 13, 2007

Coming out on DVD tomorrow is “Amazing Grace,” the true story of William Wilberforce (played by IoanGruffudd). So to help promote the film, I recently got to sit down with Ioan and talk one on one about not only playing William Wilberforce, but all the other projects he’s involved with. And of course… we talked “Fantastic Four 3.”

But since the interview was set up to promote “Amazing Grace”… the film tells the true story of William Wilberforce (IoanGruffudd), a leader of the British slavery abolition movement. The film chronicles his epic struggle to pass a law to end the slave trade in the late 18th century. Along the way, Wilberforcemeets intense oppositionfrom members of Parliament who feel the slave trade is tied to the stability of the British Empire. Several friends, including Wilberforce’s minister, John Newton (Albert Finney), a reformed slave ship captain who penned the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, urge him to see the cause through.

Earlier this year – when the film first came out – I was able to interview Ioan and if you missed it you can read it here. That interviews covers a lot more ground on “Amazing Grace.”

But since Ioan is involved with a lot of other projects, I used a large percentage of my time talking about those future things. And of course I worked in “Fantastic Four 3” questions and I even asked him about baby Franklin…

Before getting to the interview I have to say a big thank you to Ioan for sitting down and talking to me.And as always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview as an MP3 by clicking here.

Collider: I actually interviewed you back when the film first came out.

Ioan Gruffudd: Back in February, right? Was it here?

Collider: Exactly. Yeah, it probably was.

Ioan: It’s like déjà vu today.

I was drilling you for “Fantastic Four” stuff and you know, before the film came out and we were discussing…

Ioan: Of course, of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah, which is a great thing for us because we were getting to get people interested in this movie as a result of “Fantastic Four”. It was great.

Absolutely, and do you try to pick projects that can go back and forth because you’ve really raised—your career, in my opinion, has really taken off, not that it was ever…

Ioan: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Honestly “Fantastic Four” was sort of a deliberate attempt to help to raise the bar for myself and to get myself more recognizable here in the States because we know the success of these sort of genres as much as loving playing the part and being immersed in that. As a result of that I got “Amazing Grace”. I don’t think I would have got “Amazing Grace” had it not been for the success of “The Fantastic Four”, so what it’s done is open all these doors for me to be a bankable enough commodity to do these great independent movies where all the juicy character are.

So when you look back because the film was made a little while ago—when you look back what do you remember most about the filming process and about wanting to tell this story?

Ioan: I remember just being so totally immersed in it and so dedicated to it that I just had the time of my life making it. I realized that hard work and lots of long hours can be fun. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie set. I mean, “Fantastic Four” is a really hard project in comparison to this, believe it or not, because you’re not really getting that acting kind of satisfaction on a daily basis. You know, “Fantastic Four” is about hitting marks and saying a cool line and then imagining everything. Imaging I’m stretching my arm or imagining the background and imagining I’m saving the London Eye, so it’s a lot of work—extra work that you have to do as an actor whereas “Amazing Grace” it’s about reacting to all these other great characters that you’re surrounded by, so there’s a definite rhythm to your day and you know at the end of the day you’re exhausted but immensely satisfied.

What do you remember being the most challenging part of making the film?

Ioan: I think the challenging part was getting over my own sort of nerves really and excitement for it because I knew I was going to work with these amazing actors, with Albert Finney and Sir Michael Gambon and these great actors like Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones, I mean you just look at the cast it’s extraordinary. Just getting over myself and realizing and appreciating that I belong in the company of these guys. I have a right to be here and I think that was the major sort of hurdle really because I knew instinctively I could play the character. I’d done all the homework. I did all the research. We rehearsed for 2 weeks beforehand, so it was just a matter of getting up there and getting some confidence and doing it.

Are you a big fan of rehearsals or do you believe in the 1st take being the magic take?

Ioan: It’s very hard for me. I know there are some actors who are just brilliant at improvising and brilliant at just being in the moment and doing it there and then. I’m not one of those actors. I need to rehearse. I need to know where I am, where I’ve come from, where I’m going to and you can only sort of discover that through rehearsal really. Or if you don’t have any rehearsal time on the movie set, its maybe by take 5 or 6 I might get it. So, no the 1st take is sort of best kind of discarded as far as I’m concerned anyway.

What research did you do into this? Are there a lot of books available?

Ioan: Yes, there are. Wilberforce—I mean there are several biographies on Wilberforce and I mean a lot of them are quite heavy reading as biographies go. But some of them are enlightening about his—especially about his religious background and how fervent he was and how immersed he was in that and how that was a big part of his life. It’s interesting—an actor’s research is different to just historian’s research. I’m looking for things that I can actually physically use in the movie. For example, he’s never still. He never sits still. He’s always working, he’s always writing, he’s always running somewhere. This is a guy who lived his life to the fullest and didn’t let one minute go by that he wasn’t being constructive. There are scenes in Parliament where he’s constantly writing or going through his papers there. His house is full of animals. I mean, that’s something that we discovered through reading about him that he started this society for the prevention of cruelty to animals; so just these little hints and these little nuances that help to create a character. Those are the things that leap off the page for me.

And I have to of course move onto some of the other projects you’re involved with because you have a lot coming up.

Ioan: Yeah.

I know that—again I researched you for a little bit and you have this “Agent Crush”, “Fireflies in the Garden”, “Secret of…” I don’t want to butcher that last name.

Ioan: Moonacre.

Moonacre. So how do you pick projects?

Ioan: “Agent Crush” is a…I’m supplying the voice for this character Agent Crush so that’s something that I’ve done since I was a child really. When I was back in Wales, we used to dub a lot of the big cartoons like “The Smurfs” for example into the Welch language believe it or not. So as a youngster I was in a studio and sound booths you know, sort of mimicking.

I just want to make sure—you did “Smurfs” when you were younger?

Ioan: Yeah.

Okay, I just want to clarify that. That’s amazing.

Ioan: Yeah. I know. I translated it into the Welch language, so that experience of voicing something is being part of my upbringing so when they came to me to play Agent Crush they basically said “listen we want to hear you do your best Roger Moore impression for the character.” So that’s what I was doing, although Roger Moore was actually in the project as well.

I wanted to ask you about that. Did you have a chance to work with him?

Ioan: No, no, sadly enough. I was living here and some of the cast members got together and recorded it as like a play almost live, but no, I’ve met him subsequently and we’ve had a good laugh about it and I was sort of apologizing for trying to imitate him very poorly.

That’s great though.

Ioan: Yeah, I mean, this is another string to my bow as an actor. There’s another genre voicing a character and being able to be creative with your voice.

Can you tell me what part you play in that? I was A.F.M—The American Film Market…

Ioan: Oh yeah, they’re trying to promote it and sell it. I played Agent Crush. Agent Crush is a robot that is built to look like James Bond. He thinks he’s James Bond but he’s just totally incompetent and he’s got a few gadgets loose, you know, of his circuitry is missing. It’s a bit of fun for the kids, really. It works on a couple of levels for adults but it’s basically a kid’s movie, but using that old-fashioned model making and you know, animatronics so it’s a very tangible world. All these models–all these sets were real sets but in miniature version. So it was that old-fashioned sort of Thunderbirds kind of filmmaking.

I might come back to that but I want to definitely ask you about “Fireflies in the Garden” and the other 2 films you have coming out.

Ioan: Yeah, “Fireflies in the Garden” is a lovely script that I read. By the time I got to it all the parts had gone but there was a little cameo in it that I could play and I just wanted to be in it by association because it’s a beautiful story. The main cast—Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe and Emily Watson, so I haven’t seen that yet. I don’t know how its turned out but it’s something that I’m sure I’m going to be very proud just to be part of. And then “The Secret of Moonacre” I think is now called “The Moon Princess”. It’s based on a kid’s novel that was written back in the 50’s. It’s about a young girl who reads a storybook and that sort of comes alive and she realizes that she’s the girl that she’s reading about in the storybook. It’s a bit of a fantasy kid’s genre and that was something I just loved, you know, it just appealed to the kid in me, kind of like the “The Never-Ending Story”. Remember “The Never-Ending Story”?

Very much, yes.

Ioan: Yeah, I loved that so it was sort of having a chance to be in a movie of that sort of nature.

How was it working…I forget who’s the daughter in that. What part do you play in “The Secret”?

Ioan: I play the uncle of the main protagonist and she’s played by Dakota Blue Richards who’s going to be in “Golden Compass” now. She’s the main girl.

Yes, yes.

Ioan: So her star is in the ascendance and I guess the movie’s coming out next month so she’ll be everywhere I think.

Okay, now obviously the writers strike is going on so everything is being put into chaos, but the “Fantastic Four” franchise has done very well—both films. Do you think that Fox is going to be moving ahead with the 3rd? Or have you heard any rumblings I should say?

Ioan: You know what, by the last “Fantastic Four 2—The Rise of the Silver Surfer”, we didn’t know until very late in the day—I mean they were building sets and everything was ready to go. We were the last to physically know. So I haven’t heard any rumblings. I mean, all my friends up in Vancouver that would be building the sets or getting on with it, they haven’t heard anything. So I guess because of the current climate the studios are so keen on getting stuff out for this summer and for beyond if the actors go on strike that they haven’t even thought of “Fantastic Four”. I mean, the earliest we would shoot it would be I guess this time next year.

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Yeah, I have a feeling that obviously a project like that cannot be moved forward on until the resolution with all the different contracts get resolved. I guess my question is, would you…obviously would you…?

Ioan: Oh, I’d love to come back. I’m dying to come back and do the 3rd one. I would love it. It’s been such an amazing franchise to be part of and I’m so proud of playing him and to be part of American culture because I’m a British guy living in America, getting a chance to play an American icon and I’m really proud of that you know. It’s a big accomplishment for me.

I have—some of my writers have made sure I ask this question. Do you think Franklin—because in the comics apparently you guys have a kid named Franklin and do you think—would you welcome the opportunity to play a father? How do you feel about that?

Ioan: You know I having read the comic books as much as I can, but knowing of his existence, I know in The Incredibles the super baby and it was basically plagiarized from “The Fantastic Four”. That whole movie really took all the best bits from all the super hero movies but Franklin, I think, it would be great to see a live-action baby being sort of protected from the world by his parents because he was so powerful. There’s so much scope for comedy there I guess at home. I think there’s a scope for a sort of darker side of it of maybe having to expose baby Franklin to the world in order to save the world. You know, we’re incapable of saving the world or whoever we’re fighting but we need to introduce Franklin because he’s all so powerful to save the world. I know that we’ve established the franchise now as being sort of a family movie. I’d love to see us take it to another level like the “X-Men”, making it a bit more believable in the sense that—and creative in the sense that Reed Richards could be that table or something. Not just stretching his arms or that he would form different forms and being clever and not sort of funny but just cleverer in the way that he uses his powers and that we all collectively use our powers. I loved the ending of “The Silver Surfer”. I thought it was a really quite a moving, serious ending. The end of the world was nigh. I loved that darkness and I would love to go down that route a little bit more. I guess we’ve pandered to the orders that made it successful in the first place so it’s very hard to make a completely different movie the next time, but who knows?

It is interesting because Fox did choose with the “Fantastic Four” to make it very family friendly. I think that a lot of fans honesty with the adult fans were a little upset about that but kids loved the movies. It’s a safe family environment, so you’ve sort of addressed this a little bit with what you just said but do you—the comic book super hero genre is bigger than ever—would you ever imagine yourself possibly doing another kind of in that genre but as another character or do you sort of see yourself as this is my mark?

Ioan: I mean, I would love to of course, but I fear because I’ve played Mr. Fantastic who was such a big icon in that world, I fear nobody would come near me because I’m so well established as that character.

Could be prosthetics.

Ioan: It could be prosthetics. I mean, yes, I could be in 6 hours of makeup everyday, which would be a lot of fun, yeah. As my friend, Doug Jones is doing now, on Hellboy II, he’s been doing like 6 hours a day before going to work.

I have some friends who went to the set recently and they’ve been raving about what they’ve been seeing there and especially Doug.

Ioan: It’s going to be very special this one. I mean, Guillermo del Toro has controlled everything. He doesn’t have a 2nd unit director. He doesn’t even have an insert director. He’s doing absolutely everything like on 1 camera, so they’ve been there for like 7 months or something.

But that’s going to make it.

Ioan: I think so, yeah.

You know what you’re about to get.

Ioan: I think it’s going to be huge. I mean, the first one was extraordinarily successful and I wasn’t familiar with “Hellboy” at all. I think now that he’s established as a director and such a brilliant director I think it’s going to be interesting.

So a few other questions. Are you… obviously like I got some info off of IMDB and stuff, are you doing anything else right now? Are you reading scripts? How is the writers strike affecting the actors?

Ioan: I hadn’t actually thought about it because this summer I mean– I really haven’t done anything since “Fantastic Four” apart from voicing Agent Crush and literally finished doing “The Secret of Moonacre” now last week. Then I got married at the end of the summer so that was my big project. Then literally 2 days later was on the plane to go to Budapest to do the movie. So, I’ve just come back and this is happening so I mean, it’s a scary time. It’s something that has to be done and I think it’s something that has to be fought for and the studios aren’t budging and this is the only way of bringing them to the table, I think is this strike. I think we will be going out as well next year as actors, although the writer’s might set a president that might help us in negotiations as the Screen Actors Guild, so we’ll see.

It’s interesting because unlike the ’88 strike, the advent of the internet has opened the door for middle America to discover what exactly is going on and the writers, who are very creative, have been putting together these YouTube spots, explaining their side very eloquently. How do you feel about the situation and do you think this is an absolute that the directors and the actors are going to be fighting over the new media money?

Ioan: I think so, absolutely. And it’s only right and just. Of course, our side is going to see it one way and the studios are going to see it in a totally different way. But, absolutely. Something that we’ve created, that you’ve had a part in bringing to life that’s being exploited and you’re not seeing any revenue as a result of that so I think its…yes, this internet…there’s no legislation in place for the internet to begin with and it’s just boomed into this intangible thing. So I think it’s only right that we fight for that.

And the other thing is when you look at the numbers, you’re not talking about dollars, you’re talking about cents.

Ioan: Yes I know, but I guess in the studio sense—I mean, cents means if you’re talking about billions then it’s a lot of money for them. I know the DVD sales are what keeps the studios running at the moment, you know? The “Fantastic Four” was paid for on the back of the DVD sales for the first movie. That’s the kind of money we’re talking about and yes, it is a percentage of that but justifiably so I think.

I wanted to jump back—you filmed in Budapest you said?

Ioan: Yeah, The Moon Princess. Yeah.

So can you talk about the experience of being on location there and also that’s where they’re doing “Hellboy 2”. Budapest is really exploded.

Ioan: It’s an amazing city. The history of the place is extraordinary. They’ve been under Communism; they’ve been under the Natzi’s. They fought civil wars there and sadly at the moment their government—they had a revolution back in ’56 I think and things should have gotten better but they’ve sort of gone back to almost like a dictatorial state. It’s a fascinating place, a brilliant place to visit.

What was it like working with Dakota especially after she did “The Golden Compass”?

Ioan: Yeah I know. She’s 13 years old going on 33. She’s such a wise old soul. It’s sort of scary in a sense, but she’s brilliant. And I loved working with her because I remember when I was her age starting out, I didn’t have half the confidence or the courage or the talent that she has now as a 13 year old so I just love seeing her enthusiasm and she knew everyone’s lines. She was just immersed in it you know, as a child would be. I really want it to be successful for her sake as well as for our sake.

I’m ending up, but I wanted to know with the strike does it allow you—obviously are you thinking about doing some theatre work in London? Could that be an avenue that you’d explore?

Ioan: Because I’m a member of the Guild it wouldn’t be fair to go off and do work in other parts of the world. I mean, I believe strongly that I should support the Guild and I don’t think they would appreciate that at all. I mean, I live here. I’m part of this society and I would have to support it so I’d find it very hard to cross the picket line albeit in the U.K.

I guess what I’m saying is what it comes down to is the projects that are already in—because again I’m still figuring this out—the projects that are still in development or the projects that are greenlit and ready to go, those are the projects that are ok to take?

Ioan: I mean as far as me as an actor, yes, I mean because our guild isn’t on strike at the moment. Yes, so I don’t know how the studio—I mean, I guess they’re all—I don’t know if the directors have the rights to re-write things or the studios have the right to re-write things…I don’t know. But yeah, if things are ready to go now then you can go off and shoot them which is the way movies should be make really. Like “Amazing Grace” was made that way. The script was in such a great state from its conception that we just went off and shot that script. I mean, in the big studio movie world it’s like you have a greenlight to budget and a release date and go off and do it so it’s constantly pink pages, grey pages, you know, blue pages, change of locations, change of build that set, no we’re going to tear it down, we’re going to do it here now. It’s just extraordinary, so it might force people into just locking off a script and then going off and shoot it. It might save the studios a lot of money in the long run.

I was thinking the same thing. Michael is now doing the next “Narnia” movie. He’s doing the 3rd. So have you called him up and said “you know, I was thinking ‘Narnia’?”

Ioan: Yeah, because of my relationship with Walden who made this and Michael I would have got the call by now if there was anything appropriate for me I’m sure.

Well, listen I really appreciate your time….

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