Ioan Gruffudd Interviewed – ‘Amazing Grace’

     February 21, 2007

I’ll admit that when I was offered the chance to participate in the Amazing Grace junket I had an ulterior motive – I wanted to get an update on Fantastic Four 2 from Mr. Fantastic, Ioan Gruffudd. But what I ended up getting was a really well done movie that addressed an issue that is still a hot button subject today – slavery.

In Amazing Grace Ioan Gruffudd plays William Wilberfoce who’s a not very well known figure in British history. If you have not heard of him, don’t worry, I hadn’t either. What you need to know is he was very much ahead of his time as he sought to abolish slavery when it was very much against what the leaders in government desired.

The reason I liked the film is that it isn’t preachy and it doesn’t try to show all the politicians as evil corrupt people. Instead director Michael Apted shows us a world where many people wanted social change but were compelled to keep the status quo, as making those changes could lead to financial ruin. So before I get to the FF stuff I just wanted to say Amazing Grace is worth your time.

But now why most of you are here – what did Mr. Fantastic spill on FF2!

If you read or listen to the interview you’ll see that while we covered a lot on Amazing Grace, a large majority of questions were about FF2. The interview was conducted via a roundtable setting and their were about 6 of us.

I suggest reading the entire thing but here are the highlights of the FF2 info:

  • There are 3 major action set pieces
  • Galactus is definitely in the movie
  • The cast is signed for 3 movies
  • As Ioan says below – “At the beginning of the movie, we are embracing our powers, sort of coping with living in the public eye so that’s an exciting element of it. There’s an aspect of the movie where we sort of toy with the idea of not being superheroes anymore because it’s such a responsibility. Then, of course the Silver Surfer arrives and the world is looking to us to help save it again.”
  • And while he wouldn’t give specifics – I would bet any amount of money that the film ends on a cliffhanger that will lead into the 3rd film.

There is way more info below so check it out. Amazing Grace opens in limited release Friday.

Question: That’s a nice jacket.

Ioan Gruffudd: Thank you very much. I’m very proud of this jacket.

What is it?

Ioan: It’s an Armani, believe it or not.

Why is it shiny?

Ioan: I don’t know. It looks a bit like fur. It’s all about the clothes these days.

Q: If Wilberforce had had our modern capacity for mass media, would the word against slavery have spread faster?

Ioan: The funny thing is, we have that capacity in this day and age to highlight these issues and we do get to see them on screen and CNN and Anderson Cooper does expose us to some of these atrocities which continue to happen today. So, we haven’t really learned much since that period really. I think, unless we are presented by it every day and bombarded by it unless it physically affects us, we’re very quick to brush it under the carpet.

So taking people to that slave ship to smell the horrible smell would have more impact than watching it on a picture box?

Ioan: Absolutely. They had to find out a way of exposing it and bringing it to life and they had to expose it to Wilberforce himself because he was aware of it but wasn’t convinced of it. He needed to experience it himself.

How familiar were you with this story from school history lessons?

Ioan: To be perfectly honest, I was slightly ignorant to the whole story. Whether that was me not paying attention or it passed me by [I don’t know] but certainly, in British education, he is renowned and remembered as the British politician who abolished the slave trade. I think here, he is more of a footnote as far as the abolitionist history over here.

It took us a lot longer over here.

Ioan: Yes.

Have you ever stood up for a group or a cause?

Ioan: I’ll be perfectly honest I’m not one of those brave souls. I’m not necessarily a leader in that sense. That’s what makes these people stand out from the rest of us is that they do have the courage and bravery to be that lone voice and then the rest of us can get on the bandwagon so it’s tough to be like that.

That was you singing “Amazing Grace” right?

Ioan: Absolutely, yes. I’m very proud of that.

So, at no point did you say ‘get someone else to sing this?’

Ioan: To be honest, I think that I am a bit of a singer, coming from Wales being Welsh, we are all very proud of our singing heritage. But Michael Apted and the producers never actually asked me if I could sing and it came to that morning and it was ‘shit, now he’s gonna sing. What are we gonna do?’ But, luckily I wowed them all with it.

Did you have a singing coach?

Ioan: Funnily enough, I got my old singing coach from drama college whom I hadn’t seen for ten years since I left drama college, I called him up and asked him to help me out with the singing.

Did Wilberforce want to be a minister and had to choose between politics or the church? That wasn’t quite clear.

Ioan: Absolutely. What he said was ‘to praise God’ whatever that means, to become a meditative monk or whatever or a preacher, I don’t know. Certainly, in history, William Pitt the younger the Prime Minister at the time and his best friend, wrote him a letter asking him to reconsider, because he was such a great politician, he was getting so far in politics, please don’t give up that. Surely the religion can lead to action as well as meditation. Those are his words. They lifted his words from that letter to use in the script.

Are the British just more comfortable doing period pieces?

Ioan: I know I’m as comfortable doing period as I am contemporary. I suppose we grow up with it in a sense, in the theater. We get to put on costumes and play a lot of period dramas or plays so we’re exposed to it a little bit more I think because of our theatrical background. And, I love it because you put a costume on or a wig on and you’re suddenly somebody else already. It’s like playing as a child you put on a cape or your father’s jacket or your grandfather’s jacket and suddenly you’re able to play being that old man. Any prop ignites some sort of imagination.

Wilberforce also started the Royal SPCA and had many pets in his house. So, slavery wasn’t his only issue. Do you have any pets?

Ioan: No I don’t. I’ve never been around pets. I didn’t have pets as a child.

That’s sad.

Ioan: I know. I always had this image if I had a pet, he would be free to roam the fields. I’d have to live on a farm.

So, this animal advocacy was in the research on him?

Ioan: That was already in the script. It was a big part of his life. When you read about him, his house was filled with people or animals he was looking after. He was this incredibly rich guy, a wealthy man so he was able to be such an philanthropist.

We were told the film has been done for a while?

Ioan: We finished this time last year so it’s been ready for a good six months. But I think it’s pretty quick from its conception to shooting to its coming out. It’s not that long a break, really.

I thought it might be closer to when you were filming the first Fantastic Four movie.

Ioan: Right. No, I’d shot the first FF movie and that had already come out because I don’t think I would have got this part if it had not been for the success of the first FF movie.

Even having played Hornblower, you wouldn’t have gotten this part?

Ioan: I suppose, I could prove until I was blue in the face that I could play the character but the powers that be, the producers, need an established name and numbers and figures because that’s the name of the game these days but, thank the Lord for Fantastic Four, yeah.

Did you ever think that Mr. Fantastic was going to let you play a period piece?

Ioan: [laughs] It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, that people say ‘wow, this is great and diverse’ and I’m like ‘well this is what I grew up on playing Hornblower and Pip and ‘The Forsythe Saga’ so it’s my stock and trade really. But, yes, playing a superhero in a spandex suit has allowed me to come back to what I do best. It’s amazing.

But, when you look at it, you’re both leaders in a way.

Ioan: Right. Yes. The reason I’ve been attracted to these projects over the years has been because they’re such great characters. They’re such great heroic figures. Producers are now realizing that I’m the go-to guy for any hero that you want to play. [laughs]

Are you allowed to tell us any information about Fantastic Four 2?

Ioan: Well, I had a phone call this morning from Fox saying ‘will you stop talking about the movie so much and stop ruining it for everyone’. So, what I can tell you, as the title suggests, it’s the rise of the Silver Surfer and that’s it [laughs]. At the beginning of the movie, we are embracing our powers, sort of coping with living in the public eye so that’s an exciting element of it. There’s an aspect of the movie where we sort of toy with the idea of not being superheroes anymore because it’s such a responsibility. Then, of course the Silver Surfer arrives and the world is looking to us to help save it again. As far as a movie, I think it’s a much better movie than the first one because that was sort of an origin movie and we were trying to sell it to a wider audience and not just cater to the fans. So, I think the fans were slightly disgruntled with the first movie because it took so long to get into it. And, we were working out the difficulty of presenting four or five different effects together working simultaneously. So, this one, we start the movie with a bang and it doesn’t relent till the end. It’s a real roller coaster of a ride.

Is there any worry though that there’s already four of your and Dr. Doom, throw in Silver Surfer and Galactus, is it too much.

Ioan: I don’t know. We’ve established Dr. Doom and the four of us so that’s fine. I think the Silver Surfer is such a great character. You need somebody of that nature to come and steal our thunder.

Did you watch the trailer that’s been released?

Ioan: Yeah.

What did you think of how they’re pushing an action sequence rather than doing a bunch of little things?

Ioan: I think it’s very smart of them. It just proves how far our franchise has come from that origin movie. Now, this movie is full of those sequences. So, they know best how to market these things and get bums on seats.

How has Tim [Story], as a director, changed?

Ioan: He’s a lot more confident now, as we all are. We’re sitting comfortably in the skin of our characters. We know each other. Because we are friends, it has made it easier to work together. When we did the first movie, we were just figuring each other out and Tim also, but now we’re a family. It gives us a lot of confidence to do this movie.

You mentioned some disgruntled fans after the first film. Did you take that at all personally?

Ioan: No. You can never do that. I don’t listen to that. You’re never going to please everyone. As an actor, I’ve always said, half the audience is going to love you, half is going to hate you so just live with it. It’s easier that way.

Did you ever have any doubt that there would be a number 2?

Ioan: Certainly, there was doubt. You don’t know. You sign up for three movies and, of course, you wish to do the three but it is a business and it is all dependent on the box office. Thanks to the fans and general movie-going public, the movie was a success.

In the superhero world, who, not made into a movie yet, would you like to play and what historical figure would you like to play?

Ioan: In the comic book world, I’m afraid I’m not well-versed. I’m not an authority on comic books. I didn’t read comic books as a child so I’m introduced to this via The Fantastic Four so I don’t really have an image or person from a comic book that I’d love to play. In history, gosh.. John F. Kennedy.

I think you wrapped at the end of last year, have you been working on anything else?

Ioan: No I haven’t. I’ve been promoting this this last two weeks and next month we go to Britain and Europe with it. Then after, that, we’ll start promoting ‘T.V. Set’ then, after that, it’ll be ‘The Fantastic Four’ so I’ll be traveling around the world promoting unless I get a peachy job of course.

Who do you play in ‘The T.V. Set’?

Ioan: I play a British executive who has been brought in to bring a bit of class to the whole proceedings but, of course, he tries to stamp his authority on it and be all about integrity and, of course, he devolves into this character interested in numbers and figures and so we see his sort of demise.

How was it doing a comedy after doing action and period pieces?

Ioan: I loved the opportunity. That’s why I fought tooth and nail to get into that movie. I read it and immediately put it down and thought ‘they’d never consider me for this’. Then they couldn’t find the guy and funnily enough an assistant to Vin Diesel, who is now Jake’s [Kasdan’s] assistant said, ‘Listen, I know this great actor Ioan Gruffudd’ because Vin is with my manager. This guy said [in Bronx accent] ‘This guy is fantastic fuggedaboutit’. So, he said ‘Well, just sit down with him. He’s a good British actor’. So I did, I sat down and persuaded Jake to give me the part by reading and proving that I could do it.

Now that you’ve been in a big hit movie, are people universally pronouncing your name correctly?

Ioan: Slowly but surely. I understand it. On the page, it doesn’t leap out phonetically so it’s just a matter of educating people.

I still don’t get your last name right.

Ioan: It’s Griffith. It’s just spelt in the Welsh language so it’s a daily occurrence.

Did you ever think of changing your name because it must be frustrating?

Ioan: No, honestly, from the very word ‘go’, it was ‘I’m not going to change my name. It’s not going to stand in my way’ and so far, so good.

Is the second Fantastic Four on a bigger scale?

Ioan: Absolutely on every level. There are so many more effects shots in this movie compared to the first one.

Was it a harder shoot?

Ioan: It was harder because of the weather in Vancouver. It was slightly harder this time around. There are a lot of exteriors. But, it was more fun of a shoot because we were all so much more comfortable with one another.

Much more on page 2 —————-&gt


With the success of Ghost Rider over the weekend, has the studio shown you even more love?

Ioan: I haven’t heard a word from them until this morning when they said ‘stop talking about the movie’. I think no news is good news because the last time around, they were on the phone almost immediately ‘reshoots, we’ve gotta fix this, gotta fix that’. So this time I guess they’re sitting on something really special I don’t know.

So, you aren’t kidding, you actually got the mandate from them to stop….

Ioan: Yes. What was happening is my mind was on this [Amazing Grace] and somebody asked me about it and I go, ‘oh yes. Blah, blah, blah’ and then thought ‘shit, I shouldn’t have said that. That’s spoiling the whole movie and then nobody needs to come and see it’.

Was there one straw that broke their back?

Ioan: What I’m saying is there is a presence of Galactus. That’s all I’m allowed to say.

That would have gotten out there with or without you.

Ioan: I know, I know. Like they told me ‘don’t talk about Doug Jones as the Silver Surfer’. I’m like ‘but, he’s credited as The Silver Surfer’.

He told us about it.

Ioan: I know. I think it’s to the detriment of the movie. They should be celebrating Doug Jones as the Silver Surfer. He’s brought this great character to life.

What was it like working with someone who is so talented?

Ioan: Exactly. I thought he was under-appreciated because they say ‘don’t mention Doug’. No, no, Doug has brought this character to life and they’re just manipulating what he did on set putting that sheen on him. I thought it was wonderful, so majestic. When you meet him, he’s like a beanstalk of a guy, isn’t he? But, his movement is fantastic, breathtaking. When I saw ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ I was like ‘that’s you?’ It’s beautiful. I just want him to have his credit where credit’s due.

How does a British audience react to you in a Fantastic Four movie compared to you in a period piece?

Ioan: That’s interesting. I haven’t really spent any time in the U.K. since Fantastic Four came out. I did shoot this movie there but, I suppose it goes hand in hand for them for me to be seen in the frocks and wigs.

Do the British people have different reactions to period movies?

Ioan: I think they’re probably more used to it, yes. It’s part and parcel of our heritage with literature, film and television and because of the theatrical background, we all a bit more aware, more used to period dramas. But, the response from Fantastic Four is primarily from kids running up to you and wanting to pull your arm and see if it stretches. [laughter]. But to think that I’ve effected somebody in that way. Even as a child, that’s why I wanted to be an actor, the magic of movies. ‘wow, he made me feel this way’. That’s why I wanted to do this movie because when I read the script I was bawling my eyes out at the end of reading it because of what he’d achieved, a sense of relief. I wanted to be that actor that effected me as a child. So, I got my chance to create that bit of movie magic. When you see the wonderment in a kid’s eyes they’re so nervous and tentative because they can’t quite believe it’s you and then, obviously disappointed when I can’t stretch.

Has Fox already said to you that if FF 2 does really well, it’s jump right back into FF3?

Ioan: Certainly when we were shooting the movie, you get that sense, that they want to try and complete this franchise. I can’t open my mouth.

Perhaps the movie ends in a way that you might want to see a third movie?

Ioan: [grinning] Perhaps it does. Everyone’s aware that people have signed a three picture deal and I’d love for that to happen. They probably know now how it’s going to perform with the tracking and they have an idea.

Perhaps, is Fox working on a third script as we speak?

Ioan: I’m sure of it. Yeah, they must be. If they have half a brain.

Have you seen the movie?

Ioan: Haven’t seen a frame of it, no. I saw a little bit of dailies but it’s somebody standing next to you in a green suit or a tennis ball with an X on it. I haven’t seen any of it put together but that’s the exciting aspect of making a movie like that is that I am like an audience member when I see if for the first time. I’m like ‘whoa, I can’t believe they made me stretch and do that!’ There were bits in the first movie where they manipulated me entirely. There’s a scene in the Baxter building where Dr. Doom is throwing lightning bolts at me and he eventually throws me out the window and I’m hanging outside the building. I remember shooting the bit where he threw lightning bolts at me and pretending to avoid them and they put the effect on and from then on, I run to the window and fall out the window. I never did that. It was a digital me, amazing. I didn’t do any of that. It is breathtaking, really impressive. The difficulty with the new movie is every frame that the Silver Surfer is in, even just as a character talking, is an effect so it’s costing a fortune.

Are you living here now? You said you hadn’t been in the U.K. for a long time.

Ioan: Yeah, I moved here about four or five years ago.

What’s it like being a toy?

Ioan: The coolest thing ever! I can’t tell you… I collected all those Star Wars figures when Star Wars came out. I remember one of my first highs that I got was a little [indicates about four inches high] action figure of superman about this high. My mom had gone to London to see a play and she bought us back a little toy. I treasured that thing so much. If I had know then that I would one day become a figure, I’d have flipped out.

Do you think it does or doesn’t look like you?

Ioan: I think it looks very much like me. They got the proportion of the nose perfect got a big clunker [does he mean honker?] in there.

Have you see the new toys, the car?

Ioan: No. This time I think it’s a different company making the toys. Hasbro I think. But, I’ve seen ideas and have approved my likeness. They are using scans from the first movie. We did hours and hours of scanning again this time.

I’m seen all of you in this car?

Ioan: [excited] The Fantastic car? Have you? It’s a toy? [he sounds like he’s about 5 years old here] Is it online. No way! Does it look good? Do you think kids will want to buy it?

It looks like all four of you could be in the car?

Ioan: Beautiful. It’s a stunning-looking car. Honestly, it was like a playground ride. They had it on a gimble and it was able to do all this [leans back and forth] really fast. We had to be strapped in. It was hysterical.

It’s interesting that they don’t expect you to talk about the film at all.

Ioan: It is funny. I agree. I think it’s a bit arcane, that thing of ‘don’t let it get out there’, whereas, it’s getting it out there that generates the hype. But, I’m sure there’s some sort of timing to it. They don’t want it to peak too soon. I think that’s what it is. I think that’s why we haven’t seen any of the movie either. Nobody’s seen it. They’re holding onto it. Don’t let it get out there.

Did you feel there was a lot more money being spent on this one than the first one?

Ioan: I didn’t think I lot more but certainly some….

Was the catering better?

Ioan: The catering was fantastic. I just got the sense that they probably learnt what was important to them so they’re throwing a lot of money on certain aspects of it instead of spreading it out, saying ‘this sequence is important to us’. The sets were unbelievable this time. The Baxter building is breathtaking.

How many big action set pieces are there?

Ioan: There are three big action sequences.

Are you going to the Oscars this year?

Ioan: No. I’m not going to go until I get nominated or present.

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