Matthew Goode on A Single Man, Accents, and Spray-Tanning with Colin Firth


"Blink and you'll miss me," said Matthew Goode, describing his ill-fated, longtime partner of Colin Firth's devastated college professor in A Single Man. On the one hand, Goode does occupy a minimum of screen time in Tom Ford's directorial debut, a stirring '60s-set drama currently in the awards-season hunt. On the other, the striking, versatile 31-year-old Brit is pretty hard to miss in any of his films, from a romantic lead in Chasing Liberty to an ambitious Midwestern cutthroat in The Lookout to the social-climbing confidante of Brideshead Revisited. Single Man is Goode's return to indies after his bewigged antiheroics as Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias in last spring's Watchmen; he'll be back to the majors next year opposite Amy Adams in Leap Year. He spoke recently to Movieline about discovering A Single Man for himself, what scared him about Tom Ford, and how a small part can sometimes make all the difference.

[Minor spoilers follow]

What was your familiarity with Christopher Isherwood's source novel?

I've been aware of Isherwood -- I remember The Berlin Stories, which obviously went into the movie Cabaret. But I didn't know this particular novel. The screenplay itself is fairly different from the novel, because the novel is told from first-person throughout. I read it, and I didn't have a tremendous amount of time from when Tom offered me the part to going to L.A. and starting filming. You can only really work with the script. And considering that I die on page one, you just kind of think, "Oh, crikey. There you go." But I really loved it. I really enjoyed what Tom had done, and I think one of the reasons I was quite honored to be in it was because there's a huge amount of Tom and his own personal life in the movie. Like the [attempted] suicide? I think the use of a sleeping bag was his brother-in-law, unfortunately. And the relationship that Tom has with [his partner] Richard [Buckley] in real-life sort of mirrors the love of Jim and George. In essence, the movie is kind of a love poem to Richard. So with all of those criteria, I couldn't wait to start.

Did you know Tom at all?

No, we'd never met. It was just one of those things. He said, "I'd like to meet you." So we went and met at Claridges, and I was fairly nervous. He's quite famous. [Laughs] And we sat down, and he's just the most gorgeous man in every which way. He really is. He's far too good-looking for his own good, as far as I'm concerned. But he spoke incredibly passionately about it, and he said, "Look, I can write you another scene if you want." But I didn't think that was necessary; most of my scenes aren't particularly dramatic. He did say that Jim is quite central to the story even when he's not on-screen, because he's talked about and he's the catalyst for George to want to end his life. He doesn't think he can go on without him anymore. When you look at the scenes I have on paper, nothing jumps out. They seem quite banal. But actually there is a beauty in the banality of George's remembrances of Jim. It's not some sort of sweaty clinch on a beach -- which would have been fine.

When you have that little time in the script or on screen, what does that change in your approach to the character -- making every second count?

There's not really much you can do. You can't really push. "I know what I'm going to do! I'm going to reveal a rabbit from a hat in this scene. What did you think, Tom?" We discussed it, and we didn't even have enough time. The whole film was shot in 21 days, which is rather extraordinary. Colin had to work extremely hard. So we just went with complete simplicity. That's what Tom wanted, really, and I'd like to think I'm a director's actor.

How is he with actors?

Well, I remember the first scene we did, in the desert. There are a couple minutes of dialogue and various camera movements. It felt like quite long takes. But certainly the first take, we did it and Tom came up and said, "Remember, guys, to keep your chins up. Nobody likes to see a big double [chin] on a screen 50 feet high." And I was like, "That's it?? That's all you're going to give me?" And he said, "Yeah, it is. I love everything you're doing. Don't change it. Just keep your chin up." I think in the beginning we thought, "Christ, he's just going to be solely involved with the aesthetic." Which we hoped that it wasn't going to be. Obviously, he comes from fashion, and we thought, "Ah, that's all we're going to get?" But he just comes across with these very simple actions that he wants you to do. He keeps it very, very simple and let's us get on with it. He delivers a sort of mission statement and then gets out of your way while you do your work.

Did you ever feel like you were working with a "first-time director"?

No, not at all. I've worked with directors who are prepared, but rarely to the level that Tom is prepared. And I think that's because he had to be that prepared because we had such a short amount of time. But what also makes him really great is that we never felt harried or rushed. It seemed like we had an adequate amount. He's just a very, very eloquent, intelligent and gentle person n the set. I'm sure there were times he was quite stressed, but he never showed it. He just sat there, impeccable, in a three-piece suit.

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