ďIncreasingly Iím playing Ward Bond to his John Ford!Ē, laughs
Tom Wilkinson, referring to his relationship with director John
Madden. That might be a little harsh. After all, the 62 year-old
isnít quite as gruff and burly as the aforementioned character
actor who went from being an extra to a respected supporting
player, thanks to his relationship with Ford, who cast him in
everything from The Grapes of Wrath to The Searchers.
But then again, Madden and Wilkinson have increasingly expanded
their CVs so that they coincide. Most famously, Wilkinson played
theatre proprietor Hugh Fennyman in the Oscar-winning
Shakespeare in Love but their relationship stretches back to
1990, when Madden cast him in ĎThe Infernal Serpentí, an episode
of Inspector Morse.
Two decades on, and Wilkinson is back with Madden for The
Debt, co-starring with Dame Helen Mirren and Sam
Worthington. He plays Stephan, a former Mossad agent now holding
a deadly secret. As the story unfolds, we learn that, over forty
years earlier, he was sent with two colleagues to East Berlin to
track down a Nazi doctor in hiding, kidnap him and then bring
him to Israel for trial. Below, Wilkinson talks about his
relationship with Madden, a Hollywood career that has seen him
star in everything from Rush Hour to Batman Begins
and the upcoming Mission: Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
and why he wonít play the ďdying grandfatherĒ.
Do you find it hard to talk about your roles in an interview?
I do. The thing is, when you act a role, youíre going to ask me
to talk about my character in the way I never have. I donít know
how to talk about it. I know how to act it, but I donít need to
be able to write an essay on it.
Well, letís see. You worked with John Madden on Shakespeare
And I did an Inspector Morse with himÖ
So how has he evolved over the years?
He was a well-established high-end TV director and now heís a
very well-established high-end movie director. Iím sure heís
become more confident, more competent.
Do you usually ask yourself: do I get on with those involved in
a particular project?
Iíve never really had any bad experiences on movies. There are
some directors I probably wouldnít work with again, not that I
didnít like them, itís just because I think theyíre not that
Do you see this film as a thriller or a political piece?
I think itís an emotional thriller. Itís a thriller with other
stuff. Itís got an emotional momentum which a thriller doesnít
need to have and itís got a few aspects and different themes
that recur and crop up in it. Itís good work by John to keep
them more or less bubbling along all at the same time.
How did you feel when you saw the finished film?
I was impressed and surprised by the violent bits of it, which
are violent. Theyíre not that generalised, ĎIíll give you a
punch and you give me a punchí, stuff. Itís scary stuff. And I
think most of it works pretty well.
Did you talk to Marton Csokas at all, who plays your character
when heís younger?
No. They were long finished by the time I came on the scene, so
I didnít get to see anything. And I didnít look at any footage.
People change a lot, as they get older. Heís 25 and Iím not 25.
But afterwards, looking at it a couple of days ago when I saw
it, I thought, ĎIt could be the same guy. It could be the same
guy. There is a similar sort of passioní.
What is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel about? Itís
another collaboration with John Madden, right?
Yes. Itís about a hotel set up and various people are retiring,
or going to India for different reasons. And itís all different
stories, plus the story of Dev Patel who is opening the hotel.
John says itís a good film for the grey poundÖ
Yeah [laughs]. I donít want to hear any of that Ė Iím still down
with the kids!
Youíre coming up in MI:4 Ghost Protocol Ė delivering the
immortal Ďyour mission, should you choose to accept ití line to
Yeah Ė Iím just in that one scene. That was nice to do. I
Do you find thereís a lot of typecasting?
Maybe. I canít see it. I think there are fewer good roles in
your sixties, than there were in your fifties, than there were
in your forties, than there were in your thirties, I guess. If I
read another script where I get to play a dying grandfather! Iím
not going to do that! Unless itís the best ever dying
grandfather movie ever made Ė then Iíll do it.
How do you look back at your film career?
Iíve been very lucky on the movies Iíve made, because a lot of
them have been really quite successful and that really reassures
the various people in LA who want to hire you. The Full Monty
was a great help and the next year I was in Shakespeare in
Love and Rush Hour, which were very successful for
different reasons. Then In the BedroomÖwhen I did it, I
thought it will prove two things: a) I can play an American, and
b) I can do a leading role in a movie. Lots of people saw
Have you been working harder than ever in the last decade?
Itís been consistent. This year (2011) hasnít though Ė I havenít
done anything this year Ė though Iím about to do some stuff now.
Itís more and more difficult to get me to work now. Iím lucky
enough to be able to say, ĎIf you want me to be in a movie, Iíll
do it for two weeks but thatís it.í
I guess itís different to when youíre playing the leadÖ
If youíre playing the outright lead, then youíve got to work
with them. You think, ĎWell, if you can get into six weeks, itís
better than eight weeksí, but Iíve got this role in a couple of
weeks where Iím going to go to Mexico. Itís not a big role and
itís dotted around a bit, but theyíre quite happy to do it in
two weeks. If you want to do it, you do it. If the ultimate
dying grandfather role came up, Iíd go ĎWell, I have to be
What is the film in Mexico?
Itís called Little Boy. Itís a touching, rather
old-fashioned story about a young kid whose father goes off to
World War II. The young kid takes it upon himself to try and end
the war, so his Dad can come home. And Iím the priest. But a
good priest, a cool priest. Itís a very touching story, I think.
If they pull it off, itíll be a little belter.