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The Best Of Men
Eddie Marsan tells TV Choice about playing Dr Ludwig Guttmann, who fled Nazi Germany for Britain — and ended up creating the Paralympic Games.
Have you seen the finished film?
I saw it on a cast and crew screening in the company of Ludwig Guttmann’s daughter.
Was that daunting? Had you met her before?
No, I’d never met her.
How was that, then?
It was lovely, actually. She was very complimentary about the film and she said she enjoyed my portrayal of her father. She also told me that when she heard I was doing it, she didn’t know who I was! Then she went to see War Horse and saw me in that, at which point she elbowed her husband in the ribs and said, ‘That’s him!’
You do look quite like Guttmann once you’ve got the gear on, don’t you?
Yeah, I didn’t realise until we did a costume and make-up test, and then we suddenly looked at him and looked at me and thought, ‘Oh my God, yeah!’ I don’t think they set out to cast somebody who looked like him. It’s just a coincidence, really.
Guttmann is quite an interesting character, isn’t he? Although he has a heavy German accent, he uses a lot of British slang…
He does. He never spoke German, even at home with his wife, after moving to Britain. He refused to! He wanted to speak English. But the funny thing was he had a very strong German accent until he died. I listened to a recording of him speaking in 1970 and sometimes I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
You work with Rob Brydon in this — how was he?
He was great. I mean, we were all working so hard, and when you work with people, it’s the best way to get to know them, because you’ve just got to get on with it. You make each other cups of tea and help each other through. But yeah, we had a really good company spirit. Rob was great with all the young guys, because you get a lot of young actors coming in, being nervous. He would make them laugh and put them at ease. I was walking around doing a German accent all the time so they were probably a bit freaked out. But then they had Rob — he would take the responsibility of leading the company.
So you didn’t drop the accent?
I had to keep it going, not because of any method-actor thing, it’s just a technical point. It’s so that when the camera rolls it’s second nature. You can’t be thinking about how you’re saying something. You’ve got to be thinking about what you’re saying.
A role like this is a big ask. Do you have a long night of the soul before you start?
Oh yeah. Of course you do! You get fear and insecurity and self-doubt, but I think that’s all part of the process. I’m a great believer that to cross the ocean you’ve got to lose sight of the shore.
You seem to be hugely busy — can we put this in a bit of context? What project did you finish just before shooting The Best Of Men?
I finished the first episode of a series called Ray Donovan for Showtime in the US, with Liev Schreiber playing my brother and Jon Voight playing my dad.
And when you finished, did you then return to America to continue?
No, no. We’re going to finish those off towards the end of this year, and the beginning of next. I then came back and did a film for Uberto Pasolini called Still Life, which we just finished filming last week.
Is your head spinning with all this?
It is. I’m a bit knackered now, to be honest with you. That’s why I’m having a two-week break in Cornwall. It’s lovely.
How often do you get a break?
This year I’ve hardly had any. I mean, I took my family out to LA with me when we shot the pilot. That enables them to jump in the pool and kind of relax. As long as I know they’re happy, I can work. And I can come home every night and see them.