Ghost Stories is about to be released in UK cinemas. It’s a great film; a deeply atmospheric and decidedly British horror. We were excited to get a chance to sit down with Martin Freeman to have a chat about his role in the film.
We didn’t have a lot of time, and we were dead keen to dig into his role in Ghost Stories, so we decided to put questions about some of his previous roles to one side for this occasion. Martin Freeman has been in some fantastic films and television shows, but we think we’d be doing everyone a disservice if we rushed past through everything to squeeze in quick questions about the likes of Black Panther, The Hobbit, The Office and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (although those of you with a keen eye may spot a subtle attempt to cajole a little information about the status of Sherlock).
It came down to a choice between doing Ghost Stories properly or trying to get a little taste of a lot of different subjects. The latter doesn’t sound very satisfying.
Lightly edited for spoilers, here’s how we got on with Mr Martin Freeman…
How did you get involved in Ghost Stories?
Andy (Nyman) sent me the script, well Andy and Jeremy (Dyson) sent the script, after I worked with Andy on a BBC film a few years ago. He said “I’m gonna send you this, there’s a part in it for you.”
So I read it and it just rang a lot of bells, I suppose. It’s reminiscent, I guess, of certain films that me and Andy and Jeremy would have grown up watching on telly.
The physicality of your performance is really important. I wonder if you could break down for me what was required here.
Well, I guess there are just old truths or truisms about acting. Where your character is coming from, where he’s physically coming from, is sometimes quite useful to you. I find things that are practical a lot more help than things that are purely psychological. So, I find I’m not particularly prone to writing someone’s entire backstory, for myself, from the age of four. I don’t really do that. But I will say ‘where does he hold himself? Where’s his centre of gravity?’
So for Mike Priddle, and I could see it again last night as I sort of forget it because I don’t walk around with him in my head, but there’s a part with him in the nursery where he’s absolutely leading with his groin. So he’s a thrusting banker who takes no prisoners. A complete egomaniac who talks about his wife in a pretty disparaging way and he is kind of a walking member on legs. So that’s where his centre was. There’s a kind of ruthlessness about him.
I try and keep things simple for myself, so what are the few characteristics about this person that are applicable. Because you can get too bogged down with ‘Is he that? He’s that!’. You can’t play 12 things at once, but you can play a couple of things at once. Or at least I can.
Someone else might be able to play twelve things, I couldn’t. So you keep it economical for yourself. What are the things that are actually practicable to play, because acting is a physical act.
The thing is, sometimes you can get bogged down with the psychological and the academic, and you think actually as soon as you make your foot operate in a different way, that changes every other thing, it can change the way you feel. So if you hunch your shoulder for ten minutes you feel differently. If you do something to your neck for ten minutes, you feel differently. So you are already something different. You haven’t had to write a biography about him, you haven’t had to think ‘Where was he in 1989?’, you literally just make him different. You make him physically different. It gives you a different feeling. Speaking is a physical act, so you give him a different voice.
So, the material you have in the film, there are some disparate tones. Some of it is quite heavy. How does that translate to the on-set atmosphere?
I think it usually translates to a balance. In my experience the heavier something is, and this is the case in life as well, I think this is borne out in real life, in the heaviest moments that’s when comedy appears. The truth is, at funerals people do not spend the entire day crying and weeping. They don’t. They go to tea afterwards and, in my experience, within half an hour people are laughing and smiling and catching up. We as a species have a pressure cooker thing, we take the pressure off. We take the lid off and we’re able to express something lighter. And on the heavier films and TV I’ve done it’s always balanced, unconsciously, by people making jokes and people taking the piss. ‘Cause it would be a weary old world indeed if you were doing something heavy and then you were also being heavy at your tea break as well. No one needs that. I don’t think it creates good work at all.
I’ve had my last question nudge, so unless you’ve got some mega Sherlock exclusive you want to throw out today… (speculative silence)
Fantastic. What’s your favourite Jason Statham film?
It would be Lock, Stock. I liked that film. I remember even at the time people were sniffy about that film in a way that, it was almost like people stopping themselves from laughing ‘cause they know they shouldn’t laugh. I think people wanted to like that film and then went ‘Oh, it’s just like this, that and the other, isn’t it?’ and then got immediately sniffy about it. But I liked it. It did feel new, even it was referencing old. What doesn’t reference old? Everything references old things. But I thought, clearly Guy Richie had a style with moving a camera around, he had a swagger about his filmmaking that I liked and I thought they were all really good.
I haven’t, I have to say, kept up with his action oeuvre, but he did some acting in Lock, Stock, and I know more about acting than I do about stunts.
Martin Freeman, thank you very much!
Ghost Stories is in UK cinemas from Friday.