Tuesday, 10 December 2019
A Christmas Carol - Interview with Guy Pearce (Ebenezer Scrooge)
What makes this different from other versions of A Christmas Carol?
The original material is actually quite dark, in a similar way to old fairy tales being quite scary and frightening. I think what Steve Knight wanted to do with this was to look at Dickens’ original material and dig in further. There’s a brutality and a gravity to it that reflects real life more than a lovely, safe, snow-covered Christmas story.
The idea of Scrooge being taken back though his life still exists and the idea of him needing to take a look at himself still exists, but the journey that he goes on is far more painful and emotional than what we’ve seen before.
For Scrooge, who I play, Steve and Nick Murphy (director), wanted somebody far more contemporary in personality. They wanted a ruthless businessman, someone with swagger and confidence, who faced the world in a very logical, rational, powerful way. They wanted somebody almost like a bully, who had enough confidence to take everybody on. As opposed to the Scrooge that we’ve come to know who is usually quite a bit older, a crotchety miserable old man, who doesn’t really want to have anything to do with the world anymore and has no joy left. This Scrooge has real swagger and real attitude, so for the Ghost of Christmas Past to take him back, it requires a lot more conflict. It requires the Ghost of Christmas Past to be a lot more confrontational and ruthless and to really battle with Scrooge to get him back there. So, it’s a more difficult and a more painful experience.
Can you tell us more about your version of Scrooge?
When we meet Scrooge, we get a sense that he misses his business partner Marley, who has died. But we also get the sense that he has a toughness to him, he doesn’t crumble under things that are difficult for him, he just gets tougher and tougher and builds this wall up that enables him to continue to function in the world. Through the course of the story, that begins to come apart and unfold and we really see how vulnerable he is.
Has playing him made a lasting impression on you?
Every character you play leaves impression! I do think that the Scrooge in me was revealed a little as we were making this! I realised how grumpy I can be! I knew that anyway, but it was brought to the surface a little bit!
Can you tell us about the look of the show and the world that has been created?
It is set in the past. I remember when I read the scripts I had to ask Nick, our director: “Are we setting it in the past still because it feels contemporary to me?” There’s a flow and an ease to the language that just feels contemporary. Nick would remind us all the time that the problem with some period pieces is that actors and directors fall into the trap of thinking things should be very formal and people should speak in a particular way, that feels unnatural, because that’s what they did in the past. Whereas Nick argued that people spoke naturally in the past, just some of the words might have been different. It was important to Nick to make sure that we remained very human and real with each other, there is something a bit brittle about some period pieces that can alienate a modern audience a little bit. We’re wearing period clothes and, of course there’s the beautiful period sets, but Nick didn’t want it to be stuffy, he wanted it to feel like it looked new and fresh.
One of the funny things was, because we shot this in the middle of summer in the UK and we needed snow, there were snow machines blasting fake snow everywhere all the time. The art department really had a tough task to create this world, and they did an amazing job.
Because of all the art direction, those wonderful sets, the great costumes that we had and our hairstyles, it really took us back into the past, but the language that we had made it feel contemporary as well.
Tell us about Steven Knight’s scripts…
When I first heard about the project, I was given the names Nick Murphy, Steven Knight, Ridley Scott, Tom Hardy, FX and the BBC, and I immediately got the sense that was going to be a different project. And then I started reading it and that was made apparent. The consistently beautiful dialogue that Steven has written ensures you never lose track of the journey that Scrooge is on. Steve’s ability to write in this big but also very intimate way was so impressive to me. I’m still astounded by how he did it and what he’s capable of doing.
The other thing that really affected me when I read the scripts was there were scenes of dialogue that I have, and as I was rehearsing these lines myself at home they would make me tear up because they are so touching and so poignant and so painful. I would read them thinking: “How am I going to do this on set and not actually cry?!” It was like beautiful poetry. I spoke to Steve to clarify certain things and make sure I understood because I really wanted to honour everything that he’d written. We had a good sort of communication throughout the project and I would love to work with him again.
Why do you think the story of A Christmas Carol has resonated for so many years?
Well, ultimately, all of us had pain in our lives, all of us have had difficult things that have occurred and all of us have felt hurt, and we’ve also hurt others along the way. Quite often that’s not addressed, we just grow up and get on with it and try and live our lives as best we can.
The pain that any of us have experienced in our pasts still exists unless it’s worked through and resolved. So the idea of a character who is forced to look at their past, forced to look at what they’ve done to other people and what’s been done to them, I think means a lot to any of us. And the idea of being able to redeem ourselves is frightening and appealing. It’s scary to be vulnerable. It’s frightening to say: “I’m sorry”, “I’m wrong”, “please forgive me”, but at the same time, it’s rewarding and exciting and it helps us grow.
We’re all playing this game in life and it’s hard to be honest to ourselves about whether that’s truly who we are or if that’s just survival. Life is tough. And so, I think this story speaks to all that stuff that happens to us on a daily basis in a small way or sometimes in a big way. The fragility of life, the precariousness of our place in the world and with each other, and how we socialise, particularly in this day and age with social media. We need each other more now than we ever have before. That’s why a story like A Christmas Carol will probably keep coming up because it’s always relevant and probably becomes even more relevant as time goes on.