I definitely knew I wanted to be a part of the project unequivocally, but I did have reservations about how I, as an actor and as a human being, would literally do what was required of me. It was something that was utterly alien to morality, my sensibility, my sense of what’s right, so there was a big pause when I thought: “I can’t let this piece down…” because it needs to be made and made well. I would love to be part of that but they had to get the right guy for this… not just me. I said that to the director. But then I suppose I kind of realised that if we’re serving the story and the event that we’re talking about, you were going to have immerse yourself, delve deep and try to understand a completely opposite mentality to your own, which is what acting is. But it was definitely a challenge.
Rupert on how he choose this role for indielondon.co.uk
Set during World War II, a story seen through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
Director: Mark Herman
Writers: John Boyne (novel), Mark Herman (screenplay)
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, David Hayman, Sheila Hancock, Richard Johnson, Cara Horgan, and Jim Norton.
The film is an adaptation for the novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006) by Irish novelist John Boyne. This is the story of Rupert’s character according to the novel:
Lieutenant Kotler is a 19-year-old soldier at Auschwitz concentration camp who works for Father. Kotler has blond hair, the ideal of the Nazis. He is disliked by Bruno for many reasons, one of them being the fact that Kotler calls Bruno ‘little man’ and ruffles his hair. Kotler also makes Bruno feel very cold and unsafe. Another reason why he is disliked by Bruno is that Shmuel was implied to have been beaten up (because of his bruises) after Kotler caught Shmuel eating the chicken Bruno had offered him.
At a point in the story, Kotler has dinner with Bruno’s family. When Father asks about Kotler’s family, Kotler reveals that he has not been in touch with his father, who went to “Switzerland”. At the time of World War II, Switzerland was famous for being a neutral area which supported neither the Allies nor Axis in the war. Any German who went to Switzerland at the time was considered a traitor who disagreed with Germany’s motives.
Lieutenant Kotler admits to Father that he didn’t report his own father, and when Pavel accidentally spills wine on him, Kotler over-reacts to show he is not a traitor by an angry (unspecified) treatment of Pavel that greatly upsets Bruno, Gretel and Mother.
It is hinted several times that Kotler is having an affair with Mother – they are often talking privately, she calls him “Kurt, precious” when she doesn’t realise Bruno is listening, and any time Father is away, Bruno notes that Kotler is there when he (Bruno) goes to bed and when he gets up. Kotler is suddenly given a transfer after an angry altercation between Father and Mother late one night.
Rupert’s screencaps from this film are available in the gallery following this link. Here’s a small sample.
I read Rudolph Hess’s book, but my main priority was trying to understand what might make a young man of my age believe that his actions were not only acceptable but desirable, because obviously they’re opposite to what I believe. And I found a book written by a girl who lived on the same mountain as Hitler’s lair, who was utterly swept along by the Nazi propaganda machine, to the point where she was believing that it was necessary to do it and not evil, but quite the reverse. And from that, I was able to try to understand how ambition might play a part in explaining away your actions, particularly in light of my character’s father having been a deserter – there’s that sort of secret which you’re constantly trying to compensate for, because you’re aware of the consequences, as we see.
[About check movies from the past with any resonance to the role] Personally, I wouldn’t have found it useful to watch somebody else’s interpretation because I think one of the great things about the way that the story looks at the Holocaust is that it’s utterly unique in its perception and I think we all wanted to do something that was completely fresh as a take on this period. And with that in mind, it was very important to me to not do anything that was a rehash of the way we think of Nazis, or even of baddies, because the whole point about this story is that yes, they committed this incredibly brutal atrocity, but the point about the story is that it’s a family – it’s a father and a son and a wife and children – and that they all had this credo that was so terrifying but they were doing family things as well. So I think there was a certain amount of wanting to come at it from a fresh angle.
Rupert on how he researched his character for viewlondon.co.uk
One of Rupert’s scenes in the film. His cold gesture and the tone of his voice say it all… Goosebumps
I’d say it’s quite lonely because you’re going home and then you’re not going to work to do a buddy movie. It’s not a war film like we’re all in the trenches together. It’s a very fractured family – there’s big divisions that get wider and wider between all of the factions of the family. My character has no friends and no family and the one family that he’s got, gives him his marching orders to what is, basically, a death sentence. So, it’s quite a lonely head space to be in.
Rupert on the difficulty of dealing with his character every day of filming for indielondon.co.uk
[How do you prepare for such dark scenes and how do you cope after having played them?] …It was very important to me, particularly in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, where it was a more direct interaction with the young actor, to, kind of, help them psychologically.
Kids are fantastic – they are the best at imagination, so if you pitch a kid a game, for example, ‘I’m the cop, you’re the robber’, or, you know, ‘I’m the doctor you’re the patient,’ they just go with it, without question. That’s what I loved about being a kid and I love about working with kids, is that they have no limit. The problem is that they are, I think, very susceptible to being unable to distinguish always, between what is real and what is not. And if you have some awful Nazi, who is an asshole, you know, that could be a nightmare for lots of years to come. When worked together in the film, I asked the kid to see this character as somebody who lived in that house. When he lived in there and whenever he was in there, the character was real, but as soon as we left that house, which was the one we were shooting in, he didn’t exist anymore, and Rupert existed. So we spent a lot of time at the zoo, you know, hanging out, where I was being Rupert, and when we were in the house, it had to be real and I was a Nazi. Because, otherwise, kids kind of giggle and say, ‘Aww, you’re pretending,’ and that wouldn’t serve my purpose either. So it was a, sort of a, weird balance between trying to be fair to them as humans while giving a performance that they can be proud of as well.
Rupert Friend for The Sunday Guardian
I have to admit that I watched this movie several times before I realized that Rupert was Rupert. In any case, I always thought the “staging” of Lt. Kotler’s character was superb. A young man who was the spitting image of the Nazi, not only physically, but above all, for his behavior. Cold, hard, sometimes repulsive. Rupert did it perfectly, I mean, whenever he raised his voice in the movie I was like curling up with fear on my couch. He really shone, he made his character credible, and took advantage of the few scenes he had in this film. I just wanted more.