Posted by chicagotribune.com. Interview by Lauren Viera. June 26th, 2009
There’s something about Rupert Friend’s cheekbones that pairs well with period garb.
The 28-year-old Briton has been acting professionally only since 2004, but his resume reads like a best-of buzz-worthy period films. His debut in “Libertine” saw Friend swapping lines with gurus John Malkovich and Johnny Depp. Next came “Pride & Prejudice” (2005), in which Friend played Mr. Wickham opposite an Oscar-nominated Keira Knightley, whom he wooed in real life. He’s also donned Roman Empire rags (“The Last Legion”) and Victorian vestments (“The Young Victoria”).
Blame it on the cheekbones; he’s at it again. Friend stars in the title role of “Cheri,” based on French novelist Colette’s story about the son of a courtesan who falls for an older woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) against the opium-sedated backdrop of 1920s Paris.
Q. “Cheri” is based on French author Colette’s novel, for which there’s also a 1950 film adaptation. Had you previously read the novel or seen the film?
A. No and no. When I got the part, obviously I went and read the two books on Cheri, and I got really stuck into those. I was aware of “Gigi,” the film [also based on a Colette novel] prior, but hadn’t read the book.
Q. What was your line of thinking as you were researching your character?
A. I was really trying to understand how to play somebody who doesn’t have a character, because the whole thing about Cheri is that he doesn’t seem to want anything, or hope or dream for anything. So you don’t have anything to kind of pin your motivations on, if you like; he’s content to keep the status quo and keep everything exactly as is — even though what he doesn’t understand is that time is moving forward, people are getting older and you have to change and adapt to it throughout life.
Q. Cheri is a very conflicted young man who falls for a woman who is, for all intents and purposes, his godmother.
A. What’s incredibly unique about their relationship is that it’s a love story, but it’s a very bizarre one. [Cheri’s godmother] Lea, for him, moves from being his mother’s best friend and regular family visitor to a godmother who looks after him as a young boy, probably better than his mother did. And then in one afternoon, she shifts again and becomes an object of desire and then, at the end, a deep, deep love. It’s the only relationship I’ve come across in a film that encompassed every type of male-female relationship at once.
Q. You were working with director Stephen Frears, who has an incredible reputation. Had you worked with him previously?
A. I’d never met him before. I met with him about the part, and I did an audition and sent it to him, and I got the part right away.
Q. There are quite a few intimate scenes with Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Lea, Cheri’s lover. Had you met her prior?
A. No, I hadn’t. I met her the night before we started, it was quite quick into the work.
Q. So you two basically said, “Nice to meet you; tomorrow we’re going to bed together”?
A. [laughs] It wasn’t quite like that. We just sort of met with Stephen [Frears] and quickly went through the script….You imagine you’re someone else and they do the same thing, and that’s that.
Q. Does your girlfriend ever get jealous?
A. I think when you’re an actor, you’re aware you’re going to be playing different people. But it is ultimately a world that’s not yours; it becomes a wonderland.
Q. But…we see your butt in this film.
Q. You say that so matter-of-factly. It wasn’t a big deal for you?
A. You have to [be matter-of-fact]. It’s a fact; it’s there for all to see. I think the alternative is that you start leaving the truth behind and start wearing clothes in bed.
Q. You’ve done quite a few period pieces: “Cheri,” “The Libertine,” “Pride & Prejudice.” Coincidental, or do you prefer it?
A. No; it’s just good material, with good directors and good parts. The time period is almost irrelevant.