Northam's An Enigma Himself
an emily blunt interview
Jeremy Northam's talents - which are many- again radiate off
the screen in Neil LaBute's Possession.
And yet again, Jer plays a charming man from another time with
an air of manly-ness that has the Northam wilderness fans in
a tizzy and in possible need of respiratory apparatus assistance
during the lovemaking scenes. He's quite simply a yummitini
with a twist of purrfection!
Who's Jeremy Northam? Ah, you know him you just don't know you
Enigma he plays snooty spy catcher
Wigram to a highnoon tea! In Gosford Park he plays real life
musical legend Ivor Novello (his equally talented brother, Chris,
plays his character's piano chords...).In theaters now he's
in Possession where the adorable
talent plays a romantic poet of extreme sexual control. Coming
up he's to play super crooner and swell guy, Dean Martin, who
happens to be a god in my eyes.
a big fan of this man's enormous....talents... when I
was asked to interview Jeremy for his role in Enigma , I was
happy to make room in my terribly busy chickbabe schedule. This
man is within my personal encyclopedia under TYPE.
things happen to those who follow through. Turns out this Jeremy
fellow is incredibly charming, handsome and has that sexy smirk
that makes one forget your at a fancy hotel with witnesses.
To say he's good-looking is an understatement of great proportions
is all I mean.
We met in regards to Enigma, a alas, I was professional and
dutifully asked all the questions needed to expel his way of
working his craft. Jeremy's a phenomenal actor. Trained in theater
and spread out into film. He's picky and his work shines for
it! Still he's in everything (Wuthering Heights, Gosford
Park, Mimic, Happy Texas...) like that brilliant Alfred Molina
chaplook close he's there. He has that patented upper-crust
British facade complete with nobel accent...one expects him
to have to dash off for a fox hunt or some such poppycock.
He's slowly making a name for himself - here in America - he's
a staple in England. His tastes are similar to my own - him
in period pieces, romantic interludes, spinning tales and usually
a pre 1950 wardrobe...yum. See Jer looks like a man born
of another time and is usually (whether fair or not) cast as
such. If it's a 1859 style drama , he'll be there....
Anyway enough babble on to Jeremy....dreamy delectable Jeremy
( I think I'm smitten folks). On with the interview.
You look nice and tan. Where have you been? [I said wiping
the sweat from my brow...]
Probably makeup.[laughter] Probably residuals from the interviews
this afternoon on TV. [laughter] No, I grabbed a holiday in
about, where was it? Feels like ages ago, it was in February.
Then I was out here for about three weeks, and it was, you know,
it's nice to have the sun on your face.
Where'd you go on holiday? [thought but not spoken: so I can
book a room conveniently next door next time?]
Jamaica. I read about this hotel that was great, down in the
south of the island, not in a touristy area. I had no particular
desire ever to go to Jamaica, but I thought, what the hell?
Sounds nice. Let's go!
[visions of him in the surf start to blur my thoughts...] You
play a great spectrum of characters. What is it about Enigma
and this chap Wigram that made you want to get involved?
It's a fantastic part, I think I'd have been a fool not to spot
that off the page. It's just a great part, a very smart
movie. There aren't many movies around that have the ambition
of this movie, that kind of hold their audiences' attention
and challenge its intelligence, to mix you now a good dollop
of history with romance and throw in a whodunit all rolled into
Did you have
have family or friends who were associated with WWll? [thought
but not spoken: and if yes, do you have pictures of the
male relatives in those adorable RAF uniforms?]
Yeah, my dad served in the Air Force as ground crew for several
years, and doesn't really talk about it. I know that it's there.
I think my main thing about direct or indirect experiences as
near to home as it were is the idea of self-sacrifice really.
I was born in 1961. Now I think the 16 years that elapsed between
1961 and the end of the wars is nothing. To a child growing
up it felt like an eternity, an entirely different world. And
it's taken me longer still to realize what a short span there
is between those life experiences and the rest of your life.
That's a job for the people who lived through it. It's strange
growing up in a very, well in retrospect it's strange growing
up in a very peaceable, comfortable, nonbellicose environment,
unthreatened environment. While that had been was not present
there, not long before. And so the idea of people disowning
other aspects of their lives or ordinary people, everybody putting
themselves on the line in one form or another for a common fight
I suppose, that meant a lot to me. I find it hard not to separate
it from the political because the end of WWII in the UK we voted
in our first, well, it was a major Labor government for the
first time with a huge mandate to really change things to cause
the foundation of the welfare state and many of the things that
are still held dear in the UK despite all the changes that have
occurred in the last 60 years. National health service, education
system, social security system, which seem to at its best, include
everybody and support the idea of society which during, you
know, the last 20 years or so has steadily been in decline,
so it's uh, it's had a
I think the knock off from WWII
has a very large impact.
Before the film, how familiar were you with Bletchley Park?
[looking into his manly man eyes I started to drift with the
beautiful lilt of his voice...]
Not particularly. I mean David Herr had done a tv film, set
at Bletchley Park with various things and a little bit about
Enigma the machine. Of course as soon as he starts, as soon
as I read the book and read the script and you couldn't stop
seeing it everwhere. They was a very good Channel 4 series of
documentaries called "Station X" which were full of
firsthand accounts from people who worked there.
Is Enigma the British answer to U-571, were the Americans
were the ones to capture the infamous Enigma machine?
I've still never seen U-571 and there was quite a brouhaha about
it, and it was very funny because there's a very good news radio
program on radio 4, the BBC, in the morning called the Today
Show and they cover all this major political and world events
in the first couple hours of the day, and there was this ongoing
debate about U-571. And so they got the son or the grandson
(it's the son, isn't it?) of the commander of HMS Bulldog which
is the ship that actually did bring the sub to the surface and
first found the machine. Actually the first one ever captured
was captured by the Poles, and the interviewer said to the son
of the commander of the HMS Bulldog "What do you think
about this?" And he said "It's a rather blasted
I think it's a lot of bloody nonsense, actually. I don't see
the problem with it. Everyone knows that fact and fiction are
two totally different things. Everyone knows what happened factually
and knows my father's involvement with all of this. And what
they've done with this movie is what Hollywood has always done,
just telling a ripping good jar." It's funny because so
many movies know have this thing, this writer that says "based
on a true story" and it's funny because it opens up a whole
can of worms really, because the next question is "how
much? What part?" And you know, you could say of this film
that it's based on a true story. Well, the romance element of
it and the suspense element, there might well be some evidence
of that. That seems to be irrelevant. Surely the job of fiction
is to actually tell the truth. It's a paradox that's at the
heart of any kind of storytelling. All the great novels, all
the great films, all the great dramas are fictions that actually
tell us the truth about us or about human nature or about human
situations without being tied into the minutia of documentary
events. Otherwise we might as well just make documentaries.
so much of, it could have been a very critical examination of
what happened, and really the emotional lives of the people
involved sort of carry the characters forward. Talk about really
having to design that. Where you went to the interesting aspects
of what Wigram was all about, and the relationship to the kind
of story that you wanted to portray among each of the characters.
but that's not really for me to say, I'm just a hired actor
who was hired for a particular job, but I think one of the joys
of reading the script was the way that the personal and the
global are woven together. And the tricky thing in the film
of course, where you see it's not for me to say, is the connection
of those two things. The Enigma machine lies as a sort of metaphor
for that, for the complexity of both situations, and the film
also has to explain the ferocious complexity of the machine
itself. It's always a very hard thing to portray genius and
complexity in the limited scope of the movie, but I think it
makes a really good effort at doing that. I think it explains
many things about the workings of the machine which, just watching,
in the course of watching the film and understand, start to
grasp what you wouldn't understand necessarily if you read a
book or watched a documentary about it. It's carefully leading
You're characters always harbor a wee secret it seems...even
in Winslow Boy. Do you look for these?
I always try and look at what the function, it's very boring
answer, but it's true. I always try and look at what, you know,
your job is as a functionary of telling the story; as part
of a cast, as part of an ensemble that tells the tale collectively.
And I never want to sort of put all the cards on the table all
at once, because that's somehow...there's always a journey to
go on. There's always something to be revealed, in my mind,
about characters. And so, well, with this part for instance.
There's a lot of bullying to do. That's his job, is to
put pressure on our hero. I just felt it was more interesting
to play him as a sort of bad guy to start with. It doesn't say
"play like a bad guy" in the script necessarily,
but I think we'd all say that best suited the shape of the part
and the shape of the film so that only, it's late on when you
understand that he has his own duties and responsibilities that
have been compromised by the potential leak at the Park and
his mistake in the past. And the implications of those things
on a global scale. Then you start to have, maybe if you have
any sympathy for Wigram at all as a character it will be then,
but it's quite late on.
Did you see the sinister part of Wigham when you first
read the script? He reminds me of Michael Palin's More Ripping
[laughter] I think he was written, he has such a patronizing
tone and manner, and such a sarcastic sense of humor. I found
him rather brutal, a kind of elegant brutality which appealed.
No, I think he came pretty much off the page.
[again his beauty befuddles me...I gather myself] Now Michael
Apted said a lot of the people from Bletchley Park opened up
and let the actors come interview them. Did you do that?
I didn't, but then I wasn't involved with the code breaking,
literally. I mean, I would have loved to have met some former
spies, but they don't readily advertise themselves unless they're
not living in Moscow, and even then. I'm sure I've met some
without realizing it. And it's funny that you, that the sources,
the things that sort of got into your mind that resurface later
without you realizing you have absorbed them. I remember years
ago going on holiday to Italy with a girlfriend of mine, and
we hopped around from place to place, and on a wet Saturday
morning found ourselves at a place called San Phillip Margerita
Ligura Riviera and we didn't realize it, but it was a major
port that we'd gone through and it was a very industrial place
and it was a dull grey Saturday, so we went to a bar to think
what to do next. We were having a coffee and this voice from
a corner said "Go to Rome." He's got his collar up
and the white hair, and we started talking to him and he said
"Just pop down the road, get on a train, take you four
hours. It will be fine. Marvelous. Go to Rome." And we
started talking and I asked him what he did and he said "I
am being posted throughout the world. I work for the British
counsel." And he probably did just work for the British
Counsel, but there was something, you know, you could construct
a whole world around this character who just happened to be
sitting eavesdropping in a bar.
So you called upon this fellow to create Wigham?
Yeah, and those politicians I've seen on TV over the years.
He had a smirk, like maybe James Bond.
[laughter] No, no, not James Bond.
Well, I mean, you're British. [in thought only I thought: and
gorgeous, and adorable, and sexy like the Bond boy]
[laughter] And so is he!
But he's the quintessential British spy!
Again, not consciously.[laughter] No, not consciously. I didn't
refer to... I remember I don't know probably more than,what
I'm saying is... goodness knows what one's influences are. I
think one probably absorbs things like a sponge and things emerge
without your always being aware of it. I remember at Sundance
when we first showed this year before last, somebody said "the
guy in the purple sweater, I can't remember his name, how many
Cary Grant movies did he watch before he did this?" I don't
think there's a slightest resemblance. I don't talk like
that, and I don't look like him and I don't perform
[Jeremy, Jeremy Jeremy] Speaking of spys would you want to inherit
the James Bond gig?
It's funny, it's one of those things. Years and years
ago, when everyone knew that Pierce was going to be doing the
job, they started selecting new people. I had this bizarre
thing when I hadn't done many movies, and of going on for an
interview. But it was one of those things were you, 10 seconds
into the interview, there's nothing to say. They have nothing
to say to you because you're quite plainly not appropriate for
the role, and I sat there grinning like this because I still
felt like the 10 year old that I was when I first saw a James
Bond movie, not believing that
well, it's just weird
and bizarre. [laughter] And that's, somehow it was reported
in the press that various people had been seen for the part
and then it goes into the system and then it sort of, you know,
I read to my disbelief I think the last week we were shooting
Enigma that one of the papers had rung up the bookmakers and
got various odds on who was going to play the next James Bond.
And I was somehow in this list. No one's ever approached me,
no one's ever talked about it, you know. It's something that
Oh right, and I take it as such. Thank you. All I'm saying is
that it's a rather confusing state of affairs.
[state of affairs???? How sexy is this guy's wording?]
You volley between big budget and small British film...why?
No rhyme or reason.
Just as this, you're getting a slightly odd perspective, because
the way in which things are released, we made this two years
ago. Straight after this I made Possession which isn't going
to come out until July at the earliest. And I'm in Gosford Park,
I think it was this time last year, and then I did a hyper paranoid
thriller called Company Man that type of a change, I think.
Is Company Man a studio film, big big budget? [just keep talking
No. I think we did that for about $8 million. It was tidy. And
thirty-five days shooting. The only rhyme or reason to it, I
suppose, is that I sometimes feel like I'm in way too many period
movies, not because I'm dissatisfied with the results or not
enjoyed the experience in making them, but because sometimes
period movies, often they are lumped together into one separate
ghetto. That this would be put with Emma or An Ideal Husband
I mean, how are they different? The parts might be, all the
periods are, but they're all consigned to one bucket. Which
can be a little frustrating sometimes, because I always want
to do things that are different. I don't want to be doing the
same thing, the same performance constantly, and it feels like
most people tell you that they are the same. However different
you feel might approacht hem. So I'm always looking for things
that are going to be clear
if there's an opportunity to
be something away from the ordinary that I feel I can have a
go at, then I will. Hence things like Happy, Texas or Mimic,
or even Gloria , you know, or Company Man. I don't see any point
in this if you're just sort of repeating what one's done. That's
This WWII movie feels quite modern not all heavy handed. [Blunt
translation: not DULL]
I think that's part of the attraction for me for this story,
this script, is that it had a sort of, partly because the story
reveals things that were not commonly known until quite recently,
namely about the Katyn massacre and part of the film describes
having to suppress this information for a greater cause over
there. That's, we're telling this story now in an age of fairly
healthy cynicism about what systems of government and information
tell us about things. Our attitudes have changed a lot, really,
and so there's a certain toughness about it. I don't think any
of us wants it to, although one has to embrace the fact that
people talk differently, articulate differently, they're, people
came from different educations and backgrounds and experiences
and that formed the way that they appeared to be and the way
they articulated themselves and the vocabulary they used. None
of us wanted to an impersonation of performances that one has
seen in previous WWII movies, so there is that thing.
How was it working with this cast? You and Dougray Scott had
some great scenes!
Oh, it was a pleasure working with him. Nerve-wracking to start
with, because to play, what I have to, you know you rethink
for this to work, I've got to really bully the guy and you just
hope that the person playing Jericho will allow himself to be
bullied. It's like dancing....
I zoned when he said dancing...suddenly he and I were alone
on a cruiseship in the Atlantic...dancing to a great version
of Begin The Beguine...then someone yelled "Iceberg!"
Well, not really. They interrupted actually to advise Mr. Northam
had to scurry off to his next drooling journalist.....
When I say Jeremy is handsome I mean take George
Clooney multiply his looks by ten, ad a spy-like British
accent with that adorable messy "bed head" hair and
wrap it all up in a perfect 6'2" foot package....Um, YUM!
aside: Dearest Jeremy, I am available for award show escortisms,
wedding on-on-the-armables, celebratory ceremonies and general
brouhahas of any kind - you need only ring dear man.
See Enigma it is brilliant! Learn more
about this wonderful actor here