The Wings Of The Dove.
Greg King talks to British actor Linus Roache, star of Priest and The Wings Of The Dove.
©Greg King March 1998 Melbourne Australia”I think I tend to get drawn towards characters who are in moral dilemmas, people who have got really difficult choices to make. I’m very interested in what real conscience is.”
After several years based in the theatre, actor Linus Roache first exploded onto the screen in Antonio Bird‘s provocative and intelligent drama Priest, about the crisis of faith faced by a young gay priest assigned to a working class parish. It was a controversial movie that attracted a rather surprising backlash from a number of outraged minority moral groups, particularly in America. At the time of Priest‘s release, movie theatres in America received bomb threats, and even today Disney still receives nasty phone calls about the film.
The response surprised Roache, who thought the film was a brave one for tackling such a difficult issue head on. “It wasn’t an angry film – well, some parts of it were angry – but I thought it was very mature in the way it approached the subject and it didn’t condemn Catholicism per se. It challenged the status quo and tackled some important issues head on. I suppose I was a bit naive and thought that America was the home of the brave and the land of the free, and all that. I thought it’d be fine, but there were a lot of people against it.”
“I didn’t think the film was making any sort of gratuitous statement,” he adds. “It challenged the status quo, but it did it with a lot of integrity. I felt confident about it, I felt fine about it because I was 100% behind it. When you’re standing in the truth you don’t feel there’s anything to be scared of.”
1994 was a banner year for the 34 year old actor, who is the son of William Roache, an actor probably best known for his ongoing role in long running tv soap Coronation Street. Not only did he appear in Priest, but he also appeared in the highly regarded BBC series Seaforth. Roache was not interested in committing to a second series because he found the nine months a bit relentless and gruelling, and he couldn’t see where he could go with the character that would be interesting or challenging. “That’s why I think making a film is about right. You spend two or three months doing one project. It’s very intense stuff, but just to focus in that way is enough for me.”
Not surprisingly, Roache made a deliberate choice to lay low for about eighteen months. “It was a mixture of things,” he says of his decision. “I’d worked pretty hard for a long period of time, and I’d done a lot of stuff. I’d fulfilled quite a lot of ambition, done a lot of theatre that I’d wanted to do. I did a tv series, and then Priest came out. Because of the success of the film financially I could afford not to work. And, secondly, because it gave me more of a high profile I could afford to take some time off as well.”
Having enjoyed his self imposed break, Roache has been busy, performing on the London stage and working on a couple of movies. He has recently completed a film called Shot Through The Heart, a co-production between Canada, the US and Britain, made for the HBO network in America. Set in Bosnia, the intense and powerful drama centres around two marksmen, one a Serb and one a Muslim, who are inevitably pitted against one another when war breaks out. “It was a very powerful and intense piece to do and I hope it comes out well.”
But the project that lured him back to the screen was The Wings Of The Dove, Iain Softley‘s melodramatic adaptation of Henry James‘ novel of a doomed romantic triangle set largely in Venice at the turn of the century. Writer Hossein Amini (the recent adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s Jude) brings a contemporary flavour to this adaptation of James‘ novel, by shifting the story to 1910. In setting the story against the changing face of Europe as it boldly moves into the twentieth century, Amini also strips away much of the stuffy Victorian ideals and stiff morality of James’ novel.
Although he says that the script was one of the best he had read for quite some time, Roache was still initially ambivalent about doing it. “It was a risk,” he explains further, “because the character is not in anyway your typical male lead.” Roache plays working class journalist Merton Densher, who finds himself manipulated into romancing a doomed heiress for her inheritance.
“In many ways he is quite a weak man,” Roache says. “He’s a very human, fallible, vulnerable man who falls into this quite horrible situation. It’s not a flashy, showy kind of part, but I was interested in experimenting with something that was kind of simple where I could be simple and not do much except walk through the film. The story was strong and was going to rely a lot on what the actors bring, and what the director brings to the whole mood and nuance of the piece.”
Roache held several discussions with director Softley (Back Beat, etc) and liked his vision for the film. Somewhat surprisingly for a studious actor who is known for the amount of research and homework he puts into preparing for a role, Roache admits “openly and unashamedly” that he has not read the novel. It was a conscious choice, he explains. Roache knew that Amini‘s adaptation was very different and brought a modern sensibility to the story, and he didn’t want to let the original novel shape his reading of the script or his interpretation of the character.
“Iain was really open and he created a good atmosphere on the set. He had a strong sense of direction and feeling about the piece. He was looking for the darker side of what these characters were doing, and he was always nudging us and pushing us in that direction. I think, in many ways, I didn’t appreciate how brilliant Iain was until afterwards, when I saw the film. You’re not aware of it while making the film but afterwards you realise how much you were being supported.”
The crew spent five and a half weeks in Venice, working on the film. Because it was the height of the tourist season though, they found themselves working a lot of long and odd hours. There was plenty of night shooting involved, and they also took advantage of the first hours of daylight before the tourists arrived to capture the background setting for the film. The crew was also granted access to many palazzos and areas that are normally off limits to tourists.
Venice is one of those cities that always looks beautiful and picturesque on the screen. A number of films like Death In Venice, Don’t Look Now and The Comfort Of Strangers have been set in the city, and have created the romantic but vaguely haunting old worldly image. Having visited Venice I know that somehow, on first impression, the reality fails to match up to expectations.
Strangely enough, Roache agrees with this observation. “When I arrived there, I didn’t really like the place,” he admits candidly. “I just had this very strong reaction to it. I thought: ‘What’s the big deal? Why is everyone so excited about Venice?’ It’s a kind of decaying, smelly, historical Disneyland, with no sort of reality there. But there is something extraordinary about the place, and after two or three days I turned 360 degrees and I was under its spell. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something almost like being in a dream, and you can almost feel the past and present blending into one. It’s kind of haunting, and it sort of comes screaming at you when you’re walking down those alleyways at 4 am.”
Another aspect of the project that strongly appealed to Roache was the opportunity to work with Helena Bonham Carter again. The two had previously appeared together on a BBC radio play called Letters Of Love. “She’s great to work with. She’s got such a great sense of fun, and she’s got this healthy attitude and approach to the business. She’s not starry. She’s good natured and very easy to work with. I think she’s done an amazing job here. She really found a lot of complexity in the role. She plays a very manipulative and intriguing character.”
Roache is excited that Bonham Carter‘s performance has been recognised with an Oscar nomination, which has briefly revitalised the film at the box office. “It’s fantastic, and I really hope she gets it,” he says, sounding genuinely pleased. “She deserves it.”
“In the end I don’t think think one should take them too seriously,” he says of awards. “There have been hundreds of great performances that have gone unrewarded, so I don’t think that one should take it that an award automatically means that it is the best in the world. There are a lot of factors that go into why someone gets a particular award. But, then again, they can be very beneficial. Especially with the Academy Awards, because it can give someone the power and the freedom to choose. I don’t stick my nose up at them in any way. They’re great things for an actor to receive.”
Currently screening at the Nova, Greater Union and Longford cinemas.
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