EWAN MCGREGOR Are you in this neck of the woods?
RUPERT FRIENDI am. We’re travelling a bit for press, but we’re here through to October for a film. I live in New York but for Star Wars, I’d come over for the day sometimes which was quite insane because it would take at least four hours to get into make-up.
EM What time would you get to set then? Like 3 AM or something?
RF Exactly. I’d be in this quarry at 3 AM, the rest of the crew and cast would arrive around 7 AM and by that point, we’d already put in a good four hours. I mean, I hadn’t done anything other than sitting there, but we'd shoot for a full day and then it would take an hour to get out of it.
EM What was it like arriving on set so early? Was it bleak with no one there?
RF I was in a part of LA that they told me was the part for hookers and meth labs, so it had this weird feeling of another world, this hard gritty side to LA that isn’t all palm trees and billionaires' houses.
EM That quarry was where they took all the sand for the cement in the 1800s when LA was built. It’s just amazing. There’s a real private feeling down there too because you’re descended into this space that can’t be overlooked and the only people that can are the little planes taking off from Burbank Airport every five minutes.
RF Of course, normally when you arrive to set, it’s buzzing and there are lights everywhere, but at that time of night, there was one lamp and a prosthetic trailer and two bleary-eyed men waiting for me. It felt very mysterious.
EM How did you do it? Did you fall asleep or watch movies? How did you pass four hours in the chair?
RF Aside from being excited to be in Star Wars and to explore this new character, one of the reasons I decided to do it, in the end, was because I was terrified of the idea of sitting still, I thought it was my idea of hell. My favourite kind of thing is to turn up, get off my motorbike or car, take my helmet off and wave my hair a little bit. I used to love that and this was the complete opposite. Are you familiar with Masterclass?
RFWell I was really psyched about that. I'd started the Werner Herzog one so wanted to blast through that. When I was sitting there watching the guys do this work, it was so hypnotic to see my face turn into my character's face. Not to be too zen about it, but I got utterly absorbed in the present, as though I was inside a painting that someone else is doing, but I was the canvas. The only bit that was difficult for me, and I’m sure you’ve had this, is when they have to paste your hair back to put a bald cap on. They used this thick glue and in my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking that I was having hot honey poured over my head. It was that weird pavlovian feeling of when you’re young and feel all sticky and you just want to be clean. That was the only time I felt a bit claustrophobic, trying not to think about the glue. The funny thing is that because I was glued to this thing, I’d start to sweat profusely but the sweat couldn’t go anywhere because it was watertight. So the whole thing would start to fill with sweat and slosh around. When they’d open it at the end of the day, my sweat and the glue would just trickle down my face and I’d look like a ruined clown. I’ll send you a picture of it.
EMThat’s horrible! My experience with prosthetics that I didn’t like first happened in Fargo. My character had a receding hairline so I had a wig, but rather than do the bald cap, they’d shave my head and my face and cover it in glue which felt so weird and sticky on freshly-shaved skin. And then the other thing, I’ve been sober a long time and the only way to get that shit off is with alcohol, so I’d sit there whilst they’re slathering alcohol all over my face. I never said anything to anybody because what are they going to do? They have to get it off and there’s no other way it’s coming off.
RF I bet that was shitty.
EM It was a funny experience. How did you feel acting in the prosthetics? Was it restrictive?
RF It was essentially a sensory-deprivation suit that weighed about 35 pounds. So you’re sort of standing there, focusing on different muscle groups and trying to shift the weight to different places. I certainly couldn’t have done a fight scene in that costume. For example, my character gets thrown against a wall and they had to put a harness underneath all of that and pull me 30 feet into the air. That took four big men to do it because it’s me plus all that gubbins.
EM It’s funny looking at you now though because I’m so used to seeing you with all of that on your face, even though we didn’t get a chance to do an awful lot together.
RFI remember talking to you on set about trying to put fires out because I think you’d just moved to a part of LA that had just had a fire and we were talking about the retardant spray or some kind of magical robot that puts out the fire for you.
EMIt seems to be becoming a more and more very present danger. We all need to clump together as a human race a bit better. But you’re right, it’s about managing your land the best that you can.
RFHave you got a moat?
EM I haven’t got a moat but that’s a great idea.
RFYou should get one with a drawbridge too to keep out people you don’t want coming round. They’ll come anyway but if you raise your drawbridge they'd have to swim through it...
EMThen you've also got some sort of dangerous animals in there. Alligators and sharks and stuff? That way you’re helping to protect the conservation of animals that are becoming extinct. Snapping turtles! That’ll do.
RF "Do you want to go round to Ewan’s? Not really, he’s kind of aggressive these days" [laughter]
EM Oh man, imagine. So look, you've got some enormously exciting things coming out this year. You’ve been doing a lot with Wes Anderson, how did this partnership come about?
RF His wife and my wife have been friends for a long time, and we ran into each other a few times, which turned into many dinners over the years. To be honest – and I had this a little bit with you – when you’re talking to someone you don’t actually know yet, but you feel like you've either known them in another life, or you're about to know them and it might be rather great. It happens quite rarely, but when it does, I try and listen to it. And so with Wes, it was kind of an increasing fondness for one another and then I just said to him: ‘It would be fun to collaborate on something one day.' I think I meant 'to write something' because it's what I love to do actually, and I don't think he knew that. Well, I don’t think he even knows it now either.
EM Well he’ll know now.
RF The cat’s out of the bag. He just called one day and said 'Listen, I have this very, very small role. I'm going to send it to you to see if you want to do it.' And I said, 'I'm going to stop you there, Wes. You don't have to send it to me because the answer's yes. We’ll figure it out together.' It was a very surreal role in a dream about a play that Timothée Chalamet has in The French Dispatch. It was literally three days of work. I flew from LA to Paris and took a train down to Bordeaux through the night and when I arrived, there’s Wes and the cameraman, and the dolly grip and about four other people. ‘How's filming going?’ I asked, and he said ‘Oh, no, we wrapped two weeks ago, we were just waiting for you to be available.’ So after three lovely days, Wes said to me, ‘I don't know what your plans are in terms of getting back, but if you'd like to, we could ride together to Paris on my special custom-made bus,’ which of course, I said yes to. Wes travels by either land or sea and so he’d converted this entire tour bus into the kind of bus you’d see in a Wes Anderson movie with a kitchenette, bunk beds and a beautiful colour scheme. We had dinner and got into our slippers, drank brandy from amber-coloured snifters and shared stories throughout the night, driving through France and arriving in Paris in the early hours of the morning. Suffice it to say, it was one of the more memorable journeys I've ever had because it was so idiosyncratic but also very generous and we had such spirited conversations. Anyway, to sort of wrap that answer up a bit, the next day, we meet for breakfast and said our goodbyes, and some months later Wes asks me if I’d like to come to Spain and play a cowboy in the movie, Asteroid City, which has all the actors, besides your good self, that you’d ever want to work with.
EM Yes, I’m a bit disappointed I’m not on that list.
RF You would've been brilliant! We're all in this hotel together, and next to you is Bryan Cranston, and on your other side are Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson sitting across from you, all being the wonderful raconteurs that they are. You know that game people play, if you could have anyone at a dinner party, who would it be? It was literally that. And then even more bonkers, Wes called me and asked if I wanted to come to England to be a part of the Roald Dahl stories he’s working on and that was nostalgic for me because Dahl is a big childhood hero of mine.
EM His visuals are so controlled and presented in a way that no one else makes films like that. How does that feel when you’re acting?
RF As you say, he’s already designed all the shots so it’s not improvisational in that way. But interestingly, it reminded me of being at college and doing Shakespeare, where the words are inviolable. We're not doubting the words, which means you can’t throw in some umms and ahhs, because the words are already proven, you're the new element. What that can do is give you the wonderful feeling of a scaffold, like this building will stand up. The walls are built, you just have to paint them and be present in the moment.
EMSo what are you working on now? What’s your next thing?
RFWell the next thing that’s out now is Anatomy of a Scandal, a Netflix show about a conservative politician who gets caught in a sex scandal. Oddly timely, even though we made it a year and a half ago. It's a David E. Kelley mini-series with Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, and Naomi Scott, and in that one, I play the kind of person that I don't have a huge amount of time for, which is the kind of person who feels they're entitled to life because of their name, or background or schooling or colour of their skin. In essence, the scandal the show is trying to look at is the scandal of privilege and elitism. And then obviously, we have our show [Obi-Wan Kenobi], which I'm very excited about. The responses people are having from seeing a trailer...
EM I don't have social media or anything anymore so I don't interface with it very much but I did have a look on YouTube, just because there's an amazing number of people that analyse and pick apart the trailer and what it means. It’s interesting to see who's vaguely right about the plot and who is way off the mark.
RF How about you? Are you about soon?
EM I’m around so let’s get together!
RF Let's do it.