Thursday, 9 January 2014

Matt Finish part one: Look Who’s talking

The age of occasionally prickly encounters with actors playing the Doctor seem to be long past.  These days they seem to be the nicest people you could ever hope to chat with.

One of the first images showing Matt Smith in costume back in 2010.
His uncanny resemblance to Crispin Glover in the Back to the Future films
prompted my friend Peter to write: "I thought I told you never to come in here, McFly!"

My trials and tribulations of enjoying fiftieth anniversary Doctor Who continue, as mid January approached and I still hadn’t managed to see the 2013 Christmas special.
Back in 2011, thanks to the endless generosity of those lovely folks at Prime and Erica, the best TV week editor ever, I was one of the very first people in New Zealand to interview Matt Smith (a transcript follows).  But now it seemed I was to be one of the last to actually see him off.Obviously I have now, (thanks to another friend’s endless generosity) or I’d have very little to write about in the next post. But first, here is that brief interview with the impeccably courteous, although I suspect, mightily tired, Matt Smith.

Matt: Hello Alistair, how are you?

Al: I’m very well thanks Matt, it’s great to talk to you

M: Yeah, and you my friend.

A: Thank you! I just wanted to say: congratulations on a couple of year’s worth of fantastic episodes; you must be absolutely thrilled with how well everything’s gone?

M: Well…yeah, like anything it’s a work in progress and yeah, you just hope it steadily keeps improving… but yeah, of course it’s been a very pleasing journey and a very exciting one as well.

A: I bet! If I can just take you right back to the very beginning; what was it like literally stepping into somebody else’s shoes for your introductory scene? You just don’t get that with other programmes, do you?

M: No, but one of the great televisual revelations of the show, is that conceit behind it – it’s just so brilliant that someone can keep turning into another man, continually you know? And that moment is quite an odd one; I mean I shot my regeneration scene three months before I actually started shooting the series…

M: Yeah, and David, who at that time was still the Doctor, had like another few months of shooting left, and it was literally, I think he was filming his regeneration for ‘The End of Time’ on the TARDIS, he did that, and it was kind of like ‘one in and one out’. He did that, and then I came in, and he came back on afterwards…umm, it was quite…bizarre… (laughs)

A: And did you come in with a clearly formed idea of how you wanted to play the Doctor, Matt, or did he evolve over time?

M: I think it sort of evolved over time, really. I always knew that he had to be really clever, and I looked a lot, actually, at Albert Einstein, and started writing some short stories about the Doctor and Einstein, just, because I had 6 months yeah, before I could actually start prepping any scripts, because I got the job in November, and started shooting in July.

A: That’s a long lead-in, isn’t it?

M: Yeah, it is, isn’t it, and um, but then, you know, I had to wait for scripts, of course, to really sort of inform the man, you know, but I knew that he was clever, and silly, really. A bit like Einstein, you know?

A: I suppose so! And I’m interested to know, what’s your particular take: Do you think the Doctor is the Monster’s worst nightmare and a mighty warrior, or is he just a mad man in a box?

M: Do you know what? I think he’s both. Yeah, I think he’s both and that’s the great thing about the Doctor, as soon as you think you’ve got him pinned, he’ll surprise you. And I think that’s the remarkable thing about the character, he’s never one thing, literally in the space of about five lines he can be ten things. You know, he goes from nought to fifty in a matter of seconds, and I think that’s one of the great virtues of the character, particularly to play it because it affords you such opportunity for invention, you know?

A: I know that we no longer have confidential with us…

M: (sadly)Yeah....

A: …but just thinking about all the other pressures you have in playing the role, the public appearances, the publicity and audio work – how do you keep your energy levels up for that kind of demand?

M: Well, you know, it’s a fun job to do, and it’s an exciting part to play and I suppose, you know I probably won’t have another part or an opportunity like this, quite like this one, again in my life. So, you know, that’s fuel for the fire really. And also, like anything, it’s my job. It’s like if you work on a building site, and it’s freezing cold and you know, it’s like - it’s six till six, you do it ‘cause you’ve gotta pay the bills, man. Its work – I’m employed to work hard, so I do.

A: You certainly do! I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the upcoming Christmas special?

M: Yes. Yes I can, it’s a brilliant adventure actually and we’ve got Claire Skinner from outnumbered, and Bill Bailey, who’s a very funny comic... and there’s something sort of ethereal about this year’s. Whereas last year’s was a great big romp, there’s something sort of wonderfully, ethereally Christmas about this year’s special, which I think is marvellous. It’s...the Doctor sort of meets a family in distress, who are going to have a very torrid and awful Christmas, and needless to say, he sets about making sure that doesn’t happen. But does it in a sort of ridiculously Doctor way and starts, you know, and starts leading them straight into danger.

A: I’ve heard a rumour that it may have a sort of Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe theme to it, this year?

M: We-e-e-ell, that’s a very interesting rumour. Very interesting rumour. Who knows, it may do – and that’s all I’ll say.

A: OK! Last year’s Christmas special was wonderful, of course, and it must have been quite an experience to work with Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins?

M: Yeah, God, absolutely. Gambon was incredible, and me and Katherine would hang off his every word. Really, every day he was full of the most brilliant anecdotes and stories about all the brill… (enormous involuntary yawn)… brilliant actors and actresses he’s worked with. It, it, oh yeah, it was a dream come true for me, really, because he’s definitely one of my favourite actors, from over the past few years, and such a brilliant man and put such a great sensibility on the whole thing. And what struck me most about him is how playful he was – wonderfully playful.

A: I know how much you love football, is it true that it almost became your career?

M: Yeah, it is. I was a footballer up until the age of sixteen. And then I got a back injury, actually, and sadly had to stop playing. But I was very fortunate because I had a teacher who encouraged me into drama after that, and so I found a new passion and something that I loved.

A: So that helped you through a grieving process?

M: Perhaps! And, you know, acting is a strange therapy of sorts, in many ways. It’s a really odd one – wouldn’t sort of recommend it, but, um, but never-the-less it seems to be one.

A: I was just looking back at other things you’ve done, Matt. It seems you had at least two huge roles back in 2007 and haven’t really looked back since. So it seems your career has had a very rapid trajectory – would you agree?

M: Well, I don’t know really. It’s still in its formative stages, in many ways. Who knows, I think I’ve been very fortunate to do a job like the Doctor where you get to experience so many elements of being an actor and being in a TV Show but, I don’t know really, I think it’s all relative really… I mean, of course, I sort of take your point, I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with interesting jobs.

A: As you said yourself, you obviously work hard for it. I was lucky enough to see a recording of the Proms from last year

M: Ooo, yeah, fun!

A: Yes – and you seemed to be very comfortable performing to a live audience – is that something you enjoy?

M: Oh yes... God, yeah, I absolutely loved it. It was, um, you know, the Albert Hall in front of five to six thousand people. It was an incredible experience that I shall never forget, actually, and nice to do a bit of theatre as well, because when I’m doing television, I miss the theatre hugely, actually, um, but, um, it was wonderful!

A: With Doctor Who this year, obviously something a bit different was done, with the series being split into two parts. Was it something which you felt worked well?

M: Yeah, I did actually, because I think so much of Doctor Who is about the sort of build-up and anticipation that surrounds it. I think there was something really interesting about (A) the path of storytelling that took place this year in Doctor Who and (B) the structure in which that was delivered and I think, I mean, for me, it was quite tantalising to have a cliff hanger and then go “Wow! What does episode eight hold?” And it sort of makes it last a bit longer as well.

A: It does, yes. When this was all being mapped out, did Steven Moffat sit down with you and talk you through the whole thing and how it was going to work, or did you just have to pick it up as you went along?

M: Well, no. I mean, he was brilliant, you know and he gave me very clear boundaries and ideas for the Doctor, particularly in the first season, quite clear sort of story arcs. In the second season less so, because it was very serialised and obviously I couldn’t know too much. Um, so I think he enjoyed keeping information in the second season. But I mean, He’s wonderful and it’s a privilege to work for such a kind and brilliant man.

A: It seems a few hints were dropped at the end of the series, about a possible direction that the Doctor might be going in, specifically the ‘stepping back into the shadows’ thing. What does that mean for your character as you see it? Or will you wait and find out?

M: Well, that’s a good question, a very good, I mean, this is the sort of wonderful thing about Doctor Who, that only Steven Moffat really knows, because I just haven’t got a script, you know. So at this stage, we don’t start shooting season three until February, um, so, ah, I don’t know. But it’s exciting never-the-less. I’m intrigues by the idea of the Doctor going back into the shadows and sort of, you know, not being too loud. He says “I’ve got too noisy” so perhaps he feels he needs to perhaps stop swooping in for a bit, so I don’t know?

[Alistair, have you got one more question? It’s almost time up]

A: Sure. Matt, I’m not going to finish with a question, I just like to say that I’ve been a fan of the programme for over four decades and I think your performance is right up there, it’s absolutely magical and I hope you stay as long as you keep enjoying it.

M: Oh, that’s really, really kind Alistair, thank you so much for saying so, that’, ah, and great questions as well. I have to say; clearly you watch the show in some detail.

A: I do, and I’m very much looking forward to the Christmas special.

M: Well I hope you enjoy!

A: I’m sure I will, so Matt, thanks for all your time, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

M: Cheers Mate!

An article I wrote shortly after the announcement of Matt Smith in the role.


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