Have you always liked A Christmas Carol?
It’s incredibly moving. Outrageously improbable I suppose – a wishful thinking story about redemption. But as a parable it’s wonderful. It’s just a spiritual wake-up call. Also a deconstruction of why mean, selfish, lonely people act the way they do. Damaged rather than just evil.
It’s quite dark – and it certainly is in this version
It has to be. Scrooge earns joy only by going through some dark stuff. It’s believable because of the shock treatment from the ghosts. It’s inconceivable unless you really believe he’s been through a transformative experience.
Director Robert Zemeckis says you’re a natural choice to play Scrooge’s sunny nephew
I don’t know why! When I told my eldest son he said, ‘You’re telling me you’re not playing Scrooge? You’re playing the cheerful one who loves Christmas? That’s ridiculous!’. That tells you a lot about my personality. I don’t have a sunny disposition. I’m cheerful. I’ve a sense of humour. But I’m not jolly.
Scrooge’s nephew is often forgotten though, isn’t he?
Yes. Nobody remembers him from the book. They know Scrooge, the Ghosts, Tiny Tim. They’re iconic characters, cultural reference points. Fred’s the only character who’s utterly positive. Bob Cratchit’s lovely but terrified. Everyone else is broken is some way. I’ve never played anyone so completely without a dark or melancholic streak.
What did you make of the digital technology?
I’d never understand it in a lifetime. My 8-year old can explain it better than I can. They flew me to London and I stood in my underwear as they scanned me – a ‘virtual puppet’ - capturing every expression. They also took a face cast with holes to breathe through. Then in America they put me in helmet and an extraordinary outfit covered with dots.
After that, all you do is act until someone says ‘cut’. There isn’t a camera. It’s a chance to work in real time, in real space, with your colleagues. It’s fantastically liberating. The potential for this way of working is enormous.
You’ve had a variety of roles in recent years. Is that intentional?
You’re always going to be cast according to what you look like or what your voice is like. There’s also baggage in how people perceive you from your previous work. Then there’s age. At 25 I was very aware how bland I looked. I’d watch other actors and long for a wrinkle, a toolbox of expressions. I’ve always admired what goes on in other peoples’ eyes.
Are you happy with the balance of your work – from Darcy till now?
I was 35 when I did Darcy. He’s pretty screwed up - more interesting than anything I’d have been given at 21. Now it looks like I’m always working because I have a lot of films coming out. But there’s a lot in my life apart from acting. I don’t want to aggressively shape my career. My mid-life crisis has been going on for 20 years – but I’ve escaped the hankering for a motorcycle and a sports car!