Q&A JONATHAN PRYCE
The Brit thesp on making TV’S Taboo with mumbler Tom Hardy, Game Of Thrones’ High Sparrow and Terry Gilliam classic Brazil
How did you get attached to Taboo?
They sent me the script before my final season of Game of Thrones was shown. I thought the nature of the script was incredibly well written and it left the audience to do a lot of work, which I like. It didn’t explain everything and you discover things through the characters. When I first read the Game Of Thrones scripts, it was the character [Pryce played The High Sparrow] that [drew me in]. I remember when I started out my agent and I would look at scripts and say “If this isn’t the leading role, does the character come into the situation and change it? Can this story exist without this character?” And if it can’t, that’s the one to do.
Your character in Taboo, Sir Stuart Strange, is quite a nasty piece of work, isn’t he?
He was outwardly bad, which was very attractive. I found redeeming moments in the character of High Sparrow, because he came into that world with some kind of moral imperative that he was going to be some kind of revolutionary figure. But of course some of his methods and some of the things he wanted to get rid of I wasn’t that sympathetic too. Stuart Strange, I didn’t see any redeeming features in his character! And that was great to play — you could just go in and be a bad, miserable bastard all the time!
You get to swear enthusiastically too.
Quite a few of the profanities were ad-libs that weren’t in the script. It was fun to do.
Taboo has a strong creative team as well, with Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight and Tom Hardy as co-creator executive producer…
I knew Steven Knight’s previous work — one of the most credible and best writers on screen. You’ve got the attraction of working with Tom Hardy, who I find fascinating. To call someone a “unique talent” is often overused, but there’s really no-one like him. He’s very driven — this was his baby, as it were. He was involved in the production side, the writing. I enjoyed my time with him, when I could hear him! He’s a low-talker?
He talks very quietly, but once you’ve adjusted yourself to that it’s okay. What I like about him is his seriousness about his work. Whatever he was doing on set or off was to make this a really good series, and he achieved it. I thought the show would have a niche appeal because the story wasn’t very obvious and sometimes it was difficult to follow some of the character motivations, but it was immediately popular in the UK and I was pleasantly surprised it was received so well by the audience and the critics.
Stuart Strange gets to sit around a lot in opulent board rooms, which must’ve been a bit of a treat.
It is a treat. At my age it’s always a treat to be sitting down when working. I did have a scene on a golf course though, and I managed to hit the ball in a straight line, so I was very proud of that.
Were you aware what would happen to Strange in the final episode of Season 1?
They issued the first four scripts when we started and they were still writing the rest. [SPOILER ALERT!] It was a bit of a shock when I discovered I was to be blown up, Game Of Thrones style. I couldn’t tell them when I started Taboo that I’d just died in Game Of Thrones because it was a big secret, but to read that I was to go out the same way [in Taboo], I still couldn’t tell them, “Do you realise they’ve just done this to me in Game Of Thrones?” [Laughs].
You made Brazil with Terry Gilliam 32 years ago. How was it to recently reunite with him to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote? The movie has been delayed for what feels like forever!
Terry’s been ready to go on it for 17 years — he was just waiting on the money people! But during that time he’s been refining the script, and it’s a better script than the one he started with 17 years ago. I’m glad it got delayed that amount of time because I became old enough to play Don Quixote! Unlike Game Of Thrones it wasn’t a lot of sitting around in elegant surroundings — we were out in the countryside, in Spain mostly, horseriding and tilting at windmills and jousting with the Knight of the Mirrors and all that. I had an absolutely wonderful time, and enjoyed working with Adam Driver, who’s playing the Sancho Panza figure, was great and we made a good team. The great thing is Terry is still in the middle of editing, and I know Terry very well, and to hear him say “It’s good” is great, because he worries and has a lot of self-doubt about some things. And he’s really happy.
Is it gratifying to know that Brazil is now considered a classic?
It’s incredibly rewarding to keep meeting people [who love the film]. I’ve just been in France and visited a doctor briefly who was absolutely in awe that he had Sam Lowry in his surgery! He said it was a film that changed his life, and when I told him I’d just worked with Terry again, he said his day was now complete and was one of the best days of his life! It’s a delight to still meet people from all segments of society who say Brazil is their favourite film. The fact that young people still continue to discover it is a great testament to the film, that it still stands up. I was in New York last year and a cinema heard I was in town so they quickly arranged a screening of Brazil. The screening sold out, I did a Q&A after and I watched the film — I hadn’t seen it in years on the big screen, and it holds up incredibly well. Sadly because some of the themes that were prescient then have gotten worse — terrorism and big government and crazy presidents are still the case, if not more so. And because the design is retro-future, you can’t place it — you can’t say if it’s the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s... it still could be the future, and it could be now. It’s great, it’s great.