Rhys Ifans sheds roles like a lizard sheds its skin, writes Neala Johnson
Q: You’ve played everything from Hugh Grant’s loopy housemate Spike in Notting Hill, to Luna Lovegood’s father in Harry Potter, to the Earl suspected of writing Shakespeare’s plays in Anonymous. Given that range, do directors cite very different reasons for wanting you?
A: Yeah. Let’s take Spike as a benchmark: the directors I admire are the ones who say, ‘ Let’s obliterate that’. Because they know I’m versatile now, they’ll go, ‘ OK, let’s get him doing something different’. If a director asks me to do that, that in itself is a reason to work with them because they’ve taken that leap. Q: Do you want to obliterate Spike? A: I wouldn’t obliterate him, but I’d like to maybe
Q: You play the nemesis of Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider- Man. How do you describe Dr Connors?
A: He’s a passionate, renegade scientist. He is at the foothills of a science that is very tangible in this day and age. It’s just we haven’t arrived at a point where we can explore crossspecies genetics like we should. I guess, given his passion and his drive, he doesn’t take the conventional route to support his scientific discoveries with any validation he just wants the end result, which is his achilles heel.
Q: Roland Emmerich said you would arrive on the Anonymous set as yourself, disappear into your trailer then emerge as a dandy earl. Did you emerge in full mad scientist mode on the Spider- Man set?
A: It’s not that you take the role home, but I found with Connors he’s a very isolated man, very lonely, and I did have residual feelings of that at the
end of the day. He’s also a man with one arm and his mission in life is to regrow that arm. If you look at reptiles, and lizards especially, as a species, that’s what they’re able to do: regrow their limbs. So you can understand his obsession.
Q: How did it feel to be transformed into a giant lizard?
A: Fantastic, really sexy. My closest friends would probably recognise me more as the lizard than they would as Dr Connors to be honest [ laughs].
Q: Are the roles you’re offered getting more interesting?
A: Well they’ve always been interesting, they’re just getting slightly bigger. Especially the last four or five years . . . Sometimes a good wine takes time to mature. I’m very happy I have to say, particularly with the directors I’ve chosen to work with Marc Webb, Noah Baumbach and Susanne Bier to name but three. Really interesting directors . . . and interesting directors seem to like me.
What do you think that says about you?
I don’t know, it’s a bit of a worry [ laughs]. I just think my approach to the work is very proletarian, if you like. I just do the job. It’s very cut and clear.
The past five years, did something in particular change?
I guess I have. My focus has changed, I’ve got older . . . it happens to people [ laughs]. I’ve matured as a person and consequently as an actor. There were periods where I wasn’t enjoying my work so much it flatlined. I guess Mr Nice gave me an opportunity to play a larger role, and then Anonymous . . . I just reminded myself, ‘ Hang on, I am capable of more than what I’ve been doing’. And if you feel that, people sense it.
Q: So you were the veteran on The Amazing Spider- Man set. A: I know. I was the daddy! Which is a nice feeling. Andrew didn’t need any advice at all. It’s hard to advise a man in a Lycra suit as to what to wear! Q: Did you bond with Andrew? A: We’re both British, you know [ laughs]. I mean, please, we would have moments where we would be standing on this huge set and I would be in a white coat with round glasses, like the most intelligent scientist in the whole world, and Andrew would be there with his big Spider- Man costume. And I would just be like [ mimes elbowing his co- star], ‘ Can you f--- ing believe this? I mean, my God!’ And he’s going ‘ I know, I know’. Come on, you have to embrace the surrealism of it all.
Q: Were you into Spider- Man as a kid?
‘‘ I had no memory of being a SpiderMan fan as a kid until I was offered the job and then suddenly all these memories came flooding back’’
I had no memory of being a SpiderMan fan as a kid until I was offered the job and then suddenly all these memories came flooding back. I remember getting a comic. I must have been six or seven, and you had to cut out the Spider- Man mask on the back of it, along the dotted line, and put two little pins where the eyes were and colour it red. I remember making that and wearing it and pretending to climb the walls in the house. Although it was my mother actually climbing the walls in our house [ laughs].
You were able to do something so different in Anonymous. Are you sad it flopped?
Yeah, I was disappointed. I do think it’s a beautiful, graceful piece of work. I was prepared for it to cause a stir in England. But I had no idea the British press and academia and theatrical circles would respond so jingoistically
A: towards it. I mean, they were vicious. It was like I’d done the Queen over the gates of Buckingham Palace. It was that bad! Which of course puts a huge smile on my face. Really, wiping your a-- e with the Union Jack, that was. But sadly it did affect the film. I’m still approached by lots of people going: ‘ I don’t know what the f--- ing fuss was about’. The press really went to town. Even to the extent that they went to town on Roland because he’s a German. I mean, let that war go, guys! It all became about protecting this nebulous bastion called William Shakespeare. It was very revealing.
Q: Will they still let you into the country?
A: Well, I’ve had no calls from the Royal Shakespeare Company.