This week, Cyrano was released in the UK, so it was a delight for Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir to speak to actors Peter Dinklage and Kelvin Harrison Jr. about their experiences of working on the film.
Getting to Know Christian
While the other characters have a lot of subtext, Christian is “what he’s saying is what he means. And if he hears it, he takes it literally. Everything is literal until he goes on that journey and is doing something against his authentic self and against what makes him feel true, then he starts to have a bit more dialogue within himself.
To have that shift, that loss of innocence… we all have that moment when we come of age and we go, whoa, I can’t actually trust everybody. I have to protect myself and honour myself in my daily interactions and in how I interact with the ones that I love.”
Prepping for The Role
Kelvin did a lot of prep before meeting the rest of the cast, but because Peter, Erica, Joe and Haley all knew each other, he used the feeling of being ‘the new guy’ as his approach for the first half of the film.
“The second half is the beats that need to happen. Relationships that make sense, a lot of questions and being loved for my authentic self. Once we get to the rehearsals it’s so much about listening to the other actors, hearing their beats and what their characters are bringing to the table, because the movie doesn’t work unless the trifecta works. Unless you’re complimenting what the other actor’s doing.”
Working with Joe
It was important to Kelvin that he was the right person for the role. And that Joe and his vision for the character were aligned. Chatting to Joe ahead of the film, Kelvin said:
“If I’m not supposed to be there, I don’t want to be there. I want the best guy to get the role that serves your vision. So what is your vision? And (Joe) really painted it out for me beautifully. He was really interested in the vulnerabilities of men and our need to put up a facade or to have a certain bravado. Getting into that psychology was really fascinating.”
You need to have “confidence in the director. I need them to have a clear vision, perspective and point of view on the story they’re trying to tell. As an actor, I’ll read the books, I’ll look at the interviews and I’ll start to create the character. But it starts with those roots in the ground and the trunk of the tree and then I’m going to put the ornaments on the tree. It’s like Christmas.”
Peter said that Cyrano’s fake nose had always bothered him. “I know that everything that we do is pretend and make-believe, and I love prosthetics, but there was a guy who felt he was unworthy of love because he had a big nose. As soon as Erica removed that from the story, it felt like it suddenly spoke to everybody.
I don’t think my size is a substitute for the nose because Erica didn’t write it for me. She didn’t write it for anybody unique physically.” But he believes that “as soon as you remove the nose, the audience can relate to it.”
The Difference Between Stage and Screen
“With film, you’re afforded a greater sense of intimacy. In theatre, (as an audience) you get to choose what you look at. Usually, you’re looking at the broad canvas of the stage. In movies, the director and editor get to choose who you’re looking at during a scene.
And oftentimes Joe would be on the face of the person listening rather than the one talking. And I always find that much more interesting when you’re in a scene. To get right up close and personal to all these characters that are going through these real emotional journeys.”
Sir Ian McKellen mentioned it in our chat with him two weeks ago, and Peter mentions it again this week. “Quite often, actors don’t enjoy rehearsing for films. They like the spontaneity that it brings, but for this one, It was essential because we had a lot of fight choreography and we had singing and vocal lessons too.”
The Cyrano cast had about a month and a half of acting, singing and choreography rehearsals. While it was vitally important to learn their roles, Peter found that the most beneficial thing, for him, was for the “core group to just get familiar with each other. When you’re thrust into a new experience, it’s really nice to become familiar with everybody and comfortable with everybody and learn everybody’s skill sets. Rehearsals are the opportunity to explore all of that.”
Working with Directors
For Peter it is important that directors “know exactly what they’re doing at all times; but at the same time, they’re not closed off to your interpretation and your ideas of what we could make it into. That’s the key to a really good director.
You need to have somebody to support you and have your back and have answers to your questions, but not be locked off and unable to be open to other interpretations.”
He said that it was important to remember that filmmaking is the “director’s art form but it’s also all about collaboration. The strength and focus of a director shouldn’t mean overlooking everybody else’s strength and focus.”
Peter’s Last Words of Advice?
“Somebody once said that perseverance plus talent equals luck. I think that’s really true. I doubted it when I was young. I had a bit more of an edge to me then. I never wanted to be a part of the club that didn’t want me as a member or that wanted me in a specific way.
So I would just tell myself to persevere and stick with the tribe of artists, writers, directors and actors that were supportive. Stick to it because it’ll take a while, be patient.”
Want more? Listen to the full episode with Peter Dinklage & Kelvin Harrison Jr. here.