Mark Strong plays a central role to solving the mystery at the heart of the thriller teased in the Before I Go To Sleep trailer. Strong is the psychiatrist who is secretly meeting with Nicole Kidman to help her with her amnesia that has her forgetting everything about her life as each night turns to day. See, Colin Firth plays her husband, who greets her each day and tells her who she is and what came before. But, is he telling the truth?
We caught up with Strong for an exclusive interview where the esteemed actor let us know the many challenges of playing a character in a movie shrouded in mystery. He also dished how after several films, what role the book that the film is based on plays in him forming the characterization. Here’s a fascinating tease, guess which one helped the most -- The Green Lantern!
Movie Fanatic: What your character does in the world of neural work with Nicole Kidman’s amnesia character, what kind of research did you do to truly grasp your part in this psychological thriller?
Mark Strong: I had to find out exactly what he is, how he works. Neural psychiatry and neural psychology are at war with each other, a little bit. The kind of guy that Nash is it’s almost like he’s the herbal medicine in the world of medicine. His kind of psychology is viewed with suspicion by the medical establishment. I had to find that out. I had no idea. It governed how I chose to play him. It governed what I chose for him to wear and how I deal with her. I thought he was a little rough with a bit of stubble and I gave him an academic look in corduroy, rather than a shirt and a tie looking all smart.
Movie Fanatic: As an actor doing a scene with an actress, Nicole Kidman here, there is a history there that builds from character to character. But, with her, she is a blank slate every day. Was that a challenge to play?
Mark Strong: You’re responsibility is to your own character. You have to maintain the truth for him in the world that he’s in. Nicole had the difficult task of trying to piece the jigsaw of her journey together over the course of the film as she slowly begins to learn more and more. It was tricky for us because I remember early on; we started with the most intimate scenes – like where she grabs his hand, that was the first scene we did together which is quite far along in the relationship. That’s your job as an actor. You have to chart your progress over the course of the film and then on any given day at that point on the graph that you’re filming, you have to zero in on where he is at that time. You have to make sure your head space is right. Nicole is such a professional, it makes it so easy. We charted it very carefully.
Movie Fanatic: Speaking of charting the progress, I just spoke to your director, Rowan Joffe, in person and I was struck by the detail he had to take to keep all these balls in the air for Before I Go to Sleep. I’m curious what kind of help was he and what most impressed you by him?
Mark Strong: He is incredibly specific. You met him in person, so you can see how carefully he chooses his words. He tries to absolutely communicate the very thought he is communicating in the most economical way as possible. That’s how he is as a writer and director. He’s quite ordered and I think he was specific in the notes, not a lot of them, but when he did, they were sharp and to the point.
Movie Fanatic: It’s such a brilliant script that is rich with emotion and power. But, it was based on a book. Did you go to the book at all before filming to fill in any blanks, or would that have been a distraction?
Mark Strong: I’ve done a few films now based on novels, and what I’ve learned is to not look at them until after the film is done. You can cause yourself problems by finding things in the novel that aren’t apparent in the script that give you hang-ups. You might give yourself issues by trying to demonstrate things while you’re performing that weren’t in the script, but that were in the book. All you’re dealing with is the script, the narrative that has been written for you. That is first and foremost the story you’re telling.
Movie Fanatic: Did you do that with Sinestro in Green Lantern?
Mark Strong: Actually, what I did I was I went back to the comics. But, I had to do that in order to find out what kind of character this guy was. I got an understanding of where he was in the world of comics, but then I had to throw it all out when I did the film and play him as he’s written in the film. I could have gone to the novel for Before I Go to Sleep, but I was just worried that I would miss elements that were in the book that we couldn’t have in the film. I read it after we did the film and in hindsight, I was right to do that.
Movie Fanatic: You mentioned Green Lantern, and you’ve done such a varied list of films. What are the elements of projects that appeal to you?
Mark Strong: Like anything you read, a newspaper article or a script, you have to be engaged. You have to feel like you know what is going to happen. You have to feel like you’re dealing with some good writing and lose yourself in it. It’s like a good painting. If a script is good, that’s the first port of call. Then, the character -- it’s important to me that a character has something about them that I feel that I can work with. I’ve turned lots of characters down that I felt that the writer didn’t give me enough that I could relate to. It’s sometimes indefinable. It just clicks with me.
Movie Fanatic: I can’t wait to see Kingsman, you appear with Colin Firth in that too, like Before I Go to Sleep. But in this film, you don’t share a scene with him. Do you share scenes with him in Kingsman: The Secret Service?
Mark Strong: We have a couple of small bits together. But, the director -- Matthew Vaughn (check out one of his best and watch X-Men: First Class online) -- is one of my favorite directors, if not my favorite director. We’ve done a few films together now and I too cannot wait to see Kingsman: The Secret Service.