Rupert Evans - From Hellboy to High Castle
If you aren’t familiar with the acting work of Rupert Evans, you very soon will be.
The 38-year-old British actor came to the public attention playing Agent John Myers in Guillermo del Toro’s supernatural superhero film Hellboy, before taking to the stage to stretch his Shakespearian muscles with the RSC. Now, as the streaming war between Amazon and Netflix hots up, he could be Amazon Prime’s secret weapon, starring in the high budget action series, The Man in the High Castle. If critics are right, it could be the biggest thing since Game Of Thrones... But the show isn’t pulling any punches, exploring a dark ‘what if’ and re-imagining a world where the Nazi’s won the Second World War.
I caught up with Rupert to talk about conspiracy theories, crockery and whether he’s succumbed to the cold and put his heating on yet…
Rupert, you grew up on a farm – not a typical actor breeding ground - what lured you into the world of acting?
I did it at school and I wasn’t good at anything else! I guess I was a show-off at the beginning – I think most actors are. I just really enjoyed being other people. I did plays at school, and I thought I’d grow out of it, but I just ended up doing more and more. Eventually I thought I should just audition for drama school and see how it goes. I didn’t really think very far ahead.
Did you have an amazing plan B?
No, not really. I worked in advertising for a very short time before I got into drama school. They offered me a job as an account handler for Hasbro who make Action Men and My Little Pony, and I thought ‘I don’t think I can do this for the rest of my life.’ So no plan B really.
Maybe that’s the secret. People do say if you refuse to have a plan B you are forced to go for your dream. That sounds like a pivotal moment – you could have played safe and still be working there now…
It was a pivotal moment. I remember them saying they’d pay me £35,000 salary and give me a car, and that I was good at it, but I knew it just wasn’t for me.
There’s an alternate reality somewhere with another Rupert Evans working in advertising with 2.4 children, a car and a house in Surrey.
Ha! I’ve never been to Surrey.
Don’t start me on Surrey… So as an actor you have to audition all the time, like constantly interviewing for jobs. How do you cope with that?
I’ve been lucky because I’ve been doing long jobs, so I haven’t had to do many auditions this year. I don’t mind them so much now, but they’re still pretty stressful. But all you can do is present your interpretation of the material, and actually a lot of it is out of your hands. You just don’t know what the director is thinking, or what the producers want. There’s a story that a guy goes and does a great audition, leaves the room, and the producer says ‘I think he’s fantastic’. But the director says ‘I can’t have him because he reminds me of someone who bullied me at school’. You just can’t take it personally. You have good days and bad days but all you can do is your best – it’s in the lap of the gods really.
It really is just down to casting.
Yeah. And I’ve just done a movie, American Pastoral which we finished shooting last week, and for that I put myself on tape in Vancouver and sent it to Ewan McGregor who’s directing it, and he’s never met me and he took it off the tape. You just don’t know what’s going to work and what isn’t.
How important is curating your career, and choosing the right parts?
A lot of people talk about that, but I don’t know how much of a thing that really is. I just don’t know what I want to do next until I read it. I mean I’d love to do a play, but I wouldn’t just do a play for the sake of it. Until the material comes in, I don’t know what I’m going to do next.
Living in the moment – which is really what actors do.
Yeah, and I don’t like to think about it because it freaks me out. It always seems to work out somehow.
The life of a freelancer I guess.
Exactly, it’s self-employment. You don’t know exactly how you are going to pay your rent, but you have to believe that something will turn up, and actually necessity is the mother of invention. When the pressure’s on something comes up.
Are you ever tempted to create your own work?
Actually yes, funnily enough a lot of my mates and I have been talking about this for a long time, and we’re just trying to get our act together. I’ve bought the rights to a book, and potentially I’m going down that route. I would like more creative control and also it would be lovely to work with mates, people you know and trust.
You’ve starred in Hollywood blockbusters and independent films – how do they compare?
Studio films have more time and more money. With independent films it’s more of an intense experience. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in five or six indies where I’m leading the movie, so you’ve got a lot more to do and you’re in every day, but it’s a vastly more intense and collaborative experience than a big budget film because you are in direct contact with the director who has probably had more input in the script. I enjoy that process hugely and I love independent films for that reason. But the studio films are bigger in scope. It’s still enjoyable, just a little more waiting around. But we get paid to wait around – the acting’s for free!
So with a blockbuster like Hellboy – was the role of Agent John Myers a game-changer for you?
It was a big deal at the time. I had never envisaged doing that, I just thought I’d be stuck in Coventry doing a play, and suddenly I was in Prague doing a 168 day shoot. It was nerve wracking and terrifying, but a great experience. I learnt a great deal from that and it was a huge turning point for me.
Did you do much film work at drama school?
Not at all! We did one Sunday afternoon in front of the camera with a guy from Brookside. He said you should always get your hands in the shot because it makes the shot look interesting… Mental! I think I literally had two hours training. So I had no idea what I was doing. It took me a while to work it all out and calm down. In fact it’s taken me 10 years to get some understanding, and even now I’m not quite sure…
Do you think TV and film become interchangeable now with the growth of companies like Netflixs and Amazon?
It’s all about the script. What I think has happened is that the mid-range movie – say 40 million dollar films – they don’t make those any more. They either make blockbusters for 150 million dollars or they make indie movies for 10 million dollars. And the place of that mid-range movie that doesn’t exist has now been replaced by long running television series that people love and get addicted to. Television production values have gone up and scripts are now being written by film writers who are just as able in the genre of TV. It’s like shooting a 10 hour film really. For me it’s really exciting, TV has changed the face of our lives as actors because it’s given us a greater variety of possibilities and roles.
So in your latest project you play Frank Frink (great name!) in The Man in the High Castle, based on the 1962 sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick.
Yes, it’s an amazing premise – what if the Germans and the Imperial Japanese won the Second World War. It deals with some hard ideas and questions about freedom, fate versus destiny as well as what would have happened if the Nazis had won. What would life be like now? It’s challenging, we deal with the Holocaust and some difficult themes. Some people will find it difficult to watch - a nice American family having breakfast, and a little kid comes down dressed in a Hitler Youth uniform and has breakfast with his dad as if it’s an everyday thing. It challenges norms, and I like that. My character is a repressed artist who is unable to do any of his work, unable to express himself. Modern art is seen as degenerate and not allowed. Music is regulated. What we take for granted now – the media, freedom of speech, social networking, Facebook and Twitter – this is a world of complete opposites.
Did you do lots of political and historical research for the role?
What’s interesting is that it is 1962 but it’s a different reality, so it’s not the 1962 we know. We had to sit down and do a lot of talking about what our 1962 is. Fashion, music – Elvis didn’t happen… It’s a skewed version of reality so we had to create our own world. Are there newspapers? If so are they state run? Do people know the truth about the death camps and the Holocaust?
Some dark and heavy themes – did you take that home with you every night?
One or two episodes were very hard. In episode two my character is badly tortured, and when events conspire against him he turns into a radical really in many ways, and becomes an extremist. With what’s going on in Paris at the moment, it seems like the show bizarrely has many parallels.
And at the moment freedom of information and the government’s surveillance powers over the general public is very much in the media too.
Exactly. It is explored, and phone tapping and stuff. It is an extreme version of that, where there are no laws and the authorities can do what they want. But it’s living in an environment where on a day to day basis it’s about trying to survive and get through the day – trying to find a way of living and sense of happiness while living under a regime like that.
That must have given you a real sense of perspective, if you come out of filming these life or death situations and not many people have liked your Instagram post it’s not really going to bother you.
Ha! I’ve not looked at Twitter or Instagram for six months. But you’re right, it does put things in perspective.
So alternate realities, and conspiracy theories - faked moon landings, Lord Lucan being alive and Shakespeare not existing. Do you believe in any of that?
When I was a kid I always thought you got on a plane and didn’t go anywhere – that it was the authorities that would shake the plane and move the scenery. For years I thought, ‘can anyone prove to me that we actually took off?’
That makes more sense than a big lump of metal actually flying. It really is magic.
I’m sure there are things that are shocking, like MP’s expenses and all those things that we suddenly find out. But I don’t know about Lucan and stuff. I did a drama about Lucan for ITV a couple of years ago – blatantly he got killed.
Your character makes jewellery in the show?
Yeah, he works in an Americana gun factory, selling fake guns to people. In this world people are obsessed with old stuff. Everyone wants a piece of history, so people are making fake history to supply the Japanese elite – it’s called history-icity – so a lighter that was in President Roosevelt’s pocket is worth more than the exact same lighter that just happened not to be in someone famous’ pocket. It’s all about authentication and lots of fakes around. Frank is in a factory working, disillusioned and is trying to make his private life mean something.
Are you arts-and-craftsy in real life?
No, the props department made it all, and it looked incredible!
Ridley Scott was the Executive Producer - did you get to meet him?
No, he was busy filming the last part of The Martian, but I’ve met Ridley before when I was working on a TV miniseries called World Without End which was produced by Scott Free, his production company.
What’s he like?
A lovely man, very calm and really wanting to hear about your experience.
Are you a fan of Blade Runner? Did you go back and watch it before filming?
Yes – another Philip K. Dick. I loved it – I loved it when the woman had her hair done! I didn’t re-watch it, but I watched a lot of Japanese and history films, things like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Schindler’s List, lots of Clint Eastwood films – Flags Of Our Fathers which all helped me out a lot.
I hear you once got bitten by a lion? But I guess you must be bored to death of telling that anecdote – so what else can you tell me about yourself that I’d never know?
I have a passion for pottery. I come from near Stoke-On-Trent, and originally my family were in the bathware and tableware trade so I always look at the underneath of all plates and cups when I go to restaurants to see where they’re made. So here at the W-Hotel I’ve already seen their cups and plates are made by a great family friend of mine – my mate Danny Goodall is the artistic director of Dudson. So I’ll take a picture and send it to him to show him! [Rupert rushes over to the bar and grabs a cup and saucer to show me.]
That’s amazing, we’re here in the centre of Leicester Square and one of your pals made the teapot!
Yes! Wherever I go in the world I always check, and invariably a lot of them are made by Dudson.
If I go out and find a Dudson I’ll Instagram it to you immediately!
Yes do! And Danny will be over the moon if he gets namechecked!
I’ll expect a free teapot… So is there going to be a Hellboy 3? Will you be involved?
I know nothing about it! All I know is that I’ve just had the original Hellboy scooter restored - the actual one Agent Myers used in the film. It was completely broken, and they very kindly gave it to me. I’ve had it for 10 years but I couldn’t afford to get it mended before. A great guy in Prague who has a passion for Cezeta’s too has refurbished it for me and I get it back in December – I’m so excited.
Has she got a name?
Not yet, but it looks very pig-like. A Cezeta 501, 175cc made in 1963 – I’ll scooter around London on it to get to auditions - it beats the tube. Maybe I might call her Nelly.
That’s a good strong name, my grandmother was called Nelly. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Not to worry.
Do you ever Google yourself?
No, I know what’s going on in my life already. I have never Googled myself, maybe I should…
Have you put your heating on at home yet, or are you layering up?
I’m a heating fascist, we don’t have a timer. So when you go to bed you turn it off, and when you wake up it’s freezing and you put it on and wait for it to warm up. The idea of the heating being on when you’re asleep seems like a waste of money and time.
No arguments about that? Your girlfriend must be a stronger women than I…
No, she’s amazing. She doesn’t worry about it. Although we do have two Canada Goose feather coats that we got when we were in Vancouver filming The Man in the High Castle. They’re the best coats in the world for keeping warm, and we do sometimes put them on in the house…
That’s awful. But I’m sure your bills are cheaper than mine! So, quick-fire round, what’s your favourite animal?
Exercise of choice?
Quinoa and steamed chicken or McDonalds Big Mac?
Quinoa and chicken, I never ever go near McDonalds.
Clubbing in Soho or vegging out at home on the sofa?
I’m afraid I’m getting to the age where vegging out on the sofa is appealing. I’m never at home – I haven’t been home since February, so home is first choice.
What’s your star sign? And is there any truth in it?
Pisces. But I get sea-sick very easily so I’m not sure if there’s much truth in it.
In an alternate reality, where you’re not an actor, what are you?
A Landscape Gardener.
You can click your fingers and perfect any skill – what is it?
I would love to be an amazing drummer. I went to Glastonbury a few years ago, and I was watching Coldplay, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the drummer, he was amazing. In fact I’d like to start drumming lessons one day.
You get a £1000 tax rebate, but you need to spend it before you get home tonight. What do you buy?
A new washing machine because mine’s broken and I can’t wash any clothes.
Very practical. What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
My girlfriend dancing at a wedding on Saturday.
On purpose, or does she just have a very funny dancing technique?
She does this thing called the clock and it always makes me laugh.
So what’s next?
I just finished American Pastoral a week ago, and now I wait to hear if The Man in the High Castle gets a second season, which if it does, we start filming sometime next year.
Maybe while you’re waiting you should go home, sort your washing machine out and book some drumming lessons?
That’s my every intention! But in-between all that I’m getting married too.
Wow - that’s amazing! Although perhaps you should warn her about the drumming or does she already know?
No she doesn’t! But you can get silencing pads… Maybe that’s the way forward.
Yes, it could be a deal breaker!
Rupert Evans can currently be seen starring in the critically acclaimed series "The Man in the High Castle." All 10 episodes are available on Amazon Prime.
Interview by Bethany Minelle
Photography by Joupin Ghamsari
Video shot and edited by Logan Irvine-MacDougall
Shot at W London – Leicester Square