Q&A: Jonathan Pryce on new film, The Wife

Simon Button

We talk to prominent actor, Jonathan Pryce about his home life, what it's like backstage and his new film, The Wife

Welsh-born actor Jonathan Pryce, 71, started out in theatre and is best known for Miss Saigon on stage, such films as Brazil and Tomorrow Never Dies and recent television roles in Game Of Thrones and Taboo. Married to actress Kate Fahey, with whom he has three grown-up children, he stars opposite Glenn Close in The Wife as a Nobel Prize-winning novelist whose spouse has sacrificed her dreams to support him.

 

RD: You must get your pick of projects. What made you say yes to The Wife?

Jonathan: I liked how the script tells the story really well and economically and I was also drawn to the character of Joe, who is a duplicitous man and it’s always interesting to play more flawed characters. Not to give too much away, he’s living one life in public and another life in private.

 

RD: How was it working opposite the legendary Glenn Close?

Jonathan: The prospect of working with Glenn was another reason I said yes to it because she’d already been cast. We had a mutual respect and a liking for each other and she was wonderful in ways you’d expect from such an accomplished actress. A lot of the time she’s reacting to my character and that takes a lot of intensity in her performance, to be there saying nothing for so long.

 

RD: Was there much levity when the cameras weren’t rolling?

Jonathan: Generally the more serious the work is the more laughter there is surrounding it, otherwise it gets a bit hard to take. We didn’t suddenly burst into laughter at the end of a take, but there was a lot of good humour. Ourselves and the director Björn Runge had dinner together most nights and we enjoyed each others’ company very much.

 

RD: Given how the story is about a wife living in her husband’s shadow, does that make the film very resonant?

Jonathan: We made the film nearly two years ago, before the #MeToo movement and the current conversation about how women are subjugated in the business and in life generally, so it’s become a timely piece. We set out to make it knowing these issues existed but we didn’t know it was going to be banner-carrying for the movement.

I can’t believe we’re still having these conversations in 2018 about problems that have existed for hundreds of years. One of the first plays I did was The Taming of the Shrew in 1978 and we were talking about these problems back then, taking the production into schools to demonstrate to children how men should behave towards women. These issues have gone on forever, should have been resolved by now and hopefully will be as time goes by.

 

RD: In the film Joe is thrilled to receive the Nobel Prize. What’s been the accolade you’ve received that has meant the most to you?

Jonathan: I was given a lifetime achievement award by BAFTA Cymru in Wales and [laughs] although I haven’t lived my life fully yet that sort of generalised acknowledgement of your work is nice, rather than winning a prize for an individual performance which is all rather subjective. But the real reward at the moment is that I keep working and in the last couple of years I’m getting some really good roles for the senior actor.

 

RD: When you started out did you expect to still be going strong at age 71?

Jonathan: No. I was 25, I think, when I started and I was just happy to have gotten the job I got, which was at the Liverpool Everyman. I used to say theatre was what I did, television you’d do to make some money in order to do theatre and film was what other people did. I had no real ambitions to be a big star or whatever, I just wanted to get the next job and do interesting work.

 

RD: There are a couple of great moments in the film where you jump up and down on the bed with excitement. When did you last do that for real?

Jonathan: [Laughs] Not recently, although it’s something I often used to do as a child. Just as you’ve asked the questions memories have come back to me of jumping up and down on my parents’ bed and using it as a trampoline when I was quite small.

 

RD: Like Joe, do you feel you’ve earned your grey hairs?

Jonathan: I suppose I have, yes, what few of them I have left!

 

RD: Do people expect you to be formidable and serious when they meet you?

Jonathan: I’m not sure about that but if there are any frustrations about the work I do it’s that I don’t get to do as much comedy as I’d like. I’ve been part of films that were supposed to be funny but they didn’t quite turn out that way! Being funny on film is the most difficult thing to do whereas in theatre you’re able to time things to get the laughs. Maybe I’m not as funny as I think I am but I am funnier than I’m thought to be.

 

RD: You’re a very busy man but what’s your idea of a great day off?

Jonathan: The nice thing is that now we’ve opened the play I’m currently in [The Height Of The Storm] I’ve got nothing to learn so I wake up in the morning and I have no homework to do. There’s a freedom from learning and from thinking about something. A great day is waking up like that and hopefully the sun is shining.

 

RD: How important is family to you?

Jonathan: It’s very important to me. I’m still close to my sisters and any uncles and aunts left. My immediate family, with Kate and our grown-up children, are very close and we all live within 15 minutes of each other in London so we see each other a lot. I think when I did Miss Saigon in New York that’s the longest I’ve ever been away from them but the children came over every school holiday and I haven’t had to curtail anything about my career because of family. They’re part of the joy of life.

The Wife is in cinemas across the UK now