Interview by Mark Walters

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd made a big impression early in his career with his work on the critically acclaimed HORATIO HORNBLOWER movies.  His performance was so impressive there has even been talk of him possibly taking over the role of James Bond.  Gruffudd has recently become known for his portrayal of the stretchable superhero Mr. Fantastic in FANTASTIC FOUR, based on the long-running Marvel comic book.  That's a role he'll return to this summer with the sequel FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER.  But for now he's starring in an inspiring new film called AMAZING GRACE, which tells the story of William Wilberforce, a determined man who set out to abolish England's slave trade in the 1700's.  I had a chance to sit down with Ioan for a one-on-one interview, and here is what he had to say.

MARK: I believe you and I have a mutual friend... Aaron Douglas up in Canada.

IOAN: No way!  Oh, he's a top man, I like him a lot.  Yeah, I saw him quite a bit when we were shooting FANTASTIC FOUR, and he was on BATTLESTAR, and I became a huge fan of that.  He gave me the DVDs of the first two seasons.  I would watch them in my trailer, and I was blown away by them.

MARK: Yeah, and Doug Jones was here last week... the Silver Surfer.


MARK: We were just here a week ago.  He had nothing but good things to say about you.

IOAN: Oh I love that guy.  It's sort of a shame the way they treated him on the shoot.  Just in the sense that he was an actor... they introduced him to the cast as "This is the guy who comes in and does the stand-in work."  So, but we took to him.

MARK: Yeah.  Well this is a great film.  I've actually seen it twice now.

IOAN: Really?

MARK: I really enjoyed it a lot.  It's a very ambitious project, and a great story.  I was surprised that it hasn't been done to this effect before.  It seems very powerful.

IOAN: The reason it hasn't been done to this effect before is because it existed for many years as a biopic.  And it's very hard to make a movie with Christianity without banging people over the head with it.  When it got into the hand of Steven Knight, the writer, and Michael Apted, it became much more of a fierce story about what he achieved.  The fact that he was an evangelical Christian was a part of that.  I'm delighted, because the script that I read was the script that got put on the screen.  So often you read something, and you come through the read through and it's not even near it.  It's exactly the same story that I read, what was in the script.

MARK: And as an actor it's a great opportunity, because you get to show a lot of emotions, and the stress that it takes on you in the process of trying to get everything done.

IOAN: Oh I am so satisfied about it, because he's such a good guy, an earnest guy and a compassionate man.  He almost died because of this thing, so it was nice to play that.

MARK: Now was it kind of a conscious effort to show the passage of time?  Because I noticed, like at the end of the movie, there's a shot where you look up, and there's been some very subtle aging to you.  It's very subtle, but just enough to let you know there has been a passage of time.

IOAN: Yeah, it was tough, because we were trying to portray that there was a passage of time, and you're going back and forth telling the story.  It took for him about fifteen years.  They started at such a young age, so they tried to make me look as young as possible, so we'd have somewhere to go.  But I leave it up to the makeup artists, and those different hairstyles.  They went so far in trying to convey that.

MARK: How important was it for you to get the singing right?  Because there's a couple of points in the movie where you get to sing.

IOAN: Yes!  Yes, um... William Wilberforce, when you read his biography, all you hear is about how he was such an amazing singer.  People would come from far and wide just to hear him sing, let alone hear him speak,  So there was a bit of pressure on the set, and being a Welshman I often think that I can't sing.  That's me singing there live... I'm really pleased with it.  Because it's a very strange moment in the movie, where he just sort of bashes this song out.  I guess it's sort of playing at his change.

MARK: Well, all throughout the movie, with both the song and when he's giving his pleas, he's constantly met with mockery, and having to stand his ground in the face of that mockery and be true to it.  And I'm sure that must have been a little bit daunting when you're signing that song, and you've got these guys down there.

IOAN: There's a lot of ribbing going on, pulling at my legs, it was hysterical.  It's funny when you think about what goes on behind the scenes when you see the finished product.  It was of course inevitable that day when it came time to sing it, I was ill with the flu, so the passion that's coming through the song is just me genuinely struggling to get the melody out.

MARK: It's an amazing supporting cast too, with Michael Gambon and so many amazing actors you have to work with.  You've had some great roles, I mean doing HORATIO HORNBLOWER and now of course FANTASTIC FOUR.  But was this kind of like a dream project, something that was a very powerful story.

IOAN: Yeah, when I read it, I kept thinking about it.  You know that scene at the end... I was crying when I was reading it.  So to get the part I was just completely overwhelmed.  I just knew I could do it, I knew I could bring something to it.  Because I had done HORNBLOWER I knew how to do something "period", plus which it was actually the exact same period.

MARK: Right, yeah I noticed that.

IOAN: But because of having a go with doing those kind of projects, I knew that wealth of experience would help me portray this character even better... that I've been in sort of this frame of mind.

MARK: How long was the shoot, and where exactly were you shooting the entire time?

IOAN: We were in England for about twelve weeks, and we started off in London.  And the beauty of shooting there is you don't have to build any sets, you just go to these locations, these houses that exist.  So we were traveling around to Salisbury in the West, and Chatham Kent.  And in Chatham there was this big studio, this big set that we built for the House of Commons, which was roughly based on an old chapel.

MARK: Talk about working with Michael Apted.

IOAN: He's the main reason I did the movie.  When I fell in love with the script and all of the elements that were involved, he was the reason I wanted to do it.  Because having such an experienced director, I knew it was going to be a safe bet, because of the subject matter.  He was just so prepared.  You know I've done FANTASTIC FOUR which was a big studio movie, and KING ARTHUR which was another big studio movie, it seemed as though we were always trying to catch up with ourselves.  We were never really quite there.  This movie, literally the first day, it was very easy, and we achieved our days every single day.  We didn't overrun it, we didn't go over budget.  You know you talk about Clint Eastwood... he knows what he's got, he's got the shot, so okay we move on.  It was that sort of feeling.

MARK: So he's very lean when he shoots?

IOAN: Yeah, yeah, but in a sense you trust him.  Because you just know, because of his wealth of experience.

MARK: He knows how to tell a story.

IOAN: Yeah.  All the movements.  One thing he did say, because it's a movie about people talking, and everybody's talking the whole time, there's no sort of big action sequences, so he's trying to get as much movement into it as possible to help with the story.  Just little things like, you bring the petition into Parliament, there's a bit of action so you're not just standing there listening to someone going on and on and on.

MARK: Is it somewhat daunting too when you're doing those scenes as an actor, and you're having to stand up and stand your ground... not overselling it?

IOAN: You right.  That's what Michael was telling me everyday, that was his big note.  Trim it down, take it back a little bit.  It's easy to get carried away, not only because you are as you said in the House of Parliament with an audience, that sort of theatrical gene takes over.


IOAN: Exactly! (laughter) Then you've got Michael Gambon, one of the best theater actors who ever existed, with this amazing voice booming back at you.  There a bit of a competition going on there.

MARK: Did you have a particularly favorite scene to shoot, after seeing the finished product?

IOAN: (long pause) Just personally, from an actor point of view, I'm really pleased with the way the illness came across.  That element I was determined to be believable.  That was the only time that I did fight Michael on, letting me go dramatic with it.  I wanted to go dramatic, and it works, because it really pays off.

MARK: It almost seems like at one point in the film, when you're ill and you start telling the story, it's almost as if that's somewhat of a release for you.  By telling the story that's allowing you to get through that illness.  Especially the scene where you're lighting the candles.

IOAN: That's right, yes.

MARK: That scene especially, it felt like it was a catharsis for your character.

IOAN: Absolutely, that's what she brought out in him.  it was reminding him that he still had a life and the passion to do it.  Because he had given up on it.

MARK: Were there any scenes that were shot that didn't make the cut... that you know of?.

IOAN: You know, I'm sure there were, but your experience as an actor tells you just forget about it.  I'm sure there were many sequences, but I can't recall them  The story was told, it really moves along.

MARK: Well you said Michael shoots very lean, so most of what he shot...

IOAN: It was in there, yeah, right.

MARK: There were a couple of scenes I noticed too, particularly the scene where you're showing The Madagascar (slave ship).  At the beginning of that scene, there's a long shot of the boats in the harbor.  Now I have to wonder, was any of that computer enhanced?  Because that was like transporting you back in time.

IOAN: There were about four ships in line, and then just a green screen.  Yeah, it's just unbelievable.  I think that's where most of the CGI went, it was just massive.  I couldn't even see the joining myself.  We're quite savvy now, obvious moviegoers, but I was just... wow, that's so massive.

MARK: That was the one scene in the movie where I really felt like it was just transporting you back in time.

IOAN: One thing I also didn't realize... you know the bagpipes at the end?

MARK: Yeah.

IOAN: That was twelve guys on a stage in Pinewood with a green screen duplicated.

MARK: Oh my God!  (you have to see the scene, it's SHOCKING to hear it's not real)

IOAN: Then that panning up to Westminster Abbey, that's all green screen.

MARK: Oh my God.

IOAN: I had no idea, it's just shattered the illusion for me when Michael told me.  I asked him "Where did you shoot that?  That's really impressive, the whole thing, there's a lot of choreography."  He said "That's not me mate, that was the second unit."

MARK: That's the magic of movies.

IOAN: Yeah.

MARK: That's amazing isn't it?

IOAN: So if you can be convinced yourself when you're in the movie that these things are real, it's great.

MARK: Do you mind talking for just a minute about your upcoming work?

IOAN: Of course not, please, yeah.

MARK: Maybe FANTASTIC FOUR 2, because I know everyone is dying to get information about it?

IOAN: Yes.  It's funny how the studio creates a buzz.  I remember when we were shooting the movie we had a couple of press days.  We were told strictly not to talk about the script, not to talk about Doug Jones.  There were pictures of Doug in that silver suit.  It's funny how they try to create that.  And that's why I thought they were a bit harsh on Doug, because they were trying to paint him as a bit... he was just there just to help us, that he wasn't actually a character.  To me he was though.

MARK: Sure.

IOAN: To me he was like what Andy Serkis did for Gollum.  We are responding to a real actor doing a real great job.  He's got that mystery and that anguish and that intrigue about him.  All his movements... he created the Silver Surfer.  So there's... are you a comic book fan?

MARK: Yeah big time.

IOAN: So you know the story about the Silver Surfer.  If you're a comic fan you know that he's the messenger of Galactus, but we're not sure about that yet.  We think he's the destroyer of the world, but he's just come as the messenger of Galactus.  But the one interesting part is Sue Storm is seduced by him, and it sort of causes a bit of a rift between us.  So that's going to be an interesting triangle.

MARK: Okay, yeah that's right out of the books.

IOAN: Yeah, I get a bit envious of that.  So uh... yeah, now you don't have to see the movie. (laughs)

MARK: Yeah that's enough!  Well this was an honor.  I think you did a great job, and I hope it does very, very well.

IOAN: Oh thanks Mark, really.  I hope so.  We're relying on people to respond to it.

MARK: Well it's good to have a movie like this at this time of year where it's not going to get lost in the mix.

IOAN: I think we've got a chance

MARK: Well I'll see you tonight at the screening.

IOAN: Yeah, and send my regards to Doug.

MARK: Absolutely, thanks Ioan!

Find out more about AMAZING GRACE by clicking HERE.

Special thanks to the AFI DALLAS Film Festival, which you can find out more about HERE.

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