The Nazi solider from ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ talks Holocaust films, Keira Knightley and his very own Prince Albert!
We’re expecting to see a lot more of Rupert Friend in the days ahead. The 26-year-old British actor, who has starred alongside big British names such as Johnny Depp in ‘The Libertine’ and of course his superstar girlfriend Keira Knightley in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, has finally hit pay dirt with his chilling performance of the Nazi solider in Mark Herman’s ‘The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas’.
During his recent trip to Dublin, Movies.ie spoke to Friend about the Holocaust film, dealing with the paparazzi and his very own Prince Albert!
Q: To begin, how would you describe the film for someone who wasn’t aware of the book?
A: I’d say it’s an extremely powerful story. In a way you want people to go in knowing as little as possible. The book’s original cover had a blurb on the back, which actually said something like – we normally write things here but we aren’t going to – and I think that’s still true for the film. You will get more from this if you go in not knowing completely what to expect. Just know that it’s told through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy (Bruno) and it’s a story of friendship.
Q: One early review said of your performance that Friend was “born to play a Nazi”. What do you think when read such comments?
A: (Laughs) It’s a tricky one isn’t it. On the one hand, if they mean I did it well, thanks, but at the same time it’s obviously not a comparative you want made to your own personality. Unlike my character, I’m not a particularly aggressive or violent person.
Q: You initially rejected the part. Why was that?
A: I was worried about playing somebody whose actions I didn’t understand. Then I realised that was cowardly of me. The film offered an incredible challenge – one I think is central to John’s book and Mark’s film – to show the Nazis as humans. It’s very easy to play them as monsters but if we do that we let them off; they were human beings with families, ambitions and fears. We need to remember that and not to distance them from ourselves. At the end I realised I’d regret it if I didn’t take that challenge.
Q: So how do you go about preparing to play a character that you don’t necessarily identify with?
A: Well I was interested in the people behind the uniform. I read quite a lot of material about war and particularly the psychology used by armies to brainwash soliders. What I became fascinated by was – there are so many men and now women in the army who don’t recognise the significance when they take a life. That was part of my motivation and of course John’s book was invaluable because he had written the character so carefully. If I ever had any questions about my motivation it was always there.
Q: The book hints that this is in fact Auschwitz we’re reading. Did you consider visiting for your research?
A: I don’t think I could have. It was important that I concentrated on seeing the war as a ‘normal’ part of life. I think if I had visited Auschwitz and seen the atrocities of the concentration camp first hand, I wouldn’t have been able to bring that objectivity and, for lack of a better word, normalcy to the role.
Q: Some of the toughest scenes in the film are between your character and an older Jewish man and also a scene with you berating the two young boys (Bruno and Shmuel). What was your relationship like with Asa (Bruno) and Jack (Shmuel) offset?
A: Well that particularly scene was… well I felt like a dog afterwards. I remember their mums coming in after we had filmed and I just felt so guilty. Overall the boys and I managed to maintain an understanding. We tried to keep Kotler, my character, as a somewhat separate entity, that lived in that house, in a cupboard. He came out and then went away when the cameras were off. There were both amazing to work with; I would never have been like that at ten years old.
Q: Considering this is a film about the holocaust, what was the atmosphere on set like?
A: Well you are trying to maintain a level of dignity when it comes to the subject but obviously off camera you can’t stick to that sombre tone for the entire shoot. I was going back and forth a lot during the eight weeks of filming but Budapest itself was amazing. They have these outdoor baths – people tend to go to them instead of the pub.
Q: You’re obviously in the public eye due to your relationship with Keira Knightley. Is that something you accept as part of a celeb couple?
A: I don’t court that type of fame. I’m not really into all that glamour. I understand as an actor that it’s all part of the job but I see myself as a man of simple tastes; good company, a nice pint, good food and I’m happy (laughs).
Q: So after ‘Pyjamas’, what can we expect to see you in?
A: I’ll be playing another German (laughs) in ‘The Young Victoria’ but it’s a very different type of film and character! It’s a story about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Emily Blunt plays Victoria and I’m playing Albert. Unlike my character in ‘The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas’, in this one I’m playing a good man, a man who worked so tirelessly for a country that wasn’t even his own. So I’ve got to do the post-production on that and then ‘Cheri’ comes out at the end of the year – which is a Stephen Frears project.
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas’ is in Irish cinemas nationwide.