Interview David Thewlis

From Harry Potter to Nazi commandant, David Thewlis sits down with to talk about ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’.

Actor David Thewlis, 45, first came to fame as the ever-endearing rapist Johnny in Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked’. Since then he’s gone on to play werewolf Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films and now Thewlis is tackling those Nazis as a concentration camp commandant in ‘The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas’ (in cinemas now). At the film’s recent world premiere in Dublin we spoke to David about the picture, working with children and the recently delayed Harry Potter project.

Q: You were at the world premiere of the film last night in Dublin. How was it?

I just flew in from LA yesterday and I haven’t slept in two days so I was a little bit, “where the hell am I”, but it went very well. John (Boyne) received a standing ovation, which he rightly deserved. After we went to a party in Trinity and the comments were all very positive.

Q: Were you a fan of the book before the film?

I didn’t know the book. The script came highly recommended through my agent. I read it and straight away I loved it. First and foremost it was the story Mark and John had created and the idea of playing someone so terrible, so complex – it offered a challenge. I was curious to know if I could play such a role and how one would approach playing that character. And the interesting thing would be to play him as both a mass murderer and as a loving father man. That dual character was really intriguing.

Q: What was your approach to playing him?

I started by reading the biography of Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp. I wanted to find out how his mind worked. He and his five children lived within the concentration camp – in sight of the crematorium. When reading the book I realised that this man, who was responsible for so many deaths, had a loving side to him. He was a father and a husband. There are some very touching passages in the book. It really helped me to come to terms with the character and I think that humanity serves to highlight the horror of the events.

Q: Do you think the film will be as affective for people who have read the book and know the conclusion?

It’s a funny one because it’s hard to talk about the book/film without mentioning the ending and of course you don’t want to give anything away. I actually think it would be far more entertaining to see it without knowing the outcome but for those who have read the book, I think Mark has done a wonderful job in creating an engaging narrative. It’s such a wonderful story and the perspective of childhood innocence is so refreshing


Q: Why did you decide to keep your English accent for the film?

Well that was Mark’s decision. We’d seen how well it worked in ‘Conspiracy’ and putting on accents can go so badly. So Mark insisted on keeping the accents British. It takes a few minutes to get used to but really it’s just as strange to put on German accent. If we are going for one hundred percent authenticity, we really should be speaking German, not English with German accents!

Q: How were the kids to work with?

Obviously with Harry Potter  I have plenty of experience of dealing with kids on set. It can be problematic but Asa, who plays my son Bruno in this picture, was wonderful in the film. I think he gives an extremely natural performance, same with Jack, though most of what I experienced was with Asa.

Q: The book was originally written for children and spread out to a wider adult audience. Do you think the same is true for the film?

I think the book was suitable for children but I don’t think this is a children’s film. I think it’s definitely for the over 10s anyway and I think it’s something that should be watched with the view to discussing the issues and themes.

Q: You’ve taken to the director’s chair a few times now. Any plans to helm another film?
Yeah I’ve made two films now. My first was a short ‘Hello Hello Hello’ and after I made a feature called ‘Cheeky’. Having made a feature, I don’t think I will be rushing back to the director’s chair. I found the process extremely stressful – it takes over your life. I wasn’t happy with ‘Cheeky’. In the end it wasn’t really the film I wrote. I had disagreements with producers, and in postproduction it was taken out of my hands.

Q: Your big break was back in Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked’ but most people will recognise you from the Harry Potter universe. Do you think you’ll ever work with Mike again?

Actually I hadn’t thought about the film in years until recently because they are re-releasing the DVD. Obviously it’s a film that’s very important to me – it’s responsible for getting me noticed internationally – but I think Mike and I have a mutual understanding that we reached a zenith with that film. And I don’t think it’s really compatible with my life now. A Mike Leigh film requires an incredible amount of dedication and being a new father I just can’t devote the time to it.

Q: What do you think of the change in Harry Potter date?

wouldn’t have thought it mattered. Harry potter is Harry potter – it’s
bound to do well. And summer releases in the states are always such big


Q: Your currently shooting the last film?
Yeah we’re working on the last film, which will be split into two but
I’m not really involved in it. I’m not in the last films much. It’s a
week’s work here and there.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is in Irish cinemas from Friday, September 12th.