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James Purefoy Interview

Actor James Purefoy, perhaps most well known for his role as Mark Antony in the TV series Rome, plays the starring role in the film Solomon Kane, about a Puritan mercenary based on the character created by pulp writer Robert E. Howard. Here Purefoy talks with View London’s Matthew Turner about injuring Czech stuntmen, filming a crucifixion in the freezing cold and rumours about a new series of Rome.

How many times have you seen the film?
James Purefoy (JP): I've only seen it once, I'm not very good at watching myself, to tell the truth.

Were you familiar with the character?
JP: No, no I wasn't at all. I've seen films based on Robert E. Howard's work [Howard created Conan the Barbarian], but I've always associated them with muscle-bound Austrian bodybuilders! And as a British actor you tend not to think about those kinds of film, because you think, there's never going to be a part in any of those films for someone like me. But then, of course, when I spoke to Mike [J. Bassett, the director] about it and I started reading all the books and the poems and every short story there was, I saw this very British, 17th-century swaggering swordsman and I thought, yeah, let's have a go at that, that could be a laugh!

Solomon's quite a dark character in the film. Did you worry about him not coming across heroically enough or were you happy to go down the road of Kane being an antihero?
JP: I didn't worry about that. An antihero is just as good as a hero, if not better. So, he is dark, but I think the benefit of having this as an origin tale is that you know where he's coming from. If you can show the humanity of what happened in that moment, then all the other stuff goes out the window and you don't have to worry about that sort of thing. The audience know who he is. They know he's started off as a bad guy and that he's had a run in with the Devil. They've already been told that his soul is going to go to Hell if he doesn't change his ways. And so, all of this context that story produces means you can kind of move his behaviour any way you like after that, because you know that what he's doing is coming from a good place.

What was the hardest scene to film in terms of injuries and such?
JP: Well, we had a bunch of injuries. There were a lot of incredibly talented stuntmen and they were getting injured all the time by my flailing sword! I got smacked over the head with quite a big sword at one point and had seven stitches put in, but it looked much worse on the day. I had to keep acting, but I could just feel blood pouring down my face. Obviously, we couldn't use it, because we would have to have used the injury later on. So there was that moment.

But then again, I'm not moaning about it. This is the kind of film it is. When you're making a big action picture, like this, and you're talking about up close, hand-to-hand physical contact with people, you know you're going to get injured. It's just a question of how badly you get injured and how long you have to stay away from the set. The following week there was another big fight where I had to stab someone in the neck, and this guy moved his head right at the wrong moment and I stabbed him right through the cheek! Suffice to say, they didn't pay for him to go to the most expensive plastic surgeon in the Czech Republic. But he came back with a nasty little cut and said [putting on Czech accent]: "I don't mind. As long as movie is successful, I have something to brag about."

What was the hardest scene, injuries aside?
JP: You know, being crucified is always tricky! [Laughing] That's always something you're not going to look forward too: minimal clothes and 40 foot up in the air on a cross. And it was -12 on those days. So what would happen was you'd come down off the cross and have a cup of tea for five minutes. But if you forget to move, your clothes picked the water up so badly that they would just freeze! So you'd get to get up off a chair and just fall flat on your face because the clothes had frozen to your body. And then they would have to get a kettle and defrost you.

Was there anything cut out that you particularly hated to lose?
JP: I don't think so. I wasn't that unhappy. Besides, movies need to be a certain length, and I'm aware of that. And especially with a film like this, playing to that kind of audience, I wouldn't have been happy if it was anything longer than it is, ninety minutes. And that seems to me, for this kind of film, perfect. I don't understand Pirates Of The Caribbean. I don't understand two-and-a-half hours. I always want to leave people wanting more. And I know that when we went to see Pirates, me and my boy, he turned to me - half an hour before the end - and said, "Dad, when is this film going to be over?" So that was a gigantic flick, and he was bored. I do like the way with Kane it's the big final fight, one more scene and it's over. Lovely, and out for a curry. For me, it works.

What was it like working with someone like Max von Sydow?
JP: Genius. Not only a genius, but a modern cinematic icon. And, if you've got any sense at all as an actor, you give the stage to him, and you watch and you learn. He had to come on and do a shed-load of what we call exposition, and all actors hate exposition. He had a load of it, and it was quite a mouthful, and I remember watching him and thinking, 'Right, so that's how you do it.' If I have to do any of that, that's how I'll do it. I will just steal from him. I always say steal from the best, and he's the best. He's an extraordinary, extraordinary man. He's been around for decade, after decade, after decade, and it was a great pleasure even spending just two days having my face next to his on the screen.

There are rumours of a new Rome series?
JP: Yeah, nothing to do with me, I'm afraid, because I'm dead! Well, Mark Antony is dead at the end of the second season. I mean, obviously, it was the greatest part I ever played, but unless they do a prequel [laughs]. No, as far as I'm aware the plan is to do a ‘what happens after' series. Unless I come back as a ghost.

What's your next project?
JP: I've just finished doing Ironclad, which is sort of ‘Magnificent Seven in a castle' with Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance. Really good, like Magnificent Seven in a castle shot in the style of Saving Private Ryan. And now I'm doing John Carter Of Mars with Taylor Kitsch from Wolverine. I play Kantos Kan, who is a Martian fighter pilot. He's cool. He's very cool. And it's all a bit of a laugh. It's big, gigantic and it's by Andrew Stanton, who did WALL-E, and he knows a thing or two about storytelling. He's one of the best storytellers on the planet right now.

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Content updated: 21/11/2018 12:31

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