Actors Rupert Friend and Vera Farmiga star in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a child’s-eye-view film about Auschwitz. Whilst American actress Farmiga has been in films like The Departed and The Manchurian Candidate, Rupert Friend is perhaps best known as being the boyfriend of Keira Knightley. Here they speak with View London’s Matthew Turner about researching parts and their next film roles – and getting close to Michelle Pfeiffer.
What research did you do for the roles?
Rupert Friend (RF):
I read Rudolph Hess's book, but my main priority was trying to understand what might make a young man of my age believe that his actions were not only acceptable but desirable, because obviously they're opposite to what I believe. And I found a book written by a girl who lived on the same mountain as Hitler's lair, who was utterly swept along by the Nazi propaganda machine, to the point where she was believing that it was necessary to do it and not evil, but quite the reverse. And from that, I was able to try to understand how ambition might play a part in explaining away your actions, particularly in light of my character's father having been a deserter – there's that sort of secret which you're constantly trying to compensate for, because you're aware of the consequences, as we see.
Vera Farmiga (VF):
I tried to accumulate stuff on the internet and someone found me books and documents and testimonies and online I found journal entries and diary entries, not only Frau Stangl and Frau Hess, who were the wives of Treblinka and Sobibor and Auschwitz, but other ladies of the Third Reich. Emmy Goring, Magda Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, Paula Hitler, both of Hitler's significant relationships, which ironically ended both in suicide. And focus on the propaganda of motherhood, the ideology of the time, what it meant to be a dutiful German wife. And Rudolph Hess also, he talks about his wife and what she provided him and what emotional stability she provided for him.
Did you watch any movies from the past with any resonance to the role?
Personally, I wouldn't have found it useful to watch somebody else's interpretation because I think one of the great things about the way that the story looks at the Holocaust is that it's utterly unique in its perception and I think we all wanted to do something that was completely fresh as a take on this period. And with that in mind, it was very important to me to not do anything that was a rehash of the way we think of Nazis, or even of baddies, because the whole point about this story is that yes, they committed this incredibly brutal atrocity, but the point about the story is that it's a family – it's a father and a son and a wife and children – and that they all had this credo that was so terrifying but they were doing family things as well. So I think there was a certain amount of wanting to come at it from a fresh angle.
Were you relieved not to have to do a German accent?
(Laughs) Yes, but at the same time, an English accent as well. It's always terrifying, any accent is terrifying, especially doing it with an entirely English cast, I mean you feel like you've got a whole cord of wood that needs to get chopped and everyone's using steel axes and you're up there with a fish. The first couple of days, we didn't have much rehearsal and most of the rehearsal was spent just developing a sense of family, it was very important to the kids to befriend them and create a sense of safety and love and closeness. So there wasn't much rehearsal and eventually, the accent, I could forget about it.
What have you got coming up next?
A Rod Lurie film called Nothing But The Truth. It's a story about the Constitution in crisis and a woman who goes on a crusade to defend it. And also a Nikki Caro film, based on a novel called The Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox.
I've got a film called Cheri coming out at the end of the year, which is based on the Colette novel, with Michelle Pfeiffer, that Stephen Frears directed. A sort of Belle Epoque French courtesan's son having an affair with a woman twice his age.
I know, it's tough.