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Interview: David Thewlis, Star of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” (2009)

It’s fair to say that not many Hollywood movie stars hail from Blackpool.

But the Lancashire seaside resort is the birthplace of actor David Thewlis, who has starred alongside A-Listers including Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio and is best known recently for playing Rumus Lupin in the Harry Potter films.

David was born in 1963, the second of three children to Alec Wheeler and Maureen Thewlis, whose name he took for his stage name when his real name, David Wheeler, was already taken by someone in the industry.

As a teenager, David was in a rock band called “QED” and later played lead guitar with a punk group called “Door 66″, writing his own music and lyrics.

David was happy as a musician and only enrolled into acting school because his friends did.

Since graduating from the “Guildhall School of Music and Drama” in London, David – who dates Rochdale-born actress Anna Friel – has become a celebrated author and actor on stage and screen.

The 45-year-old took time out to answer some questions about his latest challenging role in “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” – out on DVD.

David plays a Nazi commandant of a Second World war concentration camp where he brings his family to live nearby. When his son innocently befriends a Jewish inmate, lives change and tragedy ensues.

How did you get the part in “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”?

There is no real story. I was sent the script, via my agent. She read it and really recommended it to me. She said “You should read this one quickly. It’s very, very good and there is a lot of interest in you and Mark Herman (director) wants you to do it.” I read it, it was a no-brainer – I said ‘yes’. Then I heard about the rest of the cast…and I have known David Hayman since drama college. When I read the script on my computer I kept pressing the key because I thought that you couldn’t just finish there. I thought, what does it mean…roll credits? You can’t just end the film like that. But of course you can end the film like that and it is one of its great, great strengths.

Did you have any reservations about playing this character?

Not at all, no. I thought it was very challenging to get into the mindset of such a person. There have been such great, wonderful actors who have played Hitler. I was in fact approached myself years ago to play Hitler. I would not shrink from that because as an actor it is fascinating to try and find the man behind the monster. You can’t just put on a funny moustache and learn all the gestures and say that’s Hitler. You have to think about what they were thinking about and be quite brave with yourself and contemplate the darkness within them and look at the darkness within you. I just immersed myself in the period. I read every book and watched every documentary. I did not read anything else at the time, nothing contemporary. I didn’t even look at any newspapers or watch any television. I just basically had a Nazi education. After a while that kind of gets to you.

How were you with your nearest and dearest during filming?

Most of the time that I was in Budapest and I wasn’t with the family. I had started researching it when I was at home with Anna and the family there. But when I went to Budapest that was when I started thinking about it a lot…to the point of going to the gym every day, to feel like a soldier, to feel strong and to have a military regime. Even if we had a 5am call, I would be in the gym at 4am. And I was eating in a very disciplined manner. I was not drinking, I was trying to live a very strict life. Spartan. Which was good and worked and when I had reading time I was reading all this material. Having said all that, making the film was not a grim time because it so happened that it involved a rather nice bunch of people. There was just a nice chemistry. The children who play Bruno and Shmuel were wonderful.

Did you also want to do a film like this because you are now a parent?

I think that I still would have done the film if I had not been a parent, but it did bring it home to me, especially in those final scenes. Really I suppose then you tap into the thought of what if something happened to your own child. When I was doing all this research I was having a lot of bad dreams – I had dreams about my daughter being taken away from me. That happened several times, until I stopped it all. I stopped all the research after a while. I decided that I knew how to play the character and the research was not too healthy for my head. No-one should be watching [documentaries of the Nazis] all the time, night after night. I had watched some footage that is not really shown on TV any more because it is too horrific.

What was the emotional impact when you watched “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”?

I had never watched a film that I was in when I cried while watching. But I have seen this film four times now and I have cried every time. I challenge anyone not to be moved by the end of this film. I watched it in Los Angeles with my agent and I thought she hated it because, at the end, she just got up and left. We were supposed to go for lunch. But I discovered it was her favourite film of the year and she left because she just couldn’t say anything, she was so emotional.

· Published | 11 March 2009
· Journalist | Unknown
· Source | © Blackpool Citizen
· Credit | Submitted by Tannim

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