Matthew Goode was in Washington to talk about his role in the new version of “Brideshead Revisited,” on his way to Comic-Con to talk about his next role in “The Watchmen.” He pointed out that while they are very different in theme and tone, both are based on books that appeared on “top 100” lists of the 20th century. Goode, one of the friendliest people I have ever met, talked to me about “re-visiting” Brideshead following the award-winning BBC miniseries version that many thought of as the definitive version. By necessity shorter and sharper, this version is more explicitly focused on the relationship between Goode’s character, Charles Ryder, and Sebastian and Jula Flyte, the children of a wealthy Catholic family who live in the magnificent estate called Brideshead.
What were some of the concerns you had about taking on this role?
Ryder is almost mute in this in some respects. He observes and reacts much of the time. One of my slight trepidations when I finally saw the adaptation we were going to do, was the way we had to truncate the story down as opposed to the original [miniseries] which is practically verbatim. When setting out to do the role I wasn’t thinking, “Well, I have to do something different from Jeremy Irons.” It’s a different cast, a different script, a different time. Yes, we’re both middle-classy, tall, thin, streaks of piss playing the same part. But this is a different take on it. Jeremy Brock did a tremendous job adapting the book. It is told via this future voice of Charles, a voice that’s been let down by life, struggling to grapple with his relationships. He still doesn’t understand what love is, where does he fit in. My way into him was to peel back those layers of his psyche. He may be the loneliest person that’s ever lived on the planet, particularly with our version.
Is there a different emphasis in this version, which necessarily has to pare down or even excerpt the novel?
The focus here is more on ambiguity of his sexuality, his faith, and how much of a social climber Charles was, how he was looking for a place where he could fit in and feel at home. We had to eliminate some things and bring the character of Julia in earlier, too. We got permission from the Waugh estate. It has to be done; you only have two hours.
What is the connection between Charles and his friend Sebastian, who first takes him to Brideshead?
The only time Sebastian was happy at Brideshead was with Charles. That idyllic summer is his real childhood. It’s the only place Charles has ever been happy, too, It’s not about class; it is about being accepted. Sebastian is definitively gay, that is more directly portrayed. Sebastian is a petulant drunk. His unhappiness, like Charles’, is as much about bad parenting as anything.
Like the miniseries, the movie was filmed on location at Castle Howard. What are some of the differences?
I like our version of Rex [the ambitious and vulgar man who marries Sebastian’s sister, Julia] more. If you take out the buffoonery, he wins. We see that Charles is a sponge for life and art, and any kind of belonging, the way he is looking for a place for himself, what drew Charles, Sebastian, and Julia together. They have comparable loveless childhoods, apart form the faith and class.
How do you handle the aging of your character in a story that stretches over so much time?
It’s nice that I’m in the intermediary point of being 30 and can just about pass for 20. As Charles gets older you slow down the rhythm and he becomes a bit colder. You don’t age things like the salute because even when he is older he is still trying to fit in, still picking up mannerisms from those around him. He doesn’t snap to, he doesn’t keep the thumb down, as he might if he was expressing his own personality. That’s the element to Charles. It’s not social climbing — it’s fitting in. But he’s liked by everyone. You wouldn’t have that if there wasn’t something sparkly in his eyes.