“I’m going to sit on the john…Or would you like to sit on the toilet and I’ll sit on the floor? That’s more gentlemanly.” Dan Stevens, English thespian/New York transplant is a gentleman in all things, even when those things include the unusual etiquette of an interview in a hotel bathroom. Moments before, he’d gallantly surrendered the main room to his “The Ticket” co-star, Malin Akerman. So as I was ushered into their shared press suite, Stevens shook my hand then led me into its glistening bathroom. He was a proper host, offering the sink to hold my jacket and purse and asking where I’d prefer to sit. We settled with him perched Indian style in the snug shower, me just outside on a folding chair provided by the helpful PR team.
Film festivals can be an endurance race streaked with strange turns like this. But dapper Dan was clearly elated by the challenge. He was double-fisting Starbucks, dressed in a casual cool jacket that looked like the chic love child of a blazer and a cardigan, and wearing a jaunty porkpie hat. “Very nice to meet you,” he said settling in, “I’m basically wearing your top.” The “Downton Abbey” star pulled up his pant leg to reveal his socks were the same design as my sweater, purple and orange stripes. Clearly fate had led us to this moment in a frosted glass shower stall. Fitting really as his Tribeca Film Festival feature, “The Ticket,” is all about a strange twist of fate.
Stevens stars as James, a family man and office drone who lived comfortably and happily despite having gone blind in his youth. Then one morning he awakes, and miraculously can see. But with this sight awakens a new drive and dissatisfaction with his wife (Akerman), job, and lifestyle that could tear his life apart.
The drama plays like a modern parable, which led Stevens and I down a discussion of religion, consumerism, and relationships as it relates to “The Ticket.” He also shared some details on the nearly wrapped “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s live-action remake of their iconic animated fairy tale. But first, we talked about the Tribeca Film Fest and New York City.
I feel like no one’s going to believe me when I say, “Yeah, I interviewed Dan Stevens in the shower today.”
It’s always the best kind. You don’t have to mention anything else.
That’s our headline!
(Laughs) So, day four of Tribeca. Have you done the full slog?
Yeah. And I’m like you, I live here in New York. So it’s that thing where you don’t just have the festival. You have like life stuff.
(Briefly affects an American accent) You have laundry to pick up and Seamless to order.
Exactly. It’s really like we had the same morning, and it’s freaking me out a little bit.
(Laughs) But it’s fun! It’s a lovely festival because it’s full of New Yorkers. It’s a very New York thing. I love New York, so.
Yeah, you’ve lived here how many years now?
Do you consider yourself a New Yorker?
I mean, when does one become a New Yorker? I don’t know. Some people say five minutes. There’s that whole thing. Some people told me the fact that we survived Hurricane Sandy made us New Yorkers. I don’t know if that’s true.
It’s a whole thing. When I first moved here, I was told you have to live here ten years to be a New Yorker. But then I was told there are special circumstances. Like if you’ve lived here through a crisis. Or if you get mugged or hit by a cab, you’re really a New Yorker.
If you get hit by a cab? Okay. Then, I’m not really a New Yorker.
Have you not yet been hit by a cab?
Not yet! Maybe I don’t want to be a New Yorker. I’m sorry. I take it all back!
“The Ticket” plays like a modern parable. Was that part of the draw for you?
That’s interesting. I suppose it is. It’s something that came up a lot with Ido (Fluk, the direct/co-writer), this sort of modern fable. Ido and I had both grown up in fairly religious households and we certainly had been exposed to stories from the Bible, as a lot of people have been growing up. And we talked about maybe some people aren’t be exposed to that as much anymore, but I don’t think people are seeking any less these big questions of faith and belief and higher powers. That sort of thing is always current and relevant. I think people are looking for them in different places now.
Anyway, Ido and I are fascinated by questions of religion and faith and we both know extremely devout faithful people. We both know people who have had crises of faith, and we know people who don’t. I know plenty of atheists. I find them all fascinating. Anyway, I think that goes to say there is a sort of bedrock of this film that is about that. It’s about prayer. It’s about mantra, about repetition of words, like the script he has to deliver to his audience when he’s trying to sell them this scheme.
It feels like a homily.
Right. It sort of begins and you’re like, “Oh. This is a pretty good oration here. This guy has (snaps fingers) got it down.” And then you realize he’s basically saying the same words – exactly the same words in some parts – every time. We only see that speech three times or something. You see bits of it, and it’s like, “Yeah, I see where this is going.” It’s kind of not working out. And yet the prayer that he has to himself, that he repeats, “I’m satisfied with my life and everything in it.” Whether that’s a prayer or an extract from “The Secret,” or whatever you want to call it, it’s just words that he’s saying over and over again.
Now, that can have one of many effects. And in James’s case, after many many years of this. He suddenly regains his sight. It’s something his father had prayed for his entire life, is now dead, never got to see. That has a very profound effect on James, and I thought it was just a really interesting story. Just that story. You put on top of that the patient/carer relationship between him and this wonderful, good woman Sam (Akerman), who he’s been so dependent on all these years. And he literally wakes up one day and he sees her for the first time. And it’s not that she’s not beautiful.
She’s Malin Akerman!
Right! It’s that she doesn’t fit the narrative in some way. He wakes up and he’s like, “Oh! It’s not you. You feel better than look or you feel different than how you look. Or you’re not the woman I thought I was lying next to all these years, or something.” And that’s painful to watch because you’re like, “But it’s Malin Akerman! What are you doing?!” You know? (Chuckles.) It’s just one of those things. We’ve all seen break-ups where somebody just goes, “Nope.” It’s like a switch that goes off in someone.
Even with the fantastical element of him all of sudden having sight, it speaks to that moment where someone wakes up and realizes this isn’t the life that I want.
Exactly. I think that’s a universal thing. The blind man has been an amazing cultural metaphor for thousands of years right? He’s always the wise blind man, the man who can see something that we can’t despite having no vision. And so we sort of want to look at James as we look at Bob (Oliver Platt, playing a more caustic, complaining blind co-worker), he’s the wise sage. He has a slightly kind of fool element to him.
Because he’s Oliver Platt!
It’s Oliver Platt! He’s so lovable and funny and charming.
And that’s also his niche, either playing the wise man, the fool or a mix of both.
Or both, right! Obviously there are things he can’t do that everyone else can. But Bob sees straight through James. He sees right through him, and he can chuckle his way through it ’cause he’s Bob. That’s what made him such a great buddy. If you were blind, sat at a desk at a job all day, having Bob sitting next to you is a godsend! But even Bob gets to James. Something about him, suddenly having to look at him or something, that doesn’t please him anymore. And he just becomes very dissatisfied. I think that’s what Ido was interested in, just sort of tipping these stories on their head a bit, shaking up the sandbox, and looking at things from a different angle really, not necessarily wanting to lean too heavily in one direction. But take on these big questions, but I like films that do that.
There’s a certain keep up with the Joneses or Kardashians or the Crawleys element inherent to modern America. As someone who has lived in the U.K. and the U.S., how does the culture of status and consumption compare?
Well I grew up in a Britain that was very influenced by American culture. A huge percentage of our cultural digest came from here, from television, movies, products and even some food stuffs. Not many, but some. So, it’s funny. I was actually talking with some friends this week about the election year coverage, and they were like, “Really, you follow the U.S. election in the U.K.?” And like, yeah like everybody does everywhere. Yeah. America is sovast and it’s so different. Britain is a tiny little island. It behaves like it’s not. But it is. It’s a tiny, very diverse, curious set of islands, really.
There’s big differences. I think if you’re in a smaller community the pecking order is perhaps more visible. There’s sort of vast trudges of the American system that we never get to see, because they own several thousand acres. They fly in on a helicopter and out again. We’ll never see those people. But you know, they exist in this country because there’s space for them. There’s the breadth of ambition and the room to roam, and all of that kind of thing. So there’s things on a different scale here.
The two things that people always talk about when they come back from America to England are the portion sizes and the beds. There’s such big beds!We went to this motel, and the bed – let me tell you – the bed was the biggest I’d ever seen! And there were two of them! And we got confused as to why there were two beds in a motel room, but there you go. But yes, it’s a big, big country and people have big ambitions here. And that’s sometimes admirable and sometimes it has its problems.
But you know, there’s a lot of drive, especially in a city like New York. People are very driven. It’s not a city where you can really afford to slack off, certainly not anymore. It chews people up. As is London actually. London is a machine, older with a few more cogs spread out. I don’t know. I’m fascinated by both countries, both cultures, both cities, London and New York.
Anyway, how did we get onto that? (Stares down at the shower drain near his dress shoes) I’m just staring down this plug hole, and my conversation is disappearing down it, I think.
So, you’re going to play the Beast in Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast.”
What can you tell us about that?
I can tell you I’ve played it pretty much. We’ve shot the majority of the movie. There’s some extraordinary digital wizardry going on behind that.
So is your Beast a CGI creation or–
Well, it’s a hybrid. I was puppeteering a suit on stilts and the facial capture is done separately using this technology called Nova, which is real pioneering stuff. We’re still doing bits and pieces here and there, and just watching that emerge is really exciting. It feels like magic.
And you’re singing in it?
Did your wife (South African jazz singer Susie Hariet) help you with that?
She did! Yeah, she coached me for the audition. It was really exciting, really exciting. Not something I’ve done a huge amount of– (Malin Akerman slides open the bathroom’s door, smiling.) Come and join us!
Malik Akerman: I’m just going to pee? Do you mind?
(Laughs) I’m joking. I’m joking. (Exits, sliding the door closed behind her.)
Stevens: This is great. I’m going to do all my interviews in here. This is perfect.
So the critical success of “The Jungle Book,” is that exciting or intimidating?
It’s only a good thing. These movies, the technology they work, sometimes together. Sometimes it’s the same people, sometimes its competitors, but they spur each other on. Sometimes they are colleagues who try something out in one movie that they then use in another, or another version of it. That stuff is developing so quickly so far all the time, that I’m sure that by the time my kids are my age, they’ll look at “Beauty and the Beast” and be like, “Huh, you did it like that?” But it was a thrilling experience. And to get to take my kids on that set and show them all that stuffwas really special.
So is there much of a set? Because behind the scenes of “The Jungle Book,” it was like a bit of set and then all CGI scenery.
Yeah, as much of it was practical as possible. The sets were unbelievable. The costumes were so so lush. And that’s Bill Condon (“Beauty and the Beast”s director). He demands a lushness and gorgeousness from his sets. And I was this sort of strange creature striding through it all. But no, there were real ballrooms, real wings of castles and staircases. It was amazing.
That sounds incredible. Have you seen “The Jungle Book?”
Not yet, I’ve been busy with this one. I should take the kids actually, yeah. It’s a live-action remake of the animated one?
So like ours in a way.
Yes. But so much was built with green screen in CGI. It looks so real I couldn’t believe they didn’t have real sets and real animals.
That’s great. That’s what we hope for with the Beast. He’s going to be as real as Emma Watson and Luke Evans.
“The Ticket” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.