People constantly come up to me and say 'You must be very honored to play this man.' In a way I am. But in another way, I'm not.
You and Janet McTeer (who plays Clemmie) spent a lot of time working on the relationship.
It became more and more clear that this was not a war movie, it's about Churchill and who he was during the war. Integral to that is his life with Clemmie. The more footage you look at, it's amazing how often she was there. It wasn't just a question of going home and weeping on somebody's sympathetic shoulder.
He's shown as a human being.
I've always found that heroic acts are best expressed in terms of the ordinariness of the person who manages to gain this particular height of achievement. It's much more interesting and enriching if you understand that this is a person like us, and there was a sense of greatness that happened partly through circumstance, partly through breeding, partly through conviction. Of course, ultimately, in terms of what he pulled from himself and the people around him, he did achieve greatness.
It seems like Churchill understood theatrical acting.
Absolutely. There's a beautiful scene where he comes up with one of his immortal lines. He thinks to himself: Hey, that's a good one, I might use that. That encapsulates the truth of how he writes. Here's somebody who understands his own power with words. He manipulates it for common consumption, but it doesn't mean he doesn't mean what he says. I think his grandson said if it was fifty minute speech, there were fifty hours of preparation. He understood and prepared and even had the pauses marked out. It's all very theatrical, but that just meant he understood the power of communication. It's kind of reassuring for our profession - just because your spontaneous off-the-cuff remark has been well rehearsed, doesn't mean you don't mean it. [LAUGHS]
He's a large personality, full of contradictions.
That is what's fantastic about this challenge. You realize there are so many different films you could make about this person. I find his contradictions oddly consistent in a peculiar way. I don't know if that's a delusion, but it doesn't surprise me that I'm surprised by him. He could bark, or he could say a kindness - mostly he barked, but you never knew quite new what was going to come out of him. And in a way, I don't think he did himself. His spontaneity was his immediacy. That's what made him so attractive as a person - you had to listen to the end of the sentence because you were never really sure where he'd end up. Utterly unpredictable. The same with his speeches. When you think he's going to start pumping up the volume, he hangs back with restraint and lets the words do the work. Other times, he's in there and you can hear and feel the passion.
What do you say to people who say "We don't need another film about Churchill"?
Nonsense! It's like we don't need another Hamlet! It's absolute rubbish. There will never be a definitive Churchill. There can't be. So the more variations, the better.