I recently got the chance to talk to Richard Brake about his role in ‘Water For Elephants’. Here, Richard talks about the film, what it was like working with Robert Pattinson and his favourite Bruce Dern moment…
Hey Richard. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to me – we’ve got you here obviously to promote your new film, ‘Water For Elephants’ that is out in cinemas right now – what is the general premise around this movie?
A romance set in a depression era travelling circus. In a nut shell.
The film’s actually based on a book / novel isn’t it – had you read it before you signed on?
No, I hadn’t. I read it when I prepared for the part. It’s a well written book, and very romantic, but not something I would normally read. I tend to like my fiction a little darker, a little less romantic.
How well do you think the book has been adapted into the movie?
Brilliantly. I know this is probably not the thing to say, but I actually prefer the script. I think Richard did an excellent job of streamlining the story while keeping the sense of the period and place. It was a stroke of genius to combine two of the characters in the book to create Christophe’s character.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the film and his role within the movie…
I play Grady. I’m a roustabout on the circus. That is, I work as a kind of stage hand for the circus. Grady befriends Jacob when he arrives at the circus, shows him the ropes, and ultimately saves his butt!
The film stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. What was it like working with them on-set? Obviously Twilight fans will be coming to see this movie…
I didn’t work with Reese very much, though the few times our paths crossed she was always very professional and extremely focused. Let’s face it she’s a fantastic actress who, in my mind, gets better with every film. I did however get to spend a lot of time with Rob. It’s funny. You never know what to expect when you work with such a huge young movie star. Young being the operative word. But Rob was incredibly humble. He just reminded me of a young, innocent English kid. Which, of course, is exactly what he is, except that he’s one of the biggest stars on the planet. He worked hard as hell on the film, gave no attitude, and was courteous to everyone. I think it shows in his performance. He is a very good actor, who is making choices to work with very good directors and actors in order to grow and show he’s more than just a pretty face. Which I think he does brilliantly in ‘Water for Elephants’. It was a real pleasure to work with him. I honestly can’t say enough good things about him.
You’ve just done the premiere of the film in the UK – how was the night?
Magical. Crazy. A lot of fun with a beautiful blind date… I better not say anymore.
Let’s talk about you Richard. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
Writing. I wanted to be a novelist when I was 12 then a playwright. But when I was 17, I was sitting on the school steps when the Drama teacher came out and asked if any boys wanted to audition for the school play. There was always a shortage of boys auditioning. I’d just started writing plays, so I figured it might help me with my writing. I volunteered, auditioned and got cast as Judge Danforth in ‘The Crucible’. Though I don’t think I had much competition for the role! My best friend was Judge Hawthorne. We had the most fantastic experience. I loved every minute of it. Especially the rehearsals, the collaborative nature of it just completely blew my mind. Before that, being creative meant staring at a blank page, alone, gripping a pen, struggling to make sentences like Faulkner. I remember walking back to my dorm room with my best friend saying “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I’m so grateful it’s come true.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in acting?
Study and meditate. If you’re not obsessed with always getting better, always trying to be more truthful, spontaneous, free, present and versatile, then maybe do something else. And if all you want is to be famous and go on blind dates with beautiful woman to premieres then definitely do something else! Other than that, I strongly recommend meditation of any kind to young actors. Stillness is essential to good acting, and that can be developed through meditation.
What has inspired you as an actor? Any movies / actors?
I’m constantly being inspired by performances. I thought Christian Bale was incredible in ‘The Fighter’. I love actors that are so free and yet so believable. It’s not just entire performances, but often just moments in a performance that completely blow me away. I was recently talking to a friend about my favourite acting moments in movies. In fact I’m compiling her list at the moment of my 5 favourite. To me these moments are acting at its most beautiful. These moments remind me why I act and what makes acting an art. I’ll give you one. Bruce Dern at the end of ‘Coming Home’, where he confronts his wife, Jane Fonda, about her affair with paraplegic vet John Voight. He goes on this verbal rampage, which of course, is all very moving, because he’s a genius actor, BUT at one point his voice just breaks. Like he can’t contain it inside himself. This strange high-pitched scream comes out of him on one of the words. Now, I am pretty damn sure, (in fact, I’ll bet my Volvo on it), Dern didn’t think when I get to that word my voice will crack and the whole essence of this character will be so visible, etc etc. It just happened because of the work he did in creating the character, and the freedom he had as an artist to let go in that moment. It just happened on that take, in that moment, and Hal Ashby caught it, and I saw it as a young man and thought, “that’s what I want to do. I want to be that good.”
You’ve worked alongside many great people, such as Rob Zombie, Christian Bale and The Rock – what have been your favourite moments or experiences of your career thus far?
There are so many. I have a soft spot for ‘Cold Mountain’ as it was my first big film. I’ll never forget arriving on set in Romania (where we filmed it) nervous, excited, a little travel weary. Anthony Minghella walks right up to me and takes my hand, and holds it for what seems like ages. The way he’s greeting me you’d think I was Jude Law. Suddenly I felt completely relaxed. Now I know this sounds so flakey, but I promise you, it is absolutely true. That man was something very special. I also won’t forget spending an entire day laying on top of Natalie Portman, thinking, “I’m getting paid to do this!!” I guess being the guy that killed Batman’s parents was pretty cool too. It gave my kids a lot of kudos in the playground.
I hear you’re also a director / film-maker too – is this an avenue you wish to pursue and continue alongside acting?
I keep wanting to do more directing, and will, I’m sure. But, to be honest, I’m still obsessed with finding more perfect “Bruce Dern” moments of my own.
You’ve just finished production on two films – ‘Extinction’ and ‘Incident At Sans Asylum’ – what can you tell us about these two projects?
‘Extinction’ is still in development. Hopefully it will get made soon. ‘Incident’ is a very good horror film directed by a brilliant French director, Alex Courtes. It should be out later this year or next. I play a mute paranoid schizophrenic serial killer who leads a gang of inmates in a rebellion against the cooks and guards. My kids won’t be seeing that one anytime soon.
What else is coming up for you in 2011?
There are a few projects shaping up, including one in Wales (I’m Welsh). Otherwise, it’s back and forth between London and Los Angeles looking for work, love and a “Bruce Dern” moment or two.
Thanks for the interview!