Since the loss of our beloved Proctor (as played by Jeremy Northam, in Miami Medical), many of us have been at a bit of a loose end as the week draws to a close. Yes, I know, we should probably head off out for a night of wild abandon, but instead (and with many thanks to Robyn for the suggestion) we’re staying in with Jeremy! We’ve decided to make Friday night Jeremy Northam Night and each week we plan to vote on and then watch one of Jeremy’s movies. Depending on the movie, it could involve wild abandon, but only vicariously! We plan to watch at a time of our choosing on Friday nights and report back for discussion at The Jer Blog’s Facebook page or at Jeremy Northam Chat. Even if you didn’t vote, please do join in!
This week’s choice is Emma (1996, dir. Douglas McGrath), in which Jeremy plays Mr Knightley to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma Woodhouse.
To whet your appetites, here’s what Jeremy had to say about his role in the movie…
Auditions and Casting
Northam, a native Brit, was asked to audition for Emma after a director spotted him in Los Angeles filming The Net. After reading the script, Northam was ready to beg for the part of Knightley: “I was being considered for another part and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, no Knightley is the part I really want to be seen for.’ When I met the director, we got on very well and we talked about everything except the film. At the end of it, he said he thought Knightley was the part for me, so I didn’t have to bring up the issue at all.”
Northam was surprised to be cast as the charming Knightley, as he has always considered himself “ugly”: “I don’t know [how I could be cast as Knightley]! I really don’t. I suppose because I’m a good reactor, rather than a good actor. I suppose that’s why it works.”
Northam was intrigued by Knightley’s reticence, a trait which he notes is rare in Hollywood’s leading male roles. He remarks that it was Knightley’s quiet demeanor which led him to accept the part.
To bring the proper English poise to the film, the cast members, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam, were required to learn from a movement teacher. Northam recalls: “It was like trying to understand the steps of a dance, one that came out of a certain etiquette. In this world, when they sometimes seem to be saying nothing, there actually is a great deal being communicated.”
Relationships On and Off the Set
Similarly, Paltrow enjoyed working with Northam: “Jeremy’s a wonderful actor and a very sweet guy. Our approaches were very different — he’s very schooled in the theater, which is not my background. So that alone provided a lot of stimulation. He’s also really funny.
The Actors on Their Roles
On Jane Austen, Jeremy Northam remarks: “Hers is an age of innocence, compared to ours. And Austen’s are indeed very romantic stories, written by a young woman projecting her future. But that’s coupled with Austen’s acerbic wit and almost cynical view of people. In other words, she encourages us to delve beneath the surface, to not trust the surface of things, and I think that appeals to our hard-headedness. It’s not that we’re cynical but… well, look at the way we look at our politicians. We’re skeptical. So is Austen. And I think when romance flourishes in that sort of environment, it is truly romantic because it embraces human nature, warts and all.”
Concerning Knightley, Northam remarks: “I wanted an ambivalence in the character. [Knightley is] not sure what he’s feeling — or what he is allowing himself to feel… He’s quiet, he’s not tearing up the scenery. It’s a quiet journey from being this person who regards Emma as almost a sister with a protective, avuncular affection to somebody who has come to terms with different kinds of feelings. The thing about Knightley is that he has learned to be altruistic, he has learned to be kind and selfless and for various reasons, which aren’t really explained in the book. I imagine that his life has somehow become circumscribed by duty and responsibility — so much so that he has to learn to be selfless and I think in the course of the story he has to learn to be selfish again. He has to learn to remember things which he has long forgotten… He’s faithful [to Emma], he always has the strongest faith that she will change, be better. That’s what I love about Knightley.”
Enjoy the movie!
Thanks to Joan aka HazelP for sourcing the interview.