A couple of weeks back we stepped into the super plush and other-worldly surrounds of London’s famous Savoy Hotel to speak with Hollywood royalty Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Cameron Diaz and Tom Courtenay and director, Michael Hoffman, about their soon-to-be launched comedy Gambit.
Something of a departure from his usual acting style, Colin Firth talked about his comedic role playing Harry Deane in Gambit,
“I knew it was meant to be notoriously difficult and frightens some people off of doing it. Doing it on stage I think would be terrifying, but doing it on film also has it’s own difficulties, because a film is not spontaneous. You might have a run-through and get some chuckles at eight ‘o’ clock in the morning, but you don’t keep laughing at the same thing all day long, by that point you don’t have laughs as a reference point anymore, so it becomes a bit of a science after that. You would love to depend on another sense of spontaneity, but then hours of waiting and hours of repetition are not conducive to spontaneity. On the other hand though, it’s a lot of fun. By plunging into a bit of physical comedy and abandoning all dignity, no one can really hurt you much after that.”
Firth also spends much of the film wandering around the Savoy Hotel trouser-less. We wondered if he was self-conscious,
“What? With members of the public wandering around?! Not at all!” he said laughing, “Yes, of course, it was appalling, and I felt that Cameron (Diaz), being the kind and supportive colleague that she was, would assure me that my legs were fine specimens and that I had nothing to worry about. But instead she burst into a spontaneous belly laugh.”
Cameron chipped in, giggling, “I think I pointed at your knees as well whilst I was laughing”
“You see!” says Colin, “I had to wait on standby to make an entrance in the lift. And the staff at the Savoy Hotel had quite understandably not taken it upon themselves to inform every one of their guests that there was a film shooting and a man without his trousers in the lobby. So guests would be on their way out for the evening, and would get into the lift, and they’d see a somewhat over-familiar English actor standing there with his trousers off. Was I self-conscious? Yes.”
The film, Gambit, is based around the idea of the perfect ‘con’. We wanted to know if any of the cast had ever conned their way into a role by claiming a skill they didn’t actually have under their belt.
Tom Courtenay suggested, ‘acting!’.
Alan Rickman said, “I’ve been in a film where I claimed to be able to drive a car. And there is one take of this sports car, where the crew were on the other end of the road, because I had to make a hill start, which I have no idea how to do. And there was the owner of this car, who looked as if he was either going to kill me or himself, because this car was his prized possession. And so there’s this take of this car, screaming down the hill in first gear, with the windscreen wipers going, even though it wasn’t raining.”
Cameron Diaz meanwhile said, “Not really. I have no problem with saying ‘I have no idea.’ Once I’ve been shown though, the world changes and I’m an instant expert.”
“Her lassoing skills became a bit of a problem on the set” laughs Firth, “Nobody snuck off the set without Cameron noticing. I once had the same problem as Alan did, with driving, but it wasn’t a hill start. I was just in a car. On flat ground. And I couldn’t make it go. I think we’ve all been busted on driving.”.
How did you react to filming with a real-life lion, Colin?
“I was beside myself with terror!”
Amidst a lot of laughter from the cast, Tom Courtenay explained, “There were two lions. And they didn’t tell him which one was the fierce one, and which was the tame one!”
Michael Hoffman chips in, “I asked the lion-tamer if he was tame, and he replied, ‘He’s pretty tame for a lion!”
Colin says, “And that little qualification there becomes not very reassuring when the things standing just a few feet away from you. I mean, it was magnificent. The protective measures don’t include guns or anything of that sort. It’s just a little filament with wires a few feet above the ground, which is apparently enough to deter the lion. But it’s just between you and this enormous beast, which is a gorgeous thing to watch in motion, as long as it’s only interested in the bits of flesh that are being deposited around to guide it from A to B. And there was this one moment when it seemed to lose interest in all of those and took an interest in me. It was the eye contact moment when I nearly lost control of some essential muscles. It was pretty startling actually, for it to focus on me for that moment. But it was only for a nano second, and then it went back into its little house for about an hour.”
Michael Hoffman says that, “There was a strange moment that the Wrangler couldn’t quite understand. Colin’s there standing with this Roseau painting behind him, and this lion was suddenly fascinated by this painting. I mean seriously fascinated. And the wrangler, Steve, came over and said to us ‘I don’t think I have full control of this cat right now’.
“I wasn’t told that at the time” says Colin.
Although Colin spends much of the film in his boxers, Alan Rickman has a couple of fully naked moments in Gambit. Was he comfortable in his own skin? Or did he demand a closed set for that scene?
Alan Rickman told us, “I didn’t have any option, really, I mean, the script says he takes all his clothes off! I was frozen in fear that this was happening now at this stage in my life, and that people were going to see it. And on the day, I looked to my right, through the glass office doors, and there’s a room full of extras in the opposite room, watching!
Did you base your role as Lord Lionel Shabandar upon anyone in particular?
“I think the words Boris Johnson slipped out of my mouth at one point. And Toad of Toad Hall” laughs Rickman, “A mixture of the two. They are almost one and the same!”
GAMBIT is released in UK Cinemas today.