Nice guys finish last

Credit: Double M Films

I caught up with Ed Stoppard to talk about his role in this month's indie Papadopoulos & Sons by first-time director and his lontime friend, Marcus Markou. It's a riches-to-rags story: After losing their fortune in an ecomonic downturn, Anglo-Greek Harry Papadopoulos and his family are forced to move in with his estranged brother, eccentrically charming Spiros at his fish and chip shop. This story couldn't be more culturally relevant after the stock market crash and the Cypriot Banking Crisis. Stoppard plays Rob, Harry's fast-talking bastard accountant. We chatted about his school days with Markou, playing unlikable characters, singing advertisement jingles, working with Stephen Dillane, his upcoming projects, food in the US compared to Britain and what it really means to be successful.

DYD: How did you get involved with Papadopoulos & Sons?

Stoppard: The writer/director/producer, whose name is Marcus Markou, is a friend of mine. We trained at drama school together in 1999 so I’ve known him since ‘98, ‘99. He approached me, we’d stayed in touch, we were good friends, I had done a short film of his a couple years previously and I’d also done one of his plays and worked on a second play. And he approached me and said, “Listen, I’ve written this film and I’ve written this role and I’d really like you to play it” and I read the script and thought it was a great, fantastic, funny, moving, charming script and loved the character Rob which he wanted me to play. This kind of self-serving, ruthless corporate accountant wasn’t the kind of thing I normally get to do. It was kind of an amusing role as well so I said, Marcus, I'm there, count me in.

DYD: You mentioned you did a film before. What kind of short film did you do with Marcus Markou?

Stoppard: He wrote a film called The Last Temptation of Chris about a marriage guidance counselor who is kind of wrestling with his own unresolved issues. It was his degree film from his filmmaking course that he was doing at the time. I’d already worked on two of Marcus’s plays, so I knew how good a writer he was and suspected he would also be a terrific director, which he turned out to be. So I jumped at the chance to work with him again on Papadopoulos & Sons.

DYD: So your character Rob has some really funny scenes. Did you just make up the blocking as you went along or was it more specific?

Stoppard: Some of it I guess we made up as we went along. The scene where he talks about, where he sort of sings the jingle, the advertising jingle from this company, which he’s just helped to liquidate, yeah we just sort of, I just sort of did it and Marcus went yeah, that’s exactly what I’d hoped you’d do and I said, “Oh okay, fine, we’ll do it like that.” I think in an ideal world when you’re making a film, shooting a scene, the actor comes with some ideas, the director comes with some ideas, you show each other the things you had in mind, and between you, you know, you either decide that yeah, this is definitely the way to go or else you sort of say well let’s try like that, and well, let’s try like this. And it just, you know, it varies. I think you just sort of trust your instincts, really on those things and hope that your instincts are in line with your director’s.

DYD: Was there a line in particular that you were really fond of, or a scene? You have a lot of good one-liners.

Stoppard: Marcus says that this phrase which Rob uses a couple of times, “Dear sweet mother of God”… He says that’s something that I say, and I’m not denying that. I think I’m probably aware that I do occasionally use the phrase “Dear sweet mother of God”. So he kind of appropriated that.

DYD: Do you think there was a lot of you put into the character because Marcus knows you so well?

Stoppard: I’d hope to say no, because… Well actually I think that’s the mark of good writing is that you can take a character who’s superficially unlikable but you end up against your better judgment feeling sort of drawn to him, or maybe not absolutely, you know, rooting for the guy but it kind of runs counter to your initial instincts about the character when you first see him, you think “Oh, this guy’s a dick” or something, but as you kind of get to know him you sort of begrudgingly think “Oh, actually I wouldn’t mind hanging out with this guy” periodically. I don’t think I’d like to marry him.

DYD: Marcus also said that filming took place in just 24 days. What was it like shooting with such a tight schedule? Did it affect shooting at all?

Stoppard: No I don’t think so. I think nowadays we’re all so used to shooting to tight schedules, and it requires a certain amount of preparation and either yourself or working with the director and the actors. We did have a chance to do a little bit of rehearsal and talk about some scenes. But you know, I have to admit I do find in productions when you’re up against it, in terms of the schedule, time, finance, whatever, I find that crews tend to work more efficiently, there’s less wastage, and people are really kind of focused because everyone knows that the lead actors are not being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds, there’s a kind of camaraderie that you maybe sometimes lack on bigger stuff. The kind of differentiation between the top of the pyramid and the bottom of the pyramid isn’t so steep as you get sometimes. And you can actually get an awful lot done on a day’s work without sacrificing quality. It wasn’t too tough. I don’t remember it being too tough. I remember it being a lot of fun actually and laughing a lot.

DYD: That’s good. Was there anyone you got along with in particular?

Stoppard: Not really, no. Well apart from Marcus and Stephen Dillane and Frank Dillane and Cosima [Shaw]… No, that was a joke. Everyone. I genuinely, genuinely had a fantastic time. And we all got on terrifically. I knew Stephen. I’d done one film with Stephen, maybe I did two films with Stephen… God, I can’t even remember. But I worked with Stephen before, and I knew Selina Cadell, and I’d worked with Cosima before, and I’d worked with Alex Hanson, who plays the Norwegian banker and I knew a couple of other people, Marcus. The DOP had shot Marcus’s short film. So I knew a bunch of people actually and it was a really nice atmosphere.

DYD: So it just feels very comfortable going to work.

Stoppard: Yeah, it was just, exactly, it was a really nice set to arrive on and start working.

DYD: A big theme in this film is success, what is success? What is success for you personally?

Stoppard: One of the traps of my job, although of course it’s not unique to my job, is getting one’s entire fulfillment from one’s work. I certainly derive a significant amount of my fulfillment from the work I do. And that fulfillment stems from doing work, which I find interesting, which I enjoy and which I’m proud of the finished result. So by and large even setting aside the necessity to feed my children and pay the bills. I try as far as possible to do work that falls into that category of interesting and challenging and enjoyable. Success is happiness really. Success is happiness and happiness can derive from several different things but certainly enjoying going to work and feeling proud of what’s achieved when you go to work. That seems like two pretty good starting points.

DYD: Was there a certain point in your career when you felt like you’d made it as an actor? Like I think I can stick to this?

Stoppard: Well certainly not made it, no.

DYD: But could continue doing it.

Stoppard: I’m not sure to be honest. I mean there are still days where I go to work and I think, “God, I can’t believe anyone still employs me. I’m just hopeless today. I can’t get in the zone.” Some days I feel like I can’t do it but you get yourself through it somehow. It ebbs and flows for me. It ebbs and flows. I mean I know that it’s what I want to do and I can’t imagine another job that would give me as much satisfaction as this one does. But I suppose the corollary to that is that something which can give you that great a sense of fulfillment also has the ability to smack you down on your ass. And (laughs) I’m sorry to say it from time to time my job does do that. And on those days you do, you think “God, I’ll never be employed again.” But somehow you keep on going. But having said that, I’m not in any way feeling self-piteous. I know how lucky I am that I get paid to do something that I enjoy so much that other people would rip my arm off to be in my shoes. Mostly I feel immense gratitude punctuated by bouts of extreme terror.

DYD: What is it that you like so much?

Stoppard: About what, sorry?

DYD: Acting.

Stoppard: Pretending to be someone else. And again that’s not a sort of self-loathing thing at all. I suppose it harks back all of us when we were kids, ran around the house or the garden or the playground pretending to be someone else. Whether it was a space man, or Robin Hood, or a princess or whatever the hell it was. And that thing of being able to pick up a stick and pretend it’s a ray gun. Actors have some sort of arrested development I suppose, which means that we never quite grew out of that.

DYD: What are your upcoming projects? I think you mentioned you were in New York.

Stoppard: Yeah, I’m shooting a film at the moment. A film called Angelica, which is an adaptation of a novel, set in Victorian London. But it was written by an American. It’s being adapted and directed by an American, and so we are filming in New York. I’m playing a character called Joseph. It’s about a husband and wife who have a small child who have, there are various strains on their relationship and various forces which impact on their marriage and on the triangular relationship between the three of them. It should make an interesting film. It should make a really arresting, absorbing film I think.

DYD: That’s good. How would you describe shooting in the US compared to Britain?

Stoppard: The on-set food is much better. Some of the crew are coming to London. And I keep saying “Hey guys, I tell you, when you see the on set catering you’re going to be really disappointed,” because it essentially amounts to a choice between tea bags or freeze dried coffee. And if you’re really lucky there’ll be some custard cream biscuits. And that’s it!

DYD: Why, what do they give to you in America?

Stoppard: Man, they actually cook things! I’m not talking about lunch, that’s a whole different, other thing. Like we break for lunch, we go over, there’s this delicious lunch cooked by these lovely guys, we sit down. I’m talking about the, “Oh Ed, we got five minutes while we line the shot up” and I wander downstairs to the craft service. And not only will there be a smorgasbord of sweet and savory snacks, and I’m not just talking M&Ms and potato chips. There’s cheeses and salamis and you know, peanut butters, fruit. They also at least once a day cook like a soup or like, you know, a casserole or a stew. It’s crazy, it's crazy!

DYD: That’s good to hear. Well, I think that’s enough for the interview but thanks so much for meeting up with me. I know you’re really busy.

Stoppard: My pleasure. Lovely to talk to you.

DYD: Yeah, really nice to meet you. So, thanks so much and good luck with the rest of your film.

Stoppard: Thank you very much Alexondra. Take care.

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