Ahead of the release of new action thriller Momentum this week, we sat down with the film’s star James Purefoy to quiz him on what makes certain villains likable, working with Olga Kurylenko, and his upcoming projects.
Even though he’s a bad guy, Mr. Washington is quite a likeable villain – at what point does being a villain become likeable?
I think it depends on what movie it is and what kind of genre it is. One of my next projects is a remake of Roots which we’re shooting in New Orleans. I play a slave owner and he is a bad guy. I don’t want anybody to like him. I won’t go out of my way to let anybody like him because there’s nothing to like, but that’s also very much what the tone of the piece is. On the other hand, there are some bad guys where you wanna fuck around with the audience’s expectations and play with their sympathies. With Mr. Washington, although he’s a bad guy, I’d like people to like him and then feel slightly horrified by what kind of bad guy he is.
Momentum gets quite brutal at times. When they hit cut after those scenes when you’re torturing people, do you try and follow that up with some levity? What’s the immediate reaction afterwards?
I like to keep the atmosphere going and I’m not trying to be mucking around too much between takes. Olga [Kurylenko] was the same; we just stayed in our little worlds when we were shooting that scene. I’m sure all actors will say this, but filming is like having boiling water on a cooker. You have it on simmer on the back rings and it’s just always on simmer, but then you have to bring it forward on action. You’re chatting to a grip or a sound guy on set, but in the back of your head you’re not quite present with that person because you’re thinking about the scene coming up, or what you’ve just done.
You have a great back and forth with Kurylenko in this film. Was there instant chemistry between you two?
This was not a big budget film which could afford to have Olga and I fly in and rehearse. I’d been a fan of Olga; I saw her in Quantum of Solace first and the Terrence Malick film [To the Wonder], and I think she’s got a really great quality. One of the reasons I wanted to do this film is because it has a female action lead. It’s important that we throw our hats into the ring and offer up our services for that battle of equality. Equality is everything and we all need it. It’s important to sometimes put your own ego aside and say I’m not the lead in the film but I still want to do this because it’s part of the ongoing struggle. I want to see more female leads and more films about women, led by women, made by women. Our industry, regardless of the fact that it’s supposedly a very liberal industry is pathetically underpopulated in terms of diversification and gender.
And your other co-star is Morgan Freeman…
Never met him!
That’s crazy! If you could have a scene with someone you’ve starred with but never actually been in a scene with, who would it be?
Morgan would be pretty good. He’s clearly brilliant and I’m a big fan of his. He’s a great actor and he’s a great movie star presence. Regardless of the fact I’ve never met him it’s nice to at least look like I’ve done scenes with him [laughs].
Even as we’re learning more about Olga Kurylenko’s character, Mr Washington remains quite enigmatic. Did you add anything to the character to help fill in the backstory? I got the sense that Mr Washington was getting a little bored with his job until Olga’s character came along…
Well, Olga Kurylenko looks like Olga Kurylenko as well so that’s gotta help. [laughs] I’m not being vaguely sexist about this but it brightens up your day doesn’t it. He’s normally chasing after sweaty European men, and then he’s dealing with this woman who is hot and good at her job. She’s assertive and drives like a demon… that’s exciting! If you are in the drudgery world of secrecy and special ops and assassinations I’d imagine it’s pretty hum-drum most of the time. Certainly having yourself up against this one makes your blood run a little faster.
I also got the impression that Mr Washington loves his suits. Was that in the script or was that you?
I think that was me. [laughs]
You mentioned Roots… What else have you got coming up?
I’ve got Hap & Leonard, which is myself and Michael Kenneth Williams and it’s a show for Sundance TV – it’s a show about two blue collar, rosefield workers from East Texas. It’s also got Christina Hendricks and a whole bunch of amazing actors.
The Ben Wheatley movie High Rise comes out in March next year. I think it’s a work of fucking genius. I love it and I think you need two or three showings of that to really understand what he’s done. I just don’t think we make enough of those films which are challenging and complex and difficult.
Do people still ask you about The Knight’s Tale? What are your memories of working on that?
It’s a big favourite with people. It’s one of those movies that people love watching, and if I flick through the TV and I see it I’ll say I’ll just watch it for five minutes and I’ll end up watching the entire thing. Obviously there was Heath [Ledger] who was absolutely at the height of his loveliness and his sexiness and he was a wild boy, and now a sadly missed man. It was a great summer, and one of those movies you were happy to have a tiny part in.
Momentum is available in cinemas and on demand from 20th November 2015, courtesy of Signature Entertainment.