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Matthew Goode on Playing a Sociopath in Stoker, Kissing Nicole Kidman, and Picking Out a Killer Wardrobe


In Stoker, the gorgeous new psycho-thriller from Oldboy director Park Chan-Wook, British actor Matthew Goode plays Uncle Charlie, the estranged, sociopathic brother of Richard (Dermot Mulroney), whose death leaves his wife (Nicole Kidman) and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) with a tragic void to fill. Details caught up with Goode, 34, at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo. The actor—a veteran of films like Watchmen, A Single Man, and Match Point—eased back in a cushioned chair, flashed his half-devilish smile, and divulged his childhood crushes, what it's like to kiss Kidman, and what's so good about playing bad.

DETAILS: Your character in Stoker, Uncle Charlie, has an instantly unnerving presence and a stare that's equal parts scary and seductive. Is that something you had to master for the part?

Matthew Goode: It's something I worked on, but I don't know if it helped me land the part. I didn't ask Park [Chan-Wook, the director]. He actually said our Skype interview is one of the things that nailed the part for me, which I think is hilarious, because that was way before the audition.

I got the eyes a couple of days before we shot the film. We were in a steak restaurant. I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but I was still slightly unnerved, so I had a few whiskeys and was chatting with Park and having a lot of fun. There was a painting in the corner of this little steak restaurant in Nashville. I went over to it, and I was like, "That's it." It was this guy in a sort of 1920s outfit with a bow tie, and it was so odd. I brought it to Park, and he was like, "That's Uncle Charlie." And that was it. There was something in this guy's eyes.

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DETAILS: The character is always crisp, clean-cut, fashionable—perhaps the most stylish male killer since Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. How closely did you work with the costume team on Charlie's wardrobe?

Matthew Goode: Pretty closely. They had such strong ideas. They had their mood board, and I just thought it was incredible. I loved what they pulled. I wouldn't normally have gravitated towards a mustard sweater, particularly when worn over a shirt. It kept creasing, and it was slightly painful being tweaked and tucked every two seconds. But the sepia colors and the sort of Waspishness, it did relate back. It would make you think of a slightly different era. Although it's a Gothic horror and it was filmed in Nashville, it's not set in the South. There's no geographical location to the film, and it's not set in any particular time period. From television sets and stuff, you gather it's some point in the eighties or nineties, but it's not discernible.

DETAILS: The filmmaking, like the wardrobe, is extremely detailed. Have you ever worked with a director as meticulous as Park before?

Matthew Goode: No. No one as meticulous. The setup and construct were very precise, and the way a lot of the storyboarding was done was very specific, but we were still allowed to do what we wanted within the frame, to a point. So I loved it.

DETAILS: This isn't the first time you've portrayed a villain. We've also seen your bad side in Watchmen and The Lookout. What's the appeal of playing the bad guy?

Matthew Goode: Obviously [Uncle Charlie is] bad, but I don't see it as that black-and-white good and bad. There are bad things that, morally, can be judged in a definite way, but for me it's more about the psychological—discovering the truth of what makes this person tick. I know it sounds a bit wanky, but it's true. It's cathartic. Something that's so far removed from yourself is always a lot of fun, be it good or bad.

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DETAILS: You join a small handful of actors who've shared an on-screen kiss with Nicole Kidman. You command the scene with her, but was there any buckling under pressure?

Matthew Goode: The two of us went up to the house one day, just to have a look around, and Nicole said, "We should rehearse something." And we were in that room, so she said, "Why don't we rehearse that scene?" And we did it, and when we got to the end, I thought, "They'll probably cut before the kiss." And then the director didn't call cut, and I thought, "Oh my God. Okay, I'm about to lock lips with Nicole Kidman on camera." And it was a weird thing. I had this vision of myself when I was 7 years old watching Nicole when she was, like, 14 or 15 in BMX Bandits, one of her earliest films. And I was like, "If you told that 7-year-old that he would be locking lips with that actress on the screen, he would never have believed it."

DETAILS: I can't believe you brought up BMX Bandits.

Matthew Goode: BMX Bandits! Me and my brother loved that film, and we loved CHiPS, the television program, and Poncherello. There was one day when we had a horrific cycling accident. We were literally doing the theme music to BMX Bandits and cycling so close together that our pedals got locked, and there was this moment when we were like, "Fuck, we're going down—but who's going to hit the ground first?" My brother was bigger than I was, so he pushed me over, and my mother said she could hear the screaming from the bottom of the village. I came down, and it had taken all the skin off my calf.

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DETAILS: In Stoker, one of the many things that links Uncle Charlie to his niece, India [played by Mia Wasikowska], is a shared skill for playing the piano, which leads to a duet that might be the film's best scene. You're actually playing there, right? Do you have any other hidden talents?

Matthew Goode: [Mia and I] had about three-fifths of that piece down, because some of it was far too complicated for the time frame. I think if we'd had another month or two, we could have had the whole thing down. Surely, if you understand film vocabulary, when someone starts playing an instrument, you're always like, "Are they really playing that?" So it was nice for [Park] to be able to dip down and see that we were—a nice surprise for the audience.

Other hidden talents? Good God. I'm good at golf. I'd love to do a film about golf, but they're famously not cinematic. It's not an easy topic for keeping someone's attention.

DETAILS: Speaking of hidden talents, Stoker was written by Wentworth Miller, an actor who few people knew was working on both sides of the camera. What was it about his script that most drew you to the role?

Matthew Goode: I didn't know it was Wentworth, because the script was written under the pseudonym of Ted Foulke. So I just thought, "Who's this Ted guy? He's written a really good script!" You couldn't really discern exactly what genre it was going to be, but knowing it was going to be Park who'd be helming it, I thought it was fascinating. As an actor, I tend to gravitate toward parts very different from those I've done before. I'd done some criminals before, but a sociopath was something I hadn't really come across. I didn't know the answers, but I could see it in my head, and that's always a good sign.

DETAILS: You're working with [the film's distributor] Ridley Scott again on The Vatican, a Showtime series he's developing. What can you tell us about the project and your character?

Matthew Goode: Not a huge amount, really. There's a pilot that's been written, and written very well by Paul Attanasio, who's a great writer. And Kyle Chandler, whom I love, is playing one of the main parts, Cardinal Duffy. It's sort of modern-day-ish about the Vatican and the machinations of what goes on. I think Bruno Ganz might be playing the pope as well, which would be very cool, but they haven't written the series yet, which has never happened to me before. You see the pilot and you say, "So what happens, Paul?" And he says, "I don't know, I haven't written it yet!"

DETAILS: Have your friends and family seen Stoker? What have the reactions been like?

Matthew Goode: They've seen it, and they like it. They really like it. Though some people have been saying, "Jesus, Goodey, that's a bit disturbing."

DETAILS: Is that what they call you? Goodey?

Matthew Goode: Yeah, that's my nickname from youth. Since I was, like, 5. That's what happens in the English school system. If your name is Smith, you'll be Smithy. Or if your name's Goode, you'll be Goodey. Add a "y," effectively. But, yes, I always get pretty good feedback from my friends, because some of them are actors, some are in the business, and some of them are just completely normal, and on this one, they were like, "Whoa." [Uncle Charlie's] not like who I am from day to day, so I think it scares them just a little.

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—R. Kurt Osenlund is an arts and entertainment writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him at @AddisonDeTwitt.

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