Rufus Sewell: Downloading Nancy

Suicidegirls.com, 4 June 2009
By Fred Topel
Thanks, GE2

'Downloading Nancy' has already faced a rough road to movie theaters. At the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, audiences walked out of the screening. As of last summer, any theatrical release was still uncertain. The film finally hits theaters this week, more than a year and a half after it was finished.

Maria Bello plays the title character, a depressed housewife who asks an internet pen pal (Jason Patric) to kill her. Her husband (Rufus Sewell) would rather check his cell phone than dance with his wife at a wedding reception, yet he is still surprised when she disappears. Some guys just can't take a hint.

Still supporting the film after over a year of disappointing activity, Rufus Sewell made last-minute phone calls this week to get the word out. Though separated by miles and phone lines, Sewell maintained a connection, laughing up the film's rocky path and its technological commentary.

He even made jokes at his own expense, many about the abundance of one-dimensional villain roles on his resume. Most audiences may only know him as the baddie who menaced Heath Ledger in 'A Knight's Tale', Antonio Banderas in 'The Legend of Zorro' and Jessica Biel/Edward Norton in 'The Illusionist'. TV viewers got to see him weekly in the short-lived 'Eleventh Hour' and die hard genre fans still remember 'Dark City'. 'Downloading Nancy' offers the sort of role Sewell prefers to play, like it or not.

Fred Topel: Did you know when you made Downloading Nancy that it would be controversial?

Rufus Sewell: No. I mean, if you don't know if a movie's coming out, you certainly don't know if it's going to be controversial. There's nothing controversial about a film that doesn't come out. I think as far as I'm concerned, [I gave] my recent interview in the New York Times last weekend talking about the surprise at the reaction in Sundance, and I was very surprised. To tell you the truth, I found it amusingly provincial because I do think, yes, I suppose the film is shocking and it's very dark and has a certain tone, but I was very surprised. I still am to a certain extent.

FT: With the subject matter, did it seem like something that was going to inevitably divide people?

RS: The subject matter, that's what I mean. The subject matter, people watch films where people die every day. What is it specifically about the subject matter, as people are now referring to it, that is more offensive than blowing up countries and stuff?

FT: In this one, you get to know her.

RS: There you have it. So I just think it's quite revealing about what people don't want to look at. Of course, from the way it's shot and everything about it, it certainly was never going to be a mainstream film but no, I didn't expect so many people to walk out at Sundance. I was delighted.

FT: When you got the script, what was your reaction?

RS: I thought it was great. It wasn't just as simple as that but I thought it was very interesting. I thought the characters, obviously it's very unusual. You don't read a lot of stuff like that and I really, really liked the fact that the part being offered to me was not the kind of standard unimaginative offer that I have been getting used to. That it was to play this middle American, very kind of out in his depths, someone who wants to be Mr. Average, trapped in a relationship that is beyond his scope of experience. He copes with it by just freezing someone out in a way that actually is very, very cruel though not intentional, and then ends up, though he may not be able to express it properly, completely devastated by what he's done. I just thought that was amazing.

FT: You say he's distinctly American. Would this story exist in England?

RS: Oh yeah, I don't think the situation is quintessentially American. It just so happens that the character very much was. But yes, it could just as easily happen in England. Absolutely. I don't know how easily it happens anywhere, but unusual though it is, that unusual one in a million thing could happen in England.

FT: How did the festival circuit shake out?

RS: I only went to one festival because I was doing a play on Broadway at the time. It was the only weekend I got off. I just had the experience of being there at the screening at Sundance and watching the door flap open and closed.

FT: How many times?

RS: Quite a bit. I thought people must be drinking a lot of Diet Pepsi before it started. Then I thought maybe after a while there was a bit more to it. Then we had to, kind of ill advisedly, we were all pulled up in front of the screen to be interviewed afterwards. One of the main things, this is why I think of the reaction as being quite provincial, is that one of the questions is: why did you make this film? I just don't think that's a question that should be asked at an independent, or supposedly independent film festival. It's quite funny really. I mean, it's a film I'm very proud of, whether you consider that it fails or succeeds, whether you like it or don't like it. I'm proud to be in it.

FT: Well, why do you make any film?

RS: Exactly. It's just a stupid question.

FT: Was there a certain point that set people off?

RS: Yeah, I think between the beginning and the end, it got them. Possibly my knitwear. I was expecting some kind of reaction to that. My signet rings and diamond patterns, I was expecting a little trouble.

FT: Do you think the internet connects these darker elements in real life?

RS: It's easy to get involved in alarmist [theories] but yes. I think it's undoubtedly true. There is an incredibly powerful forum for people. In the past, when you'd hear about pairs of people who'd get together and murder for example, the first question is: how the fuck do these people find each other? How do you find out in casual conversation that you both like, for example, skewering baby seals and then throwing them off beachheads. I mean, how does one discover a shared love of the obscure? It's taken a lot of work out of that which is potentially a very worrying thing. But I suppose, it could equally, to be cheesy, have a power for good but you know, our experience of humanity so far doesn't hold up in that direction.

FT: How connected are you with cell phones and Blackberries and Facebook, et. al.?

RS: Quite, really, because I live pretty much around the world. My son is in England and I live wherever the work is, so the idea of Skype and stuff like that has actually revolutionized my life because I can still be in contact in a real way. So things like that have become quite important. The funny thing is, no matter how technological or how technical indeed these advances sound, in the end, they all end up being used for humans to either show pictures of their asses or lie to each other, or in the best sense to be able to see their child's face or whatever. There is no technology so sophisticated that it can't be ultimately used to just show an ass.

FT: Were you surprised that CBS didn't pick up 'Eleventh Hour'?

RS: Honestly, personally, I'm quite happy they didn't because I wanted to do something else.

FT: Was the TV experience not what you expected?

RS: I never really wanted to get into a long term thing to tell you the truth. The idea was to no longer feel as underused as I have. I felt underused, not insomuch as unemployed. There are people that are aware of what I can do but in terms of the people who are actually allowed to give out the jobs, people don't realize how useful I can be. I felt that possibly, the idea of doing something like this, would at least give me a forum to do a lot of different things. As it turned out, I felt underused. The idea of being overemployed but underused at the same time is not a future that I would choose for myself.

FT: Is that just the procedural nature of the mystery of the week?

RS: Oh, not necessarily. No, I don't think it was simply that. The truth is, I think it improved enormously, and I think if there was a second season, it would have really got quite good. But I'm still relieved that they let it slip through their fingers as far as I'm concerned. I think it probably would have been good enough if we'd done a second series to continue beyond that, by which time I decided that's not what it wanted.

FT: It was surprising because it got decent ratings.

RS: Yes, I know, that's why I say, I'm not condemning the show. I think it had a lot of strong points. I'm talking about the experience I had from what it started with and what we ended up getting towards was quite respectable. It's just that irrespective of the fact that I worked with people I really liked and made a lot of friends, by the time it finished, the fact that I think they made a mistake in not renewing it was good news for me. So I think they made a mistake, but at the same time, I dodged a bullet.

FT: What have you found since that allows you to be rightfully used?

RS: Oh, I don't know yet. I was prepared to stop doing the series and be unemployed for anything up to a year and still would think I've made the right choice. As far as what I've been happily reminded of is my nature, and my nature as an actor is I'd rather have lack of financial security, lack of security all around with the faint glimmer of very, very exciting, incredibly disparate things in my future. That also includes low points, unemployment, drudgery, whatever, but to me that is the life that I would [prefer], with varying highs and lows. There's a number of really interesting independent projects which is very much the future that I've always wanted to have. Theater possibly, Shakespeare, possibly next year and possibly another very high quality TV miniseries in Europe which I may well be doing. It's not definite yet but it could be happening in the next couple of months, but the difference being not for any of the networks and finite, a beginning, middle and end.

FT: What are the roles you feel did utilize you?

RS: Well, none yet.

FT: Not even 'Dangerous Beauty' or 'Dark City'?

RS: Definitely not, definitely not. 'Dark City' is a wonderful film. I don't think I'm very good in it. No, I don't think so. I don't mean to dismiss it completely but it's not work of mine I'm proud of. I'm proud to be involved in that work. I think I've gotten much better since then, to pat myself on the head. To tell you the truth, I'm very proud of some of the smaller roles I've done, When I've managed to push myself to be in a part other than the one they wanted me to be in. I like Vinyan very much which I did recently. I did like my work in that. 'Amazing Grace', in which I play a relatively small part, because of the fact that I campaigned to play that kind of oddball part that I played in it, I'm very proud of that. Very proud of the comedies that I've done even though they've been unsuccessful, like 'Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence' or 'The Very Thought of You', the version in America which I was kind of cut out of. 'The Taming of the Shrew' which is a BBC modern adaptation of 'The Taming of the Shrew' that I did with Shirley Henderson a couple of years back. A lot of comedy stuff where I've been given a real chance and my theater work. In terms of film, I've been conscious of trying to make the best of never quite getting the part that I want. Everyone has their thing they have to get around. With me, it's like okay, how can I make this upper class bad guy in the 19th century different and interesting?

Downloading Nancy opens in select theaters on June 5.


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