The Scottish star of Atonement meets Tolstoy in Oscar-nominated drama The Last Station.
By Nick Dent
Your Last Station co-stars, Dame Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, have been nominated for Oscars. Jealous?
It’s fantastic. Thoroughly deserved. We’ll all be sitting around the telly cheering them on.
Tolstoy [Plummer] was not just a Russian national hero but the most famous novelist in the world. You play Valentin Bulgakov, his young secretary. What research did you do?
The diary was the biggest resource. I’ve not played many real people before and I’ve not played anyone who’s kept a diary before, and it’s an incredible thing for an actor. I only want to play people who’ve kept diaries from now on.
Valentin bursts into tears on meeting Tolstoy…
It’s like if you had some kid working in an election office in Boise, Idaho, and all of a sudden he’s told that he gets to be Barack Obama’s assistant. It’s that huge for him. It really did feel like he’d ascended to the next stage of human consciousness by being around his hero. But also, Valentin [represents] Russia. He had to portray the way the Russian people felt about Tolstoy.
He’s caught in the crossfire between Tolstoy and his wife Sofya [Mirren], whose marriage broke down at the end of his life over his political views.
I kind of understand Countess Sofya. Tolstoy was a funny one. I think he was a fuckin’ dick! If he was living the way he told everybody to live and really walked his talk, fair enough, but he didn’t. He wasn’t a vegetarian, he did live in a fuckin’ spectacular private property, he had servants and as much as he railed against it he didn’t actually change any of it. He had 13 kids by his wife, and god knows how many more by other women.
Read any Tolstoy?
I read War and Peace – most of it! I couldn’t get through the whole thing to be honest.
What’s it like working with Dame Helen? We hear she’s very flirty.
Yeah, she’s got a little twinkle in her eye! But you never feel like she wants a bit of it, you know what I mean? She just enjoys a laugh. I have to say the entire cast, we did have a fuckin’ brilliant, brilliant laugh on this film.
Chris Plummer is a great actor, best known for The Sound of Music. Any jokes on set?
The only thing I got past him was calling him ‘Baron von Tolstoy’ a couple of times. I don’t know if he liked it!
Your wife [Anne-Marie Duff] is in the film too. You must be excited to have a baby on the way.
Very excited! All the usual nerves, but we’re very excited.
You’ve just completed The Conspirator. How was it being directed by Robert Redford?
The weirdest thing about Robert is that he forces you to call him ‘Bob’. It’s a bit like calling Prince Charles ‘Chuck’.
Rumours are rife on the internet that you’ve been cast in The Hobbit. Are you Bilbo Baggins?
No, I’m not. I can tell you that for a fact.
The Last Station screens from 1 Apr