Why actor Jonathan Pryce is playing coy about The Wife

by James Robins / 02 August, 2018
Jonathan Pryce.

Jonathan Pryce.

RelatedArticlesModule - Jonathan Pryce

James Robins talks to Jonathan Pryce about his new movie, a dark comedy featuring Glenn Close as Pryce's long-time spouse.

Jonathan Pryce can’t talk about The Wife. His new film, adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel, has a perverse secret at its heart. Any slip-up could derail its reveal. The veteran British actor plays Joe Castleman, a novelist on his way to Sweden to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature. Glenn Close plays the titular wife, Joan, regal and proud but hiding something.

Down the line from a house in Provence, Pryce dances around that secret. “It’s an extraordinary situation,” the 71-year-old says, cautiously. “It’s about a long relationship, a long marriage, and what happens in that marriage, the tos and fros, who you trust and who you love. It may not always be how it ends up. It’s a complicated story of a complicated relationship.”

Welsh-born and Rada-trained, Pryce was a theatre veteran by the time of his screen breakthrough in Terry Gilliam’s 1985 surreal cult hit Brazil. Since then, his career has been defined by extreme versatility: stints as Hamlet, King Lear and Shylock, a Bond villain, a hapless dupe in Glengarry Glen Ross, Juan Peron in Evita and, more recently, Game of Thrones’ High Sparrow, the powerful cleric who went out with a bang at the end of season six.

He reunited with Gilliam for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, as Quixote, although any questions about that troubled film, which Gilliam started working on in 1989, and which finally debuted at Cannes in May, are quickly shut down by a PR minder.

The trick “is to just keep moving, until they find you out”. He chuckles warmly. “I like to go between film and theatre, and some television. Most of the time, I’ll be attracted to a role because I haven’t done anything quite like that.

“I like to do and, thank God, I’m able to do, whatever appeals to me. It took me a long time. I’ve been acting for – God – 46 years now. It takes a while to work out what you want to do and how you want to do it. At my age, I’ll get the energy from wherever it comes.”

Pryce with Glenn Close: “It’s a complicated story of a complicated relationship.”

Pryce with Glenn Close: “It’s a complicated story of a complicated relationship.”

Working on The Wife, however, was “one of the best experiences” he’s ever had on film. He is full of praise for Swedish director Björn Runge.

“He understands actors and understands the process, and doesn’t impose anything on his actors. He likes to watch the performance unfold. You have that confidence in him that whatever you’re doing, he will find it.”

As the film slowly inches towards its secret, Pryce’s character gives way to Close, who puts in a trademark imperious performance.

“Working with Glenn was pretty inspirational. I’ve always liked her as an actor,” Pryce says, admiringly. “We’re both the same age. We share a history of working in theatre and film, and there’s no bullshit about it. We just got on with it. We’ve both been in long relationships, we both know what it’s like.”

For his next role, Pryce will be donning another cassock, this time as Jorge Bergoglio, better known as Pope Francis, in the Netflix series Call Me Francis.

The role must make a nice change from that painfully pious High Sparrow guy.

“I’ve spent a career moving between good people and really bad people,” Pryce says, chuckling again. “It’s quite a contrast.”

THE WIFE IS IN CINEMAS AUGUST 2

This article was first published in the July 28, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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