Just Like Jean Valjean, Dominic West Is Done Being A Bad Guy


Uh-huh. I'm Jay sleigh Cobb. And you're listening to atrophy studio. The story is well known and impoverished man steals, a loaf of bread to feed his family and spends nineteen years in prison upon his release the convict nearly falls prey to old habits. But instead spends the rest of his life struggling to prove he has truly reformed. What are you doing my friend? Trying to sleep on. Why didn't you go to an in? Did take me take me in Andhra Davis's sweeping new adaptation of Victor Hugo's. Legendary epic Les Miserables the bleak stakes of the story. Take on dazzling new heights. Consider these even if the world has done new greeting Justice, does it really serve you have a hard full of bitterness and eight how could I know I have a heart full of bitterness nature. I'd like to see you nineteen years in the hoax. Don't preach to me about God. Anglo best known for his turns in the wire, and the affair actor Dominic west has made a name for himself playing villainous rogues on American and British television and his role is Sean Valjean includes its fair share of monstrous, rage and sly trickery despite all this. He also found room for moral clarity this man's of brutes. For him. Compassionate humanity has been withheld twenty years, and it takes a bit more. Fan to be able to control that best deal side, west joins us to explore Valjean stories still to come in Les Miserables why he might be done playing scoundrels and how he and his wife have become their own real life monarch of the Glen in their castle hotel in Scotland. And we are joined this week by Les Miserables star and executive producer Dominic. West welcome. Thank you very much. Hi, Jean Valjean has preternatural strength in his secret identity is he the first superhero in literature. He's not the first the Greeks. But he's the best, and he climbs buildings like spider man, and he beats people up like on mine, and he rescues children like superman, but none of those superheroes did nineteen years on labor in the nineteenth century, French jails. He's the toughest of the law. I think we all know John Belgians prisoner number by heart and his story of redemption. What was the initial appeal of playing Val? Zhol? The initial reservation was that he'd been played somebody times before the film of the musical just come out. And therefore what the head of we got to add to it. What have sunny one of I got to add to the pot, but the appeal came once I started reading the book, and I realized as the best book I've ever read and probably a written, and that he's I think the greatest heroine niche, and I I quickly fell in love with him. And I suppose what was most appealing about him apart from his strengthen ability to save children's lives, etc. Was his in a heroism his his heroics of battling your own demons and trying to do what's right run? What you impulsivity and emotionally feel lightning. We see John John not when he's released in prison. But at the thick of it at the quarry, he strikes a massive boulder, and it plummets down onto a guard the same man who hit him earlier when he's led through too long. Enchaine's is this an accident or an intentional act on his part is very much intentional. He's been brutalized nineteen years. And he's quite happy to want to kill anybody uncertainty kill his tormentors. What becomes an accident is he then rescues the guy that he's just dropping the rock on. And that of course is usually significant later on in in Java's recognition of Valjean later. So no, he's a brutalized brute who wants to harm people wants to get revenge. Even in these early scenes, there's an almost magnetic pole between Javert Valjean that feels almost psycho sexual in a way. Well, no two full six. So one was about today. You saving that God's life. Why? Trying to get yourself in any release tried in vain. There's no hope for that puts whole why is Javert so obsessed with this particular prisoner while it's the big question. It was the first question I often rose. And it's the question what what the hell's wrong with this guy. What's his beef? Why is he because he's not very apparent in the book? It's all and I think we discussed this a lot. And an my preference is always to go for the big motivators, which are love and sex. I think that's what motivate most of the most. And so I think there's a huge magnetic attraction that Javer has vowed Joan and David hints at it in the scene where I'm stripping often. He has as a look. And it's just one look, and it, and it sort of it's just that's hang that. David didn't want it overplay that bit. Because I think he thought what was more important was the attraction that very small bitter mind has for the big mind that a mean person has for generous person that the devil has vote for a Saint, you know, I think that's probably more interesting. These two men come to represent two very different sides in a philosophical debate about good and evil. Why is Val John's ultimate optimism the notion that change and forgiveness or possible? So refreshing, particularly right now. Well, I suppose it's it's fairly standard thinking now that we're not born bad that we are the products of our environment on of all of how people treatise, but when this was written. This was very much a philosophical debate that people believed, you know, peop- like Javed that people are born bad. And there's nothing you can do about it. I think off to, you know, a singer of psychology one psychology, and we realize that that's not necessarily case. But it's worth being reminded of these things because I suppose. You know, in modern political life in in the UK, and the US we. There's a lot of currency in vilifying people for what they are rather than who they are. I mean, even recently in France protesters called Emmanuel Macron, president of the rich. I mean, Les Miserables feels incredibly relevant and timely given the class struggles and of wealth inequality of today. Does that notion sort of stick with you having played this part? Yeah. I mean, the French revolution happened because the gap between rich and poor never been wider. And I think it's a lot wider now. And I think one thing that Victor Hugo understood was that once that chasm between rich and poor widens enough. There's going to be trouble and that it's unsustainable. And I think I'm making this realizing that I. You know, this what we have now, which is an an enormous Gulf between rich and poor in the world. And in America, it's pretty dangerous territory and revolution tends to follow that sorta territory one year later John's released from prison and given a hundred nine francs after various deductions of a more importantly gains, his name back and becomes more than just a number is possible. You are required to show this to thought as in every town and village you pass through. You have your name back. Miss your two four six one. If you remember what it is. Joel. You sure about that. Zome vows zone. Why is this such powerful and profound moment of self identity for the prisoner? Well, I I suppose for what you said he, you know, he he becomes a a a human being again rather than the a statistic or a number or a commodity and hence his shouting to the echoing forests and wide open valley that he's now free to roam I he shouts his name. And it's very interesting with Valjean his journey goes from being a number two being Valjean to being Monsieur Madeleine when he's the man to being one in denial of of John Valjean, an an of an of that being a personality that he is ashamed of until his final embrace of that. And so it's it's very crucial to his arc and his development in his eve Lucien that that his name's plot. Very clearly what he cold is very very relevant to his state of mind and love the scenes between. U n ser. Derek Jackie's Bishop of dean, you give me a bed run next to you. All you crazy. I'm not murder where that's the good Lord business. Not mine. What what it another way? I'll take my chance with immigrant. Go to bed not and seep. Well, what was it like filming these scenes with Derek Jackie? Well, it was bliss. It was I mean, I've admired envy years, and, but it's a tricky one when you go to cast the sort of most virtuous nicest best man who's ever lived, which is how he reads in the book so hard to write about virtue. It's so hard to make virtue. Interesting. It's easy to make the devil. Funny and interesting, but it's hard to make a Saint interesting. And that's what big Hugo dozen. That's what Jackie does on very few actors can do that can make virtue interesting and acting with him who's a real hero of mine was. In one sense is dead easy. Because he does it for you. And he's so sympathetic and another. It's very a salutary. It's very he. He was extraordinarily. He was very detached. He didn't get involved talking much. He sat very quietly at the side of the set until he's called. He's very contained as an actor. I'm very generous, it it was great watching a master at work. There's a beautiful moment right before the petite avai incident when Valjean collapses under the tree we hear the church bells ringing out we see the sunlight streaming through. These leaves of the tree it's it's a really beautiful moment. And then there's temptation in this sort of garden of Eden the singing boy with his coin, what makes Valjean fall once more when his engine in the book, and I think in the script too, but we didn't end up filming it is when he's under the tree having encountered love and kindness for the first time in nineteen. Years from the Bishop he remembers his mother, and he remembers the last time he felt love which was from his mother. And and so that was what was going on at that moment of where the transformation starting them has been put in place by the Bishop. Dane, he remembers his mother in the book that sort of precipitates his anguish when his best aside comes out, what makes him full while makes the scorpion stain. You know, he's a school pin and this man's brutalized. Man who for him compassionate humanity has been withheld for twenty years, and it takes a bit more fame to be able to control that best. He'll side your dirty thief petits your screams at him. How much will these words haunt him in these episodes to come well, totally? And I think what's interesting. What's so beautiful about how Victor Hugo makes the agent of Valjean change being a little? Child at offense Lewis child who is essentially vaginal season. The best Valjean sees him as someone weak and therefore to be exploited. And what he learns is that the week what give us humanity, and one's one's attitude and one's treatment of of the week is crucial to our humanity. They mentioned Damascene conversion after sealing petite surveys forty SU he changes his mind he calls out to him. There's at a look of profound agony on your face as he searches his soul. Is this the moment where he where he does decide to be good. Yeah. I think it is the whole tragedy of his life and of his brutality comes crashing in on me realizes that the deep deep deep sorrow of what's happened in Las twenty years and. And I think as soon as he's allowed to pity himself in a way his when he starts to love himself. Again, Valjean collapses on the road curling up into a fetal ball in the dirt. Should we read the scene as a spiritual or moral rebirth? Yes. Very much, so yeah. And I think. That element of the remembering the mother, which we didn't show explicitly that is very much. Let's very much what Victor Hugo's writing. I think he is reborn mcentee managing what was it like filming this particular sequence it was bloody hard. It was really it was really all it was the end of a long day that Finally I had had to collapse, and I did seem to spend a lotta the shoot in tears. But if some reason that this point, I couldn't the taste didn't come which is fine because they didn't have to, but I was very conscious that this was probably the most important single moment of value story, and that can be very daunting to try to act. So I found it hard, and I'm still not entirely happy with it. This first episode centers on bolt Valjean phan-tien their circumstances in this first episode, very different. But they're forced to make a choice by the end of the installment. Are they mirrors for each other in a way? Yeah. I suppose as she descends. He ascends I suppose her attitude to Valjean the prisoner would probably be similar to what her daughters is later on of revulsion and horror. I'm what happens, of course, when they made his he becomes her protector before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors. Castles and cathedrals vineyards in vistas Viking dedicated to bringing the traveler closer to the destination along the great rivers of Europe, offering a small ship experience with the shore excursion included in every port. Learn more at Viking cruises dot com. You've played a lot of philanderer 's in your career, whether that's McNulty or no on the affair actor Madden in the our willy and Colette many many philanderer 's why is that do you think? I know I've played a lot of villains. And this is one of the I suppose that was initially traction Viljoen was not playing villain playing a hero a good guy. But as as to why it's philandering Dino. I'm I'm not I tell you. No idea. Why people think I Sousa for Landreau? But they think I've sued villains Iowa. Hopefully after this. I'll be just playing monogamous heroes. Your big break came with David Simon's seminal HBO series, the wire favorite all-time series where you played Jimmy McNulty. Was there a sense of the time that this was a groundbreaking piece of television? I don't think so I think I'm sure we were all aware that with the sopranos, and and the this was the dawn perhaps over go new golden era, but it's very hard. I find to take an objective view on on things. I'm in and I'm only just on getting Jack view on on Missouri in fight and sunny, while we were shooting, the the web, no one was watching it, really. I mean, a few law enforcement people, and lawyers, and and if you gangsters, but no one really was watching it and sunny, no one from the UK. And so I didn't really wasn't. Really aware of how important it was. And how what a groundbreaking series? It wasn't until much later. I think you're just too close to see these things chew or false you joined an Argentinian circus for a spell. I did delegator. Yeah. It was it was on in New York for a while. And I did it in London from five months. Best job ever happen. Sarah who created the affair said of you quote. He's not afraid to let a character be complicated. There's a flawed humanity that he seems to understand inherently. How do you react that? What a lovely thing to say. Yeah. I I do get a lot of Philander of a lot of villains. But usually they have another side to them. And I think it's a sensual they won this clearly evil purely good most of us are conflicted. So as important to be an actor who can trae that given how well you nail the accent in the wire, and the affair our fans ever surprised, you realize you're not American in real life. They all I'm glad to say. Yeah, they still people still come up and amazed. But I remember the wire just come out in the UK and was getting quite a big following. And there was a charity night. And I was asked to go along, and it was a quiz night. That was his charity night was a quiz about the why the quiz was entirely about the why. And so it was full of. Why not you know, people really knew the show and numb I remember going in. And I had to ask the final question on something like that. And I started speaking, and I just remember sensing the whole room deflate with disappointment that hearing my accent when they realized I was a Brit. So I. Usually American people pleasantly surprised in the U K, please up. People are unpleasantly surprised that I'm just a brick offscreen year living your own version of monarch the Glenn you recently rescued your wife Catherine's family seat, Glenn castle and county Limerick and converted it into a family run hotel. A how is that project going? It's not true, though, I rescue it was it was run as tell by her parents. And then I follow unfortunately died. And so it was put on the market. Yeah. We decided to keep it going and try and make a going concern has been in. My wife's family seven hundred years. So really we didn't have much choice. But it's going, okay. Actually, it's going remarkably. Well, I think come island is is sort of booming at the moment. And I think once nobody from Europe is allowed to go to Britain anymore, then old flock to to island. Who is funnier? Dominic west or Libya Coleman, Olivia Colman is spectacular funny and able to laugh and joke right up until they say action when she's then able to go into Sarah's a moment as you careful, which is not something Dominic west can do quite as well. And I found as I found to my cost on the set of les is it was making that seem way we have the big fight the finale as and we were all crying laughter. What Livio saying, and then I realized course, that I had to do some proper acting. So then tried to avoid her off to that you directed an episode of the wire and episode of Jimmy mcgovern's moving on is directing something you'd like to do more of the future. Yeah. I auditing that I thought that's what I wanted to do forever. And then I realized that she well two things one I thought of getting very good acting out. So I didn't have time for the writing. And the other one is I realized that a director is first in last out where. As an actress last in first out. You left Guildhall in nineteen ninety five one of your first onscreen roles that year was as the Earl of Richmond in Richard the third opposites or Ian McKellen was it a formative professional experience over. So Robert Downey junior was in an bending was in it Maggie Smith was in it. It was amazing cost that I was just out of drama school and was able to sort of ground watching watching the mall at work, and and it was headed by mcallen. Who's a really great leading man in terms of his compassionate abilities. Lead a costing keep everybody happy. It was. Yeah. It was a wonderful job and mazing job to have at an early stage in your career because it was with a lot of people who are very generous within all it you once reached out to wine critic, Robert Parker to try and interview him what ended up happening. Lives in Baltimore. So I was in Baltimore ni. I said look can I come an interview. And he's a no you calm. But I tell you what if you bring some of the why costs out bring the wine, and so we went out for dinner, and they were four or five of us from the UAE. Andrei replay bubbles was with us insisted on drinking, Jack and coke. The whole time was telling this is the best y you'll ever have in your life insisted on Django. So we drank a lot of extremely great wine. And I can't remember much about it. Other than Robert park, a very generously gave one hundred zero bottle of cognac. And he said I want you to that. When you finish the last frame of the wire, and we did which happened to be at six o'clock one morning. More. And we we nailed the whole bottle mazing. Dominic west. Thank you. So very much. Thank you. John John is the narrative core of Missouri. But his lifelong nemesis, the relentless inspectors Javert keeps things moving in his pursuit of personal Justice. He has no problem in saying that person is a criminal. And so therefore, they deserve this punishment. Actor David yellow joins us next week on the podcast for the close. Look at how Java's need for truth and Justice propels, Victor Hugo's epic forward. Masterpiece studio is hosted by me j sleigh Cobb produced by Nick Anderson. At least by e two is our editor. Suzanne Simpson is our executive producer executive producer of masterpiece is Rebecca Eaton. Sponsors for masterpiece on PBS are Viking cruises. Raymond, James and the masterpiece trust.

Coming up next