Night Train to Lisbon.
The most prestigious pinnacle.
In the realm of cinema, adapting a global bestseller counts among the most prestigious – and precarious – pinnacles of movie making. Seminal director Bille August (The House of the Spirits) once again took the reins to adapt the highly complex storyline of Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon to suit the silver screen. Flanked by iconic actors including Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Christopher Lee and Bruno Ganz, Jack Huston’s central character steals the limelight: Here, the young British actor – already feted for his spot-on portrayal in the US series Boardwalk Empire – plays a prospective doctor from Lisbon who decides to rebel against the country’s 1970s Salazar dictatorship and soon becomes embroiled in a tragic social and emotional triangle.
One of the most gripping encounters of the film, between Huston and actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), provides the last missing puzzle piece of this philosophical thriller – and takes place in a 280 SE (1969) at sunrise. To find out more about the film, and the person behind the main character, we caught up with Jack Huston in Berlin during the Berlinale Film Festival.
In one of the first scenes of the film, the character of Prof. Gregorius, played by Jeremy Irons, spontaneously decides to drop everything. Was there ever a moment in your life when you thought about just leaving everything behind?Oh, yes! Before Boardwalk Empire, I literally said that I was done with this acting malarkey and wanted to hotfoot it out of there. I told my manager: “You have two weeks to find me a part or else I’m going to Brazil, live on the beach for six months, eat rice, write and paint and just disappear”. And then I got a role in Boardwald Empire. I like the freedom of being able to drop everything at any moment, and I have been known to just disappear for longer stretches of time. But now I am seven weeks away from my girlfriend giving birth, so that is now a thing of the past (laughs).
The story of Night Train to Lisbon is an interesting mix of a thriller and a philosophical journey into the mind of your character. What initially interested you in this project?Seeing Bille August’s name attached to it, I’m a big fan of his. He is such an incredible filmmaker and such an endearing man as well. And Pascal Mercier’s novel is beautiful. I find the character of Amadeu exciting because throughout the film he is shown at different stages in his life – ranging from 18-35. I was especially fascinated to show this journey and transition, starting as a bright eyed kid with so many ideals and seeing how experiencing love, hate, anger and jealously can completely change your life.
How did you feel when you realised that you would be working on the same film as legendary actors such as Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling?It was amazing! Though sadly I didn’t actually get to do any scenes with them. It would have been cool to play with Jeremy Irons; I love him, he is brilliant. And then there are also Bruno Ganz and Tom Courtney and Christopher Lee. It would have been wonderful to do scenes with them. But I couldn’t, seeing as my character exists only in the past. I got to work with August Diehl and Mélanie Laurent, so I was just as lucky.
How did you like the car in the film?Oh, the Mercedes! Can they send me one? Any Mercedes, whichever they want, I would be very happy with anything (laughs).
What did you like about the Mercedes-Benz, a 280 SE?It reminds me very much of my aunt Anjelica Huston’s car, she drives an old Mercedes in LA. She’s been a fan for a long time. You feel a little more distinguished behind the wheel of something like that.
You also act in TV shows. How important are television parts as stepping-stones for a successful acting career?I think it can help. I mean, I owe my career to my television show. Taking a risk like that can pay off and I think I was very lucky to land such a great part. But you never know what’s going to work and what isn’t. Sometimes you think something is going to be amazing but it turns out to be rubbish, and vice versa. Television is a wonderful medium right now, I feel like a lot of great actors are coming to television, because the stories and plots are so well written.
And it’s consistent. Film is not consistent. Only very few people can live on their film career alone.
Is it really so difficult to sustain a living that way?Oh man, it’s very hard, especially at the moment. Even if you are an established actor, it’s very difficult to work consistently on films that you would want to be doing – as in good films. So the consistency of television is great! If it’s a good show, it’s comforting to know that you are going back to something that you love.
Some series are so successful they have become real rivals for big Hollywood productions. What makes certain TV shows – like Boardwalk Empire – so magnetic in your opinion?They are very stylish, very sleek and cool. And the writers are wonderful, just as good as, if not better than many film screenplay writers. Boardwalk Empire is on another level. We have the luxury of shooting a single episode over a three and a half week period. You are usually given five to seven days, tops.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not shooting or preparing for a new role?
I paint a lot. My mother is an artist and I could never quite choose between art and acting. So I do both. And I write a lot. I go mental when I’m not doing anything, so I always have to be working on something.
Thank you, Jack!
Night Train to Lisbon opens on 7 March 2013 in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. A wider theatrical release will follow shortly thereafter.