Combustible Celluloid interview - Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom (2002)
Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Tom Wilkinson

'Bedroom' Prize

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jan. 18, 2002—Like many other modern British actors, Tom Wilkinson is probably recognized either as a heavy or a dolt in big-budget American movies, or as a costumed something-or-other in polite, literate British dramas. But as you might guess from his astonishing Oscar-nominated performance in Todd Field's In the Bedroom, Wilkinson goes much deeper than that.

Playing Dr. Matt Fowler, Wilkinson gets at least two memorable moments in the film, one walking through his deceased son's room and feeling the indentation on his pillow, made just a few days earlier when his son was alive. And the other a painful, truthful argument between he and his bereaved wife (Sissy Spacek), each unleashing fears and grievances from years back in one agonizing scene.

Visiting San Francisco recently on a Miramax-sponsored tour designed to whip up Oscar interest, Wilkinson puffed on a cigarette and discussed his acting technique -- how he played those emotionally explosive scenes.

"What I didn't do was think of my dead grandmother," he says in his handsome English voice. "Acting for me isn't that quid pro quo: think of your dead grandmother and you'll cry and you'll feel sad. You know grief -- you've had it in your own life. But you don't use it directly. It's processed through... It's not my grief -- it's the grief of that character. I've got children. And if I started thinking about what it would be like if my own children got killed, I'd go mad. You'd go fucking around the bend, wouldn't you?"

Living in England, Wilkinson is refreshingly removed from the Oscar frenzy in Los Angeles. He says he's grateful, happy and delighted for the nomination, but it's not the end-all be-all for him.

"I don't actually mind the thing, it's just trying to code in your head all the things that you have to do. I think, 'there's no chance of sitting down and watching TV this afternoon.' I have to have lunch with somebody or go to a party. It's enviable for a lot of people. 'He's bitching 'cause he has to go to parties and meet loads of beautiful movie stars!'"

The thirty-year acting veteran decided five or six years ago to leave the stage and concentrate on films, simply as a change of pace. Since then, he's graced a number of critical favorites: In the Name of the Father, Sense and Sensibility, The Full Monty and Shakespeare in Love. Despite the fact that these have all been Best Picture nominees, Wilkinson says that this will be his first Oscar ceremony.

Most likely no one will mention that Wilkinson's other credit from the past year was the failed Martin Lawrence comedy Black Knight.

It's easy to assume that Wilkinson took a high-paying role in Black Knight in order to afford taking a low-paying role in In the Bedroom. But he insists that that's not the case.

"You can't do things for money," he says. "You just can't act them. There's got to be something about the script that you really want to do. Some scripts pay more than others, but I wouldn't do a job if I couldn't do my best. The Martin Lawrence movie was wonderfully intriguing and I made a lot of good friends on it. There's only one shot you have on a movie, and that's your best shot. 'Cause they're paying you! You've got a job to do!"

Though Wilkinson long ago honed his craft, he admits that he hasn't been able to cry on camera until very recently, specifically in his newest hit. "You know that scene where I go into the dead son's bedroom? That was shot from three different angles, and I did it six or seven times. And I had no idea that it would be such a moving scene. When I did it the first time, I thought, 'Well, I hope you've got it.' But it happened four, five, six times."

"But [Todd] shot it from behind, almost the whole thing. You know, a film can be cut a million different ways. There are a million bad versions of In the Bedroom because things are not in the right place."

Though Wilkinson has spent the last several months of his life flying around the world and talking about In the Bedroom, he honestly doesn't mind it. "I can say freely, I know it's a good movie. It's not that I happen to be in it. Very often you see films that you've been in and you know that they're just not right. They haven't quite got it for one reason or another. But this one I know. I have no problem beating the drum for this one."

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