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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Matthew Goode Talks Channeling C.S. Lewis, Working With Sir Anthony Hopkins in ‘Freud’s Last Session’

In the historical drama Freud’s Last Session, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode take on two historical titans, psychologist Sigmund Freud and Christian academic and author C.S. Lewis, respectively. The film, co-written and directed by Matt Brown, is based on Mark St. Germain’s play of the same name and revolves around a fictional meeting between Freud and Lewis in 1939 that turns into an impassioned theological debate.

Goode, who has starred in films like The Imitation Game and Match Point and TV shows like Downton Abbey and The Good Wife, had never met Hopkins before co-starring with the legendary actor in Freud.

In an exclusive interview with Casting Networks, Goode recalls the experience of shooting in Ireland alongside the man he calls “a waking deity.” He also delves into his own methodology of channeling historical luminaries like Lewis, best known for writing the Christian-themed book series The Chronicles of Narnia.

How did you come to be involved in Freud’s Last Session?

I was in a brief lull period of not doing anything, which was nice. I’d been away from my family the previous year for six months, so I was reintegrating back into being a dad at home. I’ve got three kids and I’m a homebody and really like being at home with the family. Anyway, my agent had just started [repping] Tony, and he was like, ‘Hey, I got this script. Do you want to read it? It’s a film that Tony’s going to do and I think maybe we could get you in.’ I was like, ‘That sounds marvelous!’

You’ve played numerous real-life characters in film and television projects, including the late film producer and studio executive Robert Evans in The Offer and Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon in Season Two of The Crown. Is the preparation for portraying non-fictional characters the same?

It depends on what part of history they’re in. Obviously, there’s a bit more on YouTube about Bob Evans than there is on C.S. Lewis. With Bob, I spent weeks listening to his voice over and over again because he’s got this tambourine rhythm. Snowden was different. He sounded posher than the royal family, so I knocked his accent back a bit.

One of the joys of playing someone who is well-known is that you can focus on the facts. Like, these are the things that happened to them, the dates, what they achieved, who they married, etc. With a regular, fictional character, you write an extensive backstory to make the character more flesh.

What was your approach to Lewis?

With Lewis, not many people knew what he looked like and people don’t know his voice, but I managed to find a recording.

What made him terribly famous were his books on Narnia, but the way he came to prominence was by speaking during World War One on the radio. He became the voice of a nation, effectively talking about Christianity and other things. But because the commodity of reels was quite expensive at that time, they were rerecorded over. They rerecorded over about five of Lewis’ lectures, but there was still one left, about 10 minutes and it was fascinating!

His voice was quite strange. I think it was partly to do with his body type and partly to do with the fact that it was the 1930s, but it was deeper. I pitched it down a bit and got rhythm from it. Then you combine that with your deeper dive as an actor, reading some of his books on Christian apologetics and his memoir, where he wrote extensively about his childhood.

He said that going to boarding school after his mother died and being sent away to England —he was born in Belfast— was more traumatic than being in the trenches in World War One. That’s fascinating for me as an actor.

Actor Matthew Goode in a trench coat outside in the rain. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

What attracted you to playing this role?

It’s a nice conceit, the idea of two of the greatest minds of the 20th century being in a room and duking it out slightly. Freud really goes for Lewis in this. I have long periods of just listening and that’s a great challenge as an actor.

I also thought it’d be fun to watch Tony up close and personal doing all this acting work. It was like a school field trip watching one of the greatest actors of all time up-close doing stuff.

I also really dug (director) Matthew Brown. If you’re going to have someone direct you in this kind of film, it’s thrilling to have someone whose father is actually a psychotherapist, which Matthew’s father is. Also, he’s whip-smart. I feel very uncomfortable when the director isn’t the smartest person on set.

How was the first day of shooting? Who set the tone?

Tony came out and he was like, ‘Hello everyone, I’m Tony. I don’t know if you know, but I’d been here before 55 years ago.’ We’re like, ‘Really?’ He goes, ‘I did a small film here. It was called The Lion in Winter. We went, ‘Small film? It was with Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn!’ He was like, ‘It’s great to be back. Come on guys, let’s do this!’

There was more to it, but it was inspiring and a brilliant way to start the day. We were dancing on air for the rest of the shoot. I couldn’t have had a better experience with him. We had a very, very respectful crew and they were so reverent, as we all are around Tony because he’s like a walking deity as far as cinema goes.

How would you describe your time together?

He’s like me. He’s done all the prep. He’s not Method, so between “action” and “cut,” it’s intense and great. It’s what we’re there to do and what we love to do. Then after “action,” we’re a couple of schoolboys in the corner having a giggle. He’ll be doing Tommy Cooper impressions to me, which is hilarious. You might not know who Tommy Cooper is, but he was a famous comic magician in England in the fifties, sixties, seventies. There was a lot of levity.

It’s just lovely being in orbit with someone like that. He’s one of the last great actors involved in that initial company that Lawrence Olivier set up (National Theater in 1963 in Britain). He’s like a walking, ticking time machine. With all his stories, you’re like, ‘Tell me more about that.’ He’s endlessly fascinating.

Sir Anthony Hopkins in a suit surrounded by books pointing. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

You’d never met him before. Were you the least bit nervous meeting him for the first time?

It was a little bit nerve-wracking, but within minutes, he put me completely at ease. When you work with some of the greats, which I’ve had some fortune to do, the great-greats put you at ease in a heartbeat, because otherwise it will affect the job. He did that with me. He took me under his wing and that’s something I’ll take with me to the grave.

What’s something people may be surprised to know about Sir Anthony Hopkins?

I’ll tell you one thing people don’t know about Tony. One day on set, we were in this house in Dublin. I was in the kitchen and I was like, ‘What’s that music?’ This beautiful piano music was coming from upstairs. I went up there and opened a door. Lo and behold, Tony was sitting there playing! I was like, ‘Oh, for goodness sake —you’re also amazing on the piano?!’ It’s depressing! (laughs) He’s brilliant and actually, he wrote some music that’s in the film. He’s got many feathers to his cap!

To viewers he is Sir Anthony, but you call him Tony.

Once you’ve been offered Tony, you take it for sure. By the end of the shoot, I was calling him T-Bone. I love giving people nicknames and he went with it. He loved it.

Do you have a favorite memory from the film?

The onset photographer captured one and I have it now. It’s me and Tony outside the church on the day we were shooting that scene of us walking across the graveyard. In this photo, we are both howling with laughter and have a hand on each other’s shoulder. I can’t remember what we were laughing about because we laughed quite a lot. But I really got him with something because he’s doubled over. I’ll always have that as a memory. I can stick [that photo] on my wall and go, ‘Hey, I worked with him. I worked with one of the greats! And look, he thought I was funny!’

Freud’s last session is currently playing in theaters.

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