A Cloud Atlasy Moment: James D’Arcy on Cloud Atlas and Hitchcock

The star of the two upcoming Oscar contenders on the deleted scene from Cloud Atlas and his research for playing Anthony Perkins.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

By now a lot has been made of how every actor in Cloud Atlas plays up to six different characters, so here’s a twist. James D’Arcy is the only Cloud Atlas actor to play the same character twice. Rufus Sixsmith appears in the ‘30s with Robert Frobisher and the ‘70s with Luisa Rey. It’s a big year for D’Arcy because he also plays Anthony Perkins in the upcoming Hitchcock, about the making of Psycho. We got to chat with D’Arcy about both films when he came to Los Angeles for Cloud Atlas.

CraveOnline: Is there any amount of acting experience that can prepare you for a role, or roles, like Cloud Atlas?

James D’Arcy: You know, to play somebody much older, I’ve actually done that before. It’s not the first time I’ve played a character and aged. I did it in Madonna’s movie W.E. but for a very tiny little scene. Not to this extent. Really, in most films, they’d just cast an older guy, right? I don't know that the answer to that can possibly be yes. You just sort of hope. The prosthetics helped a lot because it took four hours to be made up into that older guy and by the time that it happened, I felt pretty old honestly. So all that energy went into the set.

When talking about the complexity of these characters, is the first thing that jumps out at you the challenge of the older Sixsmith?

You see, I don’t ever think of either the word complexity or challenge as being particularly pertinent in terms of this job. The words that jump out at me are fun and play and excitement. It felt like we were all on this crazy adventure and it was probably insane and probably wouldn’t work and everyone just sort of threw caution to the wind and had a go. It didn’t feel challenging in any way. It felt exciting.

You might be the only actor in Cloud Atlas who gets to play the same character in two different stories.

Yeah, yeah, I am, I am.

Did that change the way you played those two Sixsmiths versus the other characters you could jump in and play?

I guess, and this was very pertinent to the period of time when we were testing the makeup to make me older, because the first set of prosthetics that they put on, I really didn’t look like me at all. It was very, very good but it didn’t look like me. Of course we wanted to try and have some sense of continuity, otherwise why would they have the same actor play both those roles? So yes, in terms of the makeup, we had quite a lot of discussion about how to keep it consistent as the same person all the way through. In terms of playing it, my observation is that as people get older, their voice quality changes so I tried to play with that a little bit. And then in my heart, I thought as the older version of Sixsmith, I thought a lot about what had happened when we’d been shooting the younger version of Sixsmith I guess.

What did you think about what happened in between those stories?

Well, I figured that he had gone and lived a life and there had been plenty of different parts to it. He’s got a niece who he’s very close to and we shot some stuff that’s cut out of the movie where he talks a little about that side, his family life a little bit. Obviously he’s a brilliant nuclear physicist and I know nothing about nuclear physics so I’m afraid I didn’t really think about that at all.

And nuclear physics didn’t exist yet in the previous story.

Exactly, he’s just a physicist in the ‘30s but as it goes on, he’s become this crucial lynchpin in terms of the fact that the report shows that it’s all very, very dangerous what’s going on there.

Does the deleted scene come from the book?

Yeah, it’s in the book.

Does it address where he’s left off in the ‘30s story?

I do not remember that it does. I don't think it does actually. The scene doesn’t address anything that happens between the ‘30s and now particularly, although I did have a sort of odd slightly Cloud Atlasy moment in that in the scene, Luisa Rey, Halle’s character and I discuss, she says something about when she first started as a journalist she’d interviewed Hitchcock. And I say something like, “Oh, I took my niece to see a print of Psycho the other day.” And then subsequent to finishing the movie, I was cast [as] Anthony Perkins in the Hitchcock movie.

Now that I meet you in person, I see it. Did you see the resemblance to Anthony Perkins?

No, but I was doing press for something else and a couple of people had said to me, “Oh, you look a little like Tony Perkins.” I had not thought about it particularly and then the Hitchcock film came along and I thought, “Oh, well, I hope that is true. I hope I do.”

Have you seen Pscho II, III and IV?

No. I’ve only seen Psycho 1 once and that was when I was 15. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it all again. I do what I’m supposed to do in horror films and I get really afraid. So I don’t really like watching horror movies. I watched bits of Psycho obviously and I watched bits of Psycho repeatedly by way of research but I didn’t watch the whole movie again, and I definitely didn’t watch II, III and IV. II, III and IV were kind of irrelevant anyway because Anthony Perkins had aged and it wasn’t going to be useful in terms of preparation so I didn’t really need to watch them. It would be for fun and for me horror movies aren’t that much fun.

What was it like recreating scenes from Psycho in Hitchcock?

I didn’t really recreate scenes. Not really. You see us rehearsing the scenes, you see us on the sets. The shower scene I think they kind of recreated a little bit but I think that may be the only bit of the actual film that was recreated. I think if you’re a lover of Psycho you’ll be able to look at it and go, “Oh, I know what they’re doing there. I know what they’re doing there” but we never actually replayed any [scenes]. Oh, actually Scarlett and I did at one point start playing a scene together but it wasn’t filmed.

How did that happen then?

In the scene that we were shooting, we were rehearsing Psycho so we had the Psycho scripts in our hand and the scene where they sit down and have a sandwich together was where it was open at and we started reading it out loud together as Janet Leigh and Tony Perkins.

If they recreated the shower scene, did you put on the Mother dress?

I did put on the mother dress, yeah, but not in the shower scenes because Tony Perkins was doing a play on Broadway when they shot that. He wasn’t there.

Were you aware either before or after of the other Hitchcock film The Girl?

No, I wasn’t aware when we shot it. I’m aware of it now because there’s posters of it around the place but I don't know that they’re conflicting in any way.

What was special about the actor/director relationship that Hitchcock and Perkins had?

I was kind of surprised because I always thought that Hitchcock was very dictatorial and as an actor you were just a puppet on his set. You showed up, he told you where to go, where to move your arm and that was that. But actually, the research that I did showed that it wasn’t like that between them at all. He was very collaborative with Tony Perkins on Psycho. So that was a bit of a surprise to me. I didn’t think that would be the case at all. It was a nice surprise.

How do you follow up Cloud Atlas and Hitchcock?

Wow, I don't know. I never really think about that kind of stuff. I love working, I love acting, I love movies. I hope I get to do more of them. In that regard, I really don’t think much further than that. I suppose if I had a hope it would be that I get to continue working with really wonderful filmmakers on exciting material.