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“It was like filming on Mars” – James D’Arcy talks The Philosophers (The FH Interview)

6 min read

Freddie Deighton spoke to James D'Arcy about his latest film The Philosophers which was made in 2013, a whopping 8 years ago. Read on to see James talk to Freddie about becoming a father, travelling to exotic locations and comparing to . This includes spoilers for The Philosophers.

How have you kept yourself entertained throughout all the lockdowns?

I had a baby.

Oh wow, that must have been entertaining.

It's been pretty entertaining, yes. And very diverting and honestly we slightly missed the fact that there was a because we were in a baby bubble.

Outside of that did you get much work done? Or was it all around the baby?

Well I was doing two TV shows in March last year, both of which shut down but then came back. We finished them, one of them is actually out on Amazon, it's called Leonardo. The other one is called Red Election and I'm not sure exactly what's happened to that. I managed to do both of those jobs and finish them just in time to become a dad. And I've been a dad ever since.

So onto The Philosophers, when you made this film in 2013, did you think you'd be talking about it in 2021?

No, I didn't to be honest with you! It was a bit of a surprise when the director emailed me out of the blue and said “Oh James, the film's coming out!” and I was like “What are you talking about, the film's been out hasn't it?”. I guess it's coming out in a different way and it's also getting its original title back. They'd changed it from The Philosophers to After The Dark, they got it back to what it was initially intended to be and I was very pleased for the director on that point. I take it as a positive sign that whatever way it originally came out garnered enough interest to widen it out and I think it's terrific.

So you don't know why there's been such a big gap between the initial release and the upcoming one?

I can only assume that when it first comes out it's bought by whoever paid for it and there's a time limit on that and then it can come out on other digital platforms subsequently. Plus also I don't really understand how all the different territories work with this film. I'm going to just extrapolate the positive here and say that we are talking about it many years later which I think is wonderful.

There's a very young in this film, have you kept in contact with her since production ended?

I did a TV series and there was a premiere for it in Los Angeles about five years ago. I saw this beautiful young woman and I thought I recognised her from something. Then I realised it was Erin. She was so young when we did The Philosophers and in the intervening time it was shocking to see that she had become a woman. I'll be honest though, I've watched two episodes of and I'm not quite sure I'm into it.

How much did the shooting locations factor in to you signing on to this project?

It did not hurt, let's say that, Freddie. When they offered me the film, they sent me simultaneously a look book – the locations we'd be going to. By the time I'd finished drooling over that, all I could do was think “please, please, please let the script be OK.”. You can't do a film just for where it's filming but I quite often make films in miserable and depressing places. This one just happened to be the perfect storm of a script I really enjoyed, PLUS we were going to film in some amazing places.  Honestly, some of the most amazing places I've filmed anything!

Yeah, that third “dream” sequence on the island was beautiful

Absolutely, and there's thousands of other islands surrounding that one and it's all incredible.

Where was the second “dream” sequence in the rockier terrain filmed?

Ah, I don't know I'm afraid I wish I could tell you. I can't even remember the name of the volcano now. I remember that we got there, it took a day to drive and it was very remote. We went to sleep and we had to get up at 3am in order to get the sunrise. It was like filming on Mars, there's sort of a desert floor by the volcano, the sand – or volcanic dust I should say – was so fine that if there was just a wisp of wind, then you're in a sand storm. So the best chance we had to get any filming done was before 11am, because between then and about 3:30pm it's almost impossible to film because the weather gets so bad. Then from 4pm until about 7pm when it calmed down we could get some more done. I remember standing there watching the sun come up and seeing this volcano for the first time and taking in how utterly majestic and awe-inspiring that was.

I can hardly imagine, that must have been incredible.

At the time, I turned to one of the producers and I asked “When did this last erupt? 1780-something maybe?” and he said “No, it blew 14 years ago.” I asked if we would get any advance warning if that were to happen and he said “Maybe, maybe not”. So then I asked “If it does happen, do we get in a fast car and drive away?” and he replied “No, we'd all be dead.”

The bunkers that you and the students all stay in in the various “dream” sequences were very nice. Are they the kind of place you'd like to stay in an apocalypse or would you have somewhere else in mind?

No, I wouldn't want to stay in them. I don't like the idea of being somewhere so urban I suppose. They also don't have much natural light and that's a problem. There always seemed to be some form of breeze blocks and OK they were fairly nice breeze blocks but it all seemed to be designed with grey misery in mind.

So you'd want more of a cottage or something then?

Yeah that would be nice.

Though not much protection from nuclear fallout.

I mean you've to weigh up the pros and cons, Freddie.

When you read the script, did you agree with what the students chose? And in a survival situation, would you always shoot the poet?

No, I would never shoot the poet, although that was moment in the script that I decided I was definitely doing this film. It was so unexpected in the first sequence. Did I agree with the students? I mean I quite liked that they all just went off and did their own thing. I thought that was quite good and enjoyable.

 I noticed that Erin Moriarty's character always picked the short straw and tended to be quite useless.

Yeah she didn't fare very well in the nuclear apocalypse but maybe now with her new found superpowers she'll be more useful.

As you were the most experienced actor in the cast – and you're a director now as well – did you ever help out any of the young actors with their performances?

No, I don't think that's the job of an actor at all. In the very early days there were four or five actors who had never been on a film set before. So I did attempt to be somewhat present for them in case they had questions about how everything worked. Beyond that, unless anybody asked, I'd let them get on with it. They're actors themselves of course. Obviously if I was asked I'd have helped but I wasn't trying to be a co-director with John (Huddles) or anything like that.

One last question before I let you go, who's a more fun director to work with: Christopher Nolan or Madonna?

Oh wow. It's so unfair to make me choose because if you asked if I'd like to work with either of them again I'd say yes! They're completely different in terms of personality. Chris is a technical genius, he's one of the greatest film makers that's ever lived. That's not to take anything away from Madonna but obviously the majority of her fame is slightly routed in a different career. She's someone who is quite possibly the most famous woman in the world. The only person in my lifetime who I can think of that has been more famous than her is Princess Diana. So to be around her for a little while was just fascinating. I have to admit however that working with Christopher Nolan is one of the great highlights of my film acting career.

The Philosophers is out now


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