I was in awe, probably far more than I should have been, to be in the same room as theatre and film director Sam Mendes on Monday night. Love his work and there he was on stage chairing a Q&A with Sir Richard Eyre and Stan fav Simon Russell Beale following a preview of the two parts of Henry IV which Eyre adapted and directed and SRB starred as Falstaff.
Richard Eyre: "It's my second favourite Shakespeare after King Lear but my condition for being involved was that Simon played Falstaff."
Other than cutting the words were never tampered with but he said added physical scenes to get around certain problems such as the fact that in part 2 you don't see the King for an hour. Also intercut a bit because you don't have the constraints of the stage.
Simon Russell Beale: "We vaguely put ourselves in the right positions and Richard would say just do it and I'll film principle shots."
When the play acting scene in the alehouse was filmed it was performed straight through without an "actor dropping a line". "The actions of the extras was entirely dependent on what we did. It was an extraordinary moment."
Sam Mendes: So why rehearse then?
SRB: "You can localise absolutely precisely. It's absolute concentration. I found it extremely pleasurable."
SM: Had you made decisions about Falstaff?
SRB: "Weird one Falstaff. I had the most amazing make up and fat suit which was 90% of the work. The beard became a feature on set. His private life is hidden, his soliloquies are about other things and we never really hear what he feels."
SM: "One of the great achievements in this is presenting his internal landscape."
RE commented that's it's a popular misconception that Falstaff is all Englishness because he hates England and he hates the countryside.
SRB: "It's a question of making real judgements with the characters. He's a shit. He might be fun to work with but he's a shit."
RE: "Hal's a shit too."
SRB: "Crept in to see the audiences reaction to the Hal taking the crown scene and people laughed and I thought 'yes!' because he's been caught out."
RE: Said he encouraged team working as film sets are traditionally sectoral while in theatre everyone gets on together. "I was insistent everyone spilled over into each others departments."
"I always shoot with two camera and the 2nd is a steady cam or a steady cam operator. It cuts out time of thinking about what the next set up is. Crew and cast have to be in harmony because they don't have time to not know what they are doing."
SM: Two cameras gives the actors freedom to concentrate on the scene rather than the camera.
SRB: "Can't remember be conscious of the camera, well maybe the last scene." (He says his line direct to camera so this was a joke.)
"The only bit I missed from the play is the line 'I used to be thin'. I'd like to do him on stage, I missed him after nine weeks and would like to meet him again."
RE on Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons
"Tom is making a movie in Detroit. He's a prodigy, extraordinarily bright and a great mimmick. He's mature beyond his years and had fantastic manners. He hasn't done a lot of Shakespeare on stage but he can hear it and that gives the actor a lot of freedom.
"Jeremy is the same but has a huge amount of experience. He's got to a point where he doesn't feel he has anything to prove so he's tremendously comfortable."
"No one turned up without a complete command of what they were doing which is why we could shoot 7 minute scenes because they were going for it."
SRB - Tom's memory is incredible, when I came in he was still doing Henry V.