Bah! Humbug! It’s that time of year again, and FX is celebrating Scrooge’s famous epithets with a three-hour special, “A Christmas Carol,” premiering Dec. 19.
Scrooge is played by 52-year-old Aussie Guy Pearce, (“L.A. Confidential”). And the script is adapted by the innovative Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders,” “Locke”).
“What I wanted to do was to not set out to deliberately vandalize what the story is,” says Knight. “I know how precious it is to a lot of people. It’s precious to me as well, and it’s part of our narrative; it’s part of our culture. It’s part of Christmas.
“What I wanted to do is to deepen it and give it maybe a resonance that people now will go back to the book and read it again. I never try to introduce alien ideas, modern ideas, contemporary ideas into the narrative, but rather dig into what’s there and find out some of the things that a contemporary audience would be interested in,” he says.
They’ll be interested all right with protean Andy Serkis as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Stephen Graham as Jacob Marley and newcomer Joe Alwyn as the sunny Bob Cratchit.
You approach the project differently when you play a period piece, says Pearce. “If you are doing Shakespeare or you are doing something from the 1800s or the 1500s, you affect kind of a strange formality, and you sort of think that you should not do anything that feels contemporary,” he says.
“You shouldn’t ‘um’ and ‘ah,’ and you should actually make sure all of your words are clipped. And you do all of this sort of stuff that you think you should do because you didn’t actually live back then. And your guess is that you should be far more formal perhaps. Whereas Nick Murphy, our director, was always going, ‘No, no. Just “um” and “ah,” and just chatter away. I want this to feel (real).”‘
Pearce says the Victorian streets swathed in snow, and the period costumes are enough to clue the audience into the period and the behavior of the characters. “He (the director) wanted to make sure that … our personalities are relatable to an audience, and that they are contemporary, and the formality of the period — if there was such a thing as the formality of that period — doesn’t then get in the way.”
Pearce, who’s been so memorable in projects like “Memento,” “The Hurt Locker” and “The King’s Speech,” says whether an actor is interpreting Charles Dickens or David Mamet, the goal is the same.
“For any of us, I think, who have been in it for a while, the thing that we are searching for all the time — or going for all the time– is that feeling that you achieve what it is you are trying to achieve,” he says, “that feeling that you get to portray on screen what the writer initiated there on the page.
“And the coming-together of all of that so that our audience sits there and is completely moved by that. That’s the best part of it. When that doesn’t work, that’s the worst part of it … And it’s such a fine line. It’s such a tightrope because the balance between directorial style, the communication between all of us, the way that the technical stuff works, the way something is edited, then the way that something is released, can all trip a project up along the way, as well as our own performances.”
As lauded as he is, Pearce says he’s not immune to self-doubt. “I’ve done things before, and I look at it, and I think, ‘I’m just in the wrong movie. I’m really just doing the wrong thing here. I needed to be far more subtle. Or I needed to be bigger’ or whatever it happens to be … I talk about films a lot because people ask me about ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘Memento’ and things like this where it all came together just incredibly, and it then goes beyond what I think anyone could have really imagined. Then you are creating history,” he says.
“And people are so moved by that stuff that it’s hard to really fathom how meaningful it is. And then, of course, we do lots of other jobs too, where it doesn’t quite come together. They are not necessarily bad, but they just don’t quite work. They sort of work, and we sort of get something from them. But we go, ‘Oh, well.’ . . That’s utterly disappointing for all of us who are involved because we spend months and months and years for some people, creating that and trying to make it work. So when it doesn’t come together, it’s a real shame,” he sighs.
Still, Pearce says, there are rewards. “The only times, perhaps, that I feel truly confident is between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ when I’m delivering someone else’s lines, I’m in a costume that someone’s designed, I’m playing a character that they created, I have great lighting, and it’s being shot in a way that I know is going to work well. Then they call ‘cut’ and I go back to being Guy again.”