What do remember about the first time you read the ‘Nightingale’ script?
I have very vivid memories of the first time I read the script because I hadn't read anything quite like it before. I’d had experiences [with similar material] in the theater, when I’d done a play called Aeschylus’ ‘Prometheus Bound.’ Prometheus is a god who gives mankind the gift of fire, and Zeus ties him to a rock where he has his liver pecked by an eagle for 13 generations. That was about an hour and 45 minutes of wailing at Zeus -- you can do that in a theater. Those kinds of opportunities very rarely come along with film because it can be a safer and less adventurous, less inventive medium. This felt like the kind of piece that came along once in a lifetime, and I thought, “This can't be done. Let’s do it.”
Why didn’t you think it could be done?
As viewers of film, we are predisposed to go on a visual journey that takes us through different environments. You have the car chase, the love interest, the sex scene, the climax. As a result, audiences have come to expect certain things when they watch a film. Now if you have one actor, in a house on his own, there is [seemingly] no chance for any of that. But, you still have to have all of those things. You have to find inventive ways of doing the same thing. The equivalent of the car chase for us in ‘Nightingale’ is when Peter has an emotional meltdown.
How did you prepare for such an intense role?
When Elliott [Lester, who directed the film] and I honed in on the fact that Peter essentially had seven different personalities that was the point at which I felt I had to do something I’d never done before as an actor, which was to stay in character the whole time. I just didn’t know how to have that many human beings revolving around in my head and still have me in there as well. So for the three weeks that we shot the film, I didn’t come out of character. I have a wife and four lovely children, and I felt Peter Snowden isn't the guy you want around your kids, so I moved into a friend’s apartment while he was away doing another film. That degree of mania, that degree of complexity is something I’d never played before and I didn’t know the effect it would have on me. I watch ‘Nightingale’ now, and I'm a little freaked out by it. I can see that I'm shifting through personas, and I'm making choices that I wouldn’t make as an actor just playing a role.
After living and breathing as Peter Snowden for three weeks, how did you feel when they called a wrap on the last day of filming?
When they said, “It’s a wrap,” I was able to shelve Peter immediately. The funniest thing was that our crew didn’t realize I was English. They asked me, “What are you doing? Why are you talking funny?” I think people left the set more traumatized than they’d been by being around Peter for three weeks. It took me a moment to click into myself as well. I’d never literally just shelved myself. I still had some of David’s thoughts, but they got a little blurry there for a while. I remember dreaming in an American accent, which is the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced as an actor.