I had a concrete plan going in to talk to Matt Smith.
I was going to talk to him about his tenure as “Doctor Who,” whether he’d ever return to the TARDIS, the recent revelation he was paid more than his co-star on “The Crown” Claire Foy by Netflix, and then delve into his performance as Robert Mapplethorpe in the biopic of the New York artist, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday night.
That plan immediately went astray as soon as he heard my accent, continued further off course when an offensively made cup of tea arrived, and completely imploded when he accidentally kicked the aforementioned brew over my phone.
All of which just made me love him so much more.
Matt Smith: Hello, mate. Where did you get those shoes.
Gregory Wakeman: I couldn’t even tell you.
Are they Ralph Lauren?
They’re definitely a cheap knock off version, pal. My mate over here did take the piss out of me for buying the cheap brand.
I like them.
Where I come from you don’t really pay that much attention to that kind of stuff.
Where you from? Manchester?
Chorley. Bloody Chorley.
Because you’re a Blackburn fan aren’t you?
Yeah, big Blackburn fan. Love ‘em. We’re going up, mate. Fingers crossed. I’ve got a couple of mates who live in Chorley. My cousin got married in a posh hotel in Chorley.
They’re all posh.
You made it over to New York.
Yeah, been here for a while actually. It’s a nice place, isn’t it? Where are you at now?
I’m London. But it’s important that you keep the accent.
I bet every time you are back people go, ‘F***ing hell, mate. You’ve turned American.’
Absolutely, pal. Every time. But let’s talk about “Mapplethorpe,” though. When were you first approached about it?
Years ago. It was basically one of those films that was never going to made. But eventually I got a call going, ‘Yeah it is going to get made.’
Why wasn’t it going to get made?
Just money. Films take so long. But I was going to make it when I was 27. Probably a better age for it. Then I was thinking I was too old to do it. But needless to say. But here we are. They got it off the ground. Put it on screen. It’s done. Soon it will be over.
When they came back to you and you thought you were too old for it, what was that thought process?
The film had been around in a moment in my life where –
Was this during “Doctor Who”?
Around that sort of time. Around that sort of time. During a gap or just after. And often these things are about timing. Sometimes you think that is the right time to get that part. He is such an interesting character. And I thought, ‘F*** it. I have to do it.’
What was your research process? Did you know about Robert before?
Not really. There isn’t the same sort of consciousness in England, is there?
It’s not like the people here, everyone sort of has the consciousness about him. Then you do what you do. You get involved and do as much research as you can. Immerse yourself. It also meant that I got to live here for 7 or 8 weeks. And that was great. It is a great city. It is somewhere I like being.
Then did you go and visit where he lived and that?
Weirdly I was staying right around the corner from where he lived. We got up into his house. And that was amazing. It was great being where he used to knock about. I think Basquiat lived on the same street. Patti was down the road. They were all knocking around. And you just go, ‘God, New York round there in the 70s.’ That’s when it would have been. We missed it.
There’s the same thing with every city. The film does a great job of showing that energy and community. It made me think of Manchester in the late 80s. London in the 70s. I don’t think it is ever going to happen again.
It is tricky isn’t it, because people say that about here. It is becoming so gentrified. Yogurt shops? Who the f*** wants yogurt all the time? Frozen yogurt. Anyone is interested in setting up a frozen yogurt shop needs to seriously reevaluate their lives.
I was just about to ask you if you wanted to join the frozen yogurt industry.
If it makes us billionaires. We can be like Bubba and Forrest Gump. Then we can give it all to charity. Otherwise, just leave all the nice folks who are living in there.
You seem like you have a good sense of where you came from, has it been a battle to keep that intact as you have become more successful as an actor?
There’s always something to strive for as an actor. There’s always something out of reach. I don’t know. I just keep going and try to stay sane. Try and keep my head sane. I have good people around me. Like in any walk of life. It’s like, what’s the make up of your friends here?
A mixture of English of American. A lot of us in are in Brooklyn.
I haven’t really been over to Brooklyn yet. Everyone is always like, ‘Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn.’ It hasn’t worked out for me yet. I have spent quite a bit of time in East London. And isn’t Brooklyn like East London? Obviously it is varied. But I think if I lived in this city I would … Baz Luhrman says in that song, ‘Live in New York once. But leave before it makes you hard. Live in LA once. But leave before it makes you soft.’ And he is right. I think everyone should live here once.
I do feel lucky.
I can’t imagine what it is like living here all year round. Because it is a concrete jungle. That’s why I imagine that Brooklyn gives you an opportunity to get out and get a breath.
I was at the screening last night, and I heard director Ondi Timoner introduced the film and say something about you, but you didn’t stand up when prompted. Did you watch the film?
Yeah, I was there. I was sat in the back. In the cheap seats.
Do you like watching yourself?
Not massively if I am honest. As I get older I do it less and less. I do it under duress. I don’t find it hugely satisfying. Especially a film like that.
Did you end up hating him?
Not really hating him. He was quite selfish. And quite singular. I kind of respected that about him. But I was just very keen that that’s what he was. And I didn’t want to do a Mickey Mouse version of it where it was about an artist, and he was kind in his way. Kind to the people he loved. But his great love was art. His great passion was fame. And sex.
He was as an actor in the way he provoked a response from his subjects.
Yeah, yeah. That’s how he got his photos, exactly. That was the transaction. He was a difficult man I suppose on many levels. But that’s what he was.
Did you have a history with art or drawing?
It’s funny actually. I have never actually been big on art. But when I was recently filming in Manchester I found myself drawing on set. Because I was just bored. I have been drawing every day more and more. Just sketching. It is always just a face. I am no artist. I like photography, though. Always taking a lot of pictures. Always. Like spying on people. Like when you are holiday. If you’re on your own a lot. A camera is a great thing to have.
I never got into it, mate.
That’s what you should get for your birthday.
I’ll ask my mum.
Get a nice camera.
When did the acting start then?
When I was 18 or 19 actually. I had a teacher who encouraged me into it. I was more into football.
You played didn’t you?
[Cup of tea arrives]
Thanks. I played for the majority of my youth.
[Opens lid, takes one look at the milky monstrosity]
Bloody hell. That’s one thing the Americans can’t do. Make a brew.
I mean, that’s not even tea. I have never been more disgused in my life. It is offensive.
That’s not a brew is it?
Who did you play for?
Leicester and Forrest.
I love the City Ground.
I played on that. I hit the bar.
Who did you play with?
The only player who was in my team that went on to do much was a kid called Jermaine Jenas.
Brilliant. Scored a great goal against United.
[Matt spills the tea]
Oh shit. Well, I never. I’m so clumsy, mate.
It’s still working, pal. Don’t worry. But I am going to sue you.
That will teach me for playing with my brew.
It’s all good, pal.
[Told there is time for only one more question]
OK, so, you are playing Charles Manson.
We only just finished that one. You know, when you make these movies, you just never know.
[Points to the floor and the remnants of tea]
You can’t drink that. It’s just water.
I think you knew exactly what you were doing there.
I did it in a divaish rage. She brought the wrong tea in so I threw it all over you. That was not tea. It was a warm milkshake.
You did the right thing.
Again, though, with the film, God knows how it is going to turn out.
What is the story?
It is about Manson and him on the ranch. But then it is mostly about these girls who went to prison. So you spend time with them after they have committed the murders. About how they became infatuated with him. It cuts between those two worlds. But, who knows?
Clearly you have a penchant for the dark side.
I think so. I am always drawn to hugely flawed characters. Obviously they are very different. Robert wasn’t, Charles was pretty f***ing insane. I don’t think Robert was. Robert saw great beauty in the world. And Manson couldn’t.
I will leave you to it.
What a pleasure to meet you, mate.
“Mapplethorpe” is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.