Interview – Joseph Mawle on method acting, playing the baddie and being the most regularly bearded man in Hollywood
Joseph Mawle is almost unrecognisable in Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel. Not because of any dramatic transformation or the heroics of the makeup department, but because I don’t think we’ve ever seen him – even relatively – clean-shaven before.
Playing the hero or the villain, one thing we can rely on Mawle for is at least a sprinkling of stubble.
“It’s true, it’s stood me in good stead, I hadn’t thought about it!” he begins. “I’ve got a bit of stubble at the moment – but occasionally the razor comes out! I hope my career doesn’t depend on whether I can grow a beard of not – but if it does, so be it. May it keep growing!” he says giggling.
The 39-year-old, who grew up in rural Warwickshire on his dad’s farm, is best known for his recurring part in the epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones as the bearded Benjen Stark, as well television turns as Jesus Christ and Peter Sutcliffe (…see what we mean?).
Mawle’s character hasn’t appeared in the HBO series since season one – and he’s previously claimed to be in the dark over whether he would return, stating that it all depends on its writer George RR Martin.
At the end of our interview today, he tantalisingly tell us he’s “having a little bit of downtime before cracking on with the next [project] – which I can’t reveal at this point!”
The Tunnel, based on the Danish/Swedish crime series The Bridge, stars Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy. Mawle plays Stephen Beaumont, a social worker. He’s effusive about director Dominik [Moll] and producer Ruth Keneley-Letts, who he says he’s admired for a long time.
“I had a good time – inevitably it depends on whether your character is a nice, fun person to get in the head of or an unpleasant person, and this guy wasn’t particularly pleasant, so there elements that weren’t that enjoyable if I’m honest!”
He considers whether or not he’s drawn towards “unpleasant” characters in series.
“I’m flicking through my TV in my head and I’m thinking ‘Birdsong… that was a really nice person, not a bad bloke’. I don’t always do dark characters, but I do choose people who I find fascinating, who have depth. It’s certainly the case of Stephen in The Tunnel, there are both really good elements and really bad. I don’t think any person is being bad on purpose, they are doing something they believe is right, even if it’s confusing.
“The results of their actions, although despicable or deplorable in some cases – you think that character has to wake up and realise, who is he… what he’s become.”
He’s always chosen his characters well – and reputation has steadily grown.
“It’s all about exploring and not just my story in it but the whole story,” he tells us, “and if that intrigues me and piques my interest. If I’ve just done something dark, it’s really nice to do something lighter or kinder. I want characters that get my gut racing, that win me over, those are the ones I put myself forward for.
“I love doing research, even if part of it is superfluous to requirements, the more information I have, the more comfortable I feel playing that character. It gives you exciting options of where to go – the more you know the more you’ve got.”
He tells us there’s no method to his approach: in fact, acting is as easy as cake.
“‘Method’ is always a funny word,” he says with a laugh, “There are of course elements of method, but there’s a method to baking a cake, and after you’ve followed that method by the book, you go, actually I can do it without the book, I can go my own way, and that’s kind of what I do, and finding that ways of making characters come to life.”
Does he prefer TV?
“It’s not exactly a preference [for television]. If you’ve done a film, it’s always nice to do a series when you get chance to explore, and as series get more popular with box-sets, with Breaking Bad, Games of Thrones, you really to go on a journey with people and with them for a good while.”
“We’ve just – just – finished filming Ron Howard’s new film, In the Heart of the Sea, which is based on the real story behind the writing of Melville’s Moby Dick,” he tell us.
What does he do in his downtime? “Run. Eat. And read,” he quips. He also heads back to Warwickshire and still helps out on the farm, he was there just over Christmas. “It’s nice to get a bit useful, a bit physical!”
You sure you didn’t just put your feet up?
“Well, there’s a bit of that as well” he laughs, “being looked after!”
The Tunnel is available to buy now on Blu-Ray and DVD.
The Tunnel is out now on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Acorn Media