Simon Curtis’ Woman in Gold opened in early April, against Furious 7, and it’s racked up $32.3 million domestically, which is pretty astounding for a fairly inexpensive ($11 million) Holocaust drama revolving around the art world.
Based on the true story of Austrian Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann, played by the indelible Dame Helen Mirren, it shows what happens when she discovers that Glustav Klimt’s artistic tour de force “The Woman in Gold,” a family heirloom that was taken by the Nazis during World War II, now resides in a Vienna museum. She calls upon an unlikely ally in a relatively inexperienced lawyer named Randol Schoenberg, played by Ryan Reynolds, to reclaim her family’s most valued possession, a fight that will take them to the Supreme Court and ultimately to Vienna to take on the government who refuses to relinquish it or admit Altmann’s ownership.
Although he wasn’t able to do much press back in April due to other commitments (a little movie called Deadpool), Ryan Reynolds took some time out of his current stay in Thailand to talk about the movie as the Weinstein Company re-expands it into theaters for those looking for another option to the summer blockbusters.
ComingSoon.net: I should let you know that this is one of my mother’s favorite movies. I think she just saw it again yesterday in fact. It’s kind of her “Mad Max.”
Ryan Reynolds: That’s great, that’s awesome. It sort of speaks to a lot of people of all different ages, that’s for sure.
CS: It’s a really special film, and she had a similar story where she left Germany when she was a young girl in the ‘30s though she didn’t come from a wealthy family who owned a valuable painting.
Reynolds: Oh yeah, so it’s pretty resonant I’d imagine.
CS: It’s a surprising role and movie for you to play, because it’s so different from other things we’ve seen you do. How did it come to you and what resonated with you to play Randol?
Reynolds: Yeah, it is something outside the norm, playing a guy that’s a little less self-aware. It came to me through Harvey Weinstein. He actually just called me up one day and said, “Hey Reynolds, this is your lucky f*ckin’ day.” That can go either way whenever Harvey says that, but thankfully it was this great script and he sent it to me, and I was just in love with it from the get-go. It was just a beautiful story. I also had some connection to that painting. As a kid or 18-19-year-old backpacker running around through Europe, I actually went into the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and I saw “The Woman in Gold.” I actually remember seeing that painting and I didn’t know much about it, what had happened to that painting after that. Obviously, it was a pretty historic thing that I somehow missed that news feed. I was just taken with it. I could not believe that I had this connection that dated back to being a teenager going around Europe. I remember when we were actually shooting the film, I was standing there, staring at “The Woman in Gold”—actually, while we were shooting, they used a replica basically, but it was so good that it was considered a forgery, so contractually, they had to destroy the painting after shooting. Such a shame, because it was stunning to look at. It mirrored the actual Klimt painting almost stroke for stroke.
CS: I don’t think I realized Randol was a real guy. I assumed he might have been an amalgam of lawyers who worked on the case, but when I was on YouTube rewatching the trailer, I found his YouTube page, so was he involved and did you spend time with him?
Reynolds: He was very involved with the story with Alexi Kaye Campbell, as he drew out the story, and laid it out beat-for-beat, Randy was (involved) every step of the way. Just an amazing guy, a real-life warrior, he is. If you looked at him, you wouldn’t think, “There’s a guy that will put his last drop of blood into something he believes in,” but he is that guy. He’s a real special person and obviously to play him was a privilege and a little daunting, because I’m not used to playing real life people. People that are actually walking around and existing and will sit down in a movie theater and see me portraying them was a little nerve-wracking, but it was great. When I look in the mirror, all I see is a guy who is born to be a Jewish restitution lawyer (chuckles). I’m not the first guy you’d imagine would be stepping into those shoes, but it was a beautiful story and Helen Mirren, somebody of that caliber, you’re just around them and you just learn, you can’t help it. I was real excited to be there.
CS: What was it like working with her? I don’t know if you saw her on Broadway in “The Audience,” but it was amazing to watch her in that live atmosphere. You see her in movies and she’s impressive but you know there’s stuff going on like editing, but when you see her perform live, it’s just astounding.
Reynolds: I know. I was dying to see it, but I’ve been running around Vancouver in the tight red jammies for the last four-and-a-half months. Now I’m in Asia and I’ll probably miss the entire run, which is really unfortunate but I’ve been dying to see it. She’s been doing this character (Queen Elizabeth) forever, so to see her step into those multiple pairs of shoes for that performance would have been great, but no, I missed it. I’m a sh*t friend unfortunately. I’m sure I’ll catch the next time she does it, because I’m sure there will be a next time.
CS: What was it like being on set and acting opposite her? Do you have very different styles?
Reynolds: Actually, surprisingly, no. Going into it, you always wonder when you step onto a set and what the dynamic is going to be like. Sometimes you can work with people who are method actors and to be totally frank, that can be really uncomfortable for everyone involved. Helen has none of that. She just sort of steps into it in the moment. When they roll the cameras, she becomes whomever she’s playing. That was a beautiful thing. But our first rehearsal day, she came over and whispered in my ear, “I’m so f*cking nervous.” And I thought that was incredible, that somebody of her pedigree and her stature and her experience still gets nervous before starting a film. I just thought that was the most heartwarming and beautiful thing I had ever heard. It’s something you hope would never go away. You always imagine that… I mean, I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ve been doing it for 25 years professionally and it’s never once, not even for a moment, felt rote or dull or anything like that. It’s always a tightrope walk and it’s nice to see that it’s possible for that to never go away. I saw that in Helen just being nervous. You’d never know it to look at her, but the fact that she leaned over and said that, I thought it just imbued so much humanity into this person you can’t help but consider a legend.
CS: I saw “Mississippi Grind” at Sundance and I loved that movie. I don’t know if you did that after doing “Woman in Gold,” but I feel that whatever you got from that experience carried over into that.
Reynolds: I shot “Grind,” that was the movie I did right after “Woman in Gold.” I’ve been lucky this last couple of years to work on a few different projects that were sort of a dream come true in a sense. Working with great filmmakers is always… you’re only really as good as the filmmaker. It’s a director’s medium, so when you get to step on the dance floor with fantastic directors like Simon and like Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, it’s pretty spectacular I’ve gotta say.
CS: Going back to “Woman in Gold,” did you end up doing a lot of research for it, either learning about art or the Holocaust? I imagine it was fairly well-written and everything you needed to know was there but did you want to do more research beyond that?
Reynolds: Yeah, to a certain degree. I really studied the process that Randy went through in each of these three stages in order to have this painting returned to its rightful owner. One with the local courts, the next was the Supreme Court and after that was the arbitration hearing in Vienna. Those are the things I focused on mostly. Randy admittedly at the time wasn’t a Holocaust historian by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was this case that really opened his eyes to that. And that the world has not changed as significantly as we think it has. He truly did become a torch-bearer. Obviously, when they brought that painting back, he made a good chunk of change and he used that in, what I think is a really beautiful way, which was to help build and create the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles. He’s an interesting guy. I don’t think you can really overlook the fact that he took a significant commission from this huge win, but he nearly bankrupted himself in the process leading up to it, just because it was something he believed in. But he never changed because of it. He’s a guy who basically drives the same car that he’s been driving for 15 years and lives in the same house. He’s a guy who has a great deal of humility for someone who has done such extraordinary things.
CS: There’s so many stories from the Holocaust from people who survived it and those that didn’t survive, but this is such an interesting take because it’s sad and emotional at times, but it’s also very entertaining.
Reynolds: Yeah, it’s also very contemporary, too. There’s so many things going on in the world today, Anti-Semitism is unfortunately quite alive and well, and I felt like a lot of the themes in “Woman in Gold” were pretty relevant and resonant now. I loved that, and I love that it doesn’t strictly focus on the Holocaust so much as the survival from that Holocaust and what this one woman did to reclaim her past in a certain respect. I can imagine leaving your home as a young woman and basically only having the clothes on your back and having to start all over. It can be a fairly daunting and scary thing, so obviously it built a kind of foundation for Maria Altman, a character that is well represented by Helen in the movie.
CS: By the way, what are you doing in Thailand? Are you shooting another movie?
Reynolds: No, no. My wife’s shooting a movie here so I just wrapped “Deadpool” about two weeks ago and just flew straight here.
CS: I’ll let you go, because I imagine we’re going to be talking a few more times in the next couple months with “Self/Less” and Comic-Con just weeks away.
Reynolds: Yes, I’m sure we’ll be face to face in San Diego.
CS: I haven’t seen “Self/Less” yet, but I’m just a big fan of Tarsem, he’s a wild guy, and I can’t wait to see it.
Reynolds: Yeah, Tarsem is cool. I love him. He’s an absolute maniac in the best possible way.
(Photo Credit: WENN.com)