What it’s like to bring heroes, tyrants and spies to life

Tom Hollander (center) as Tsar Nicholas

After seeing exciting new actor Harris Dickinson dazzle film buffs with his indelible performance in Eliza Hittman’s deeply provocative LGBT-themed Sundance-winning 2017 film “Beach Rats,” we knew it was only a matter of time before he’d become Tinseltown’s hot new property. True enough, even if his role in 2019’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” were largely decorative, Harris was nevertheless perfectly cast as charming eye-candy Prince Philip. The 25-year-old British actor held his own opposite Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning.

It’s this scorching presence and undeniable appeal that “The King’s Man” writer-director Matthew Vaughn saw in Harris the minute the actor walked in to read for the part of Conrad, the idealistic only son of the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) in the “Kingsman” prequel.

“It’s really obvious,” Matthew explained when we asked him what he saw in Harris that set the young actor apart from other exciting newcomers his age. “What I see in him is what you guys see when you watch any of my films—whether it’s Aaron Taylor Johnson in ‘Kick-Ass,’ Taron Egerton in ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ or Jennifer Lawrence in ‘X-Men: First Class.’

Director Matthew Vaughn (right) on the set with (from left) Daniel Bruhl (as Erik Jan Hanussen) and Hollander (as Kaiser Wilhelm)

Exuding charisma

“These people come in exuding charisma. They walk through the door, and I go, ‘Hey, Eggsy or Conrad just walked in. They say their lines and, about a minute later, I know they’ve got the part. It takes about a minute. By the way, casting crucial roles like this could take a year or longer.”

When we asked Harris what it was like auditioning for the part, he recalled, “It wasn’t really all that nerve-wracking. What was nice is that Matthew made it very relaxed—he didn’t put too much pressure on me. The audition played out more like a meeting, and then he asked me to read a scene. And although I was still a bit nervous, I was made to feel very comfortable, so I think that helped me a lot.”

Conrad is often described as smart, brave and naïve at the same time. Did the dashing actor see a bit of himself in his teenage character?

“Conrad is a little younger than I am, so maybe I could relate to him when I was that age—although I sort of knew more than he did (laughs),” Harris quipped. “But I was able to relate to the family element in the film, like when you clash with your family or your father’s preexisting ideas about the world.

“Each generation has a different idea of how they want to move forward. So, there’s a lot of that in there as well. And that’s universal, regardless of whether it’s period or modern day. So yeah, I could definitely relate to that.”

Rhys Ifans as Rasputin

Origins

“The King’s Man,” which is now on its second week in Philippine theaters, follows the origins of the very first independent intelligence agency in a tale that features a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds coming together to wreak havoc on the world. In this cautionary story, a man and his team race against time to stop them.

To explain his decision to develop the sequel, Matthew said, “It all started while I was watching a lot of screeners for the Oscars. I noticed that I wasn’t all that inspired to want to watch them again, and my kids were bored … because many of the movies were the small and indie sort. I thought, ‘What happened to the sprawling adventures that used to fill the screen?’

“So, I wanted to make an epic adventure similar to the films that I loved as a kid, like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ or ‘Dr. Zhivago’—but I didn’t know where to begin! Then, I remembered the backstory I’d written for ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service,’ and I said, ‘Let’s expand the franchise and do an epic adventure movie in a way that people who might not necessarily know about that genre could be enticed to come and watch it.’”

Another huge draw about the movie for us was seeing how its formidable actors created the production’s larger-than-life characters.

The most notable of the actors are Rhys Ifans, who plays Grigori Rasputin, and Tom Hollander, who breathes life into three—yes, three!—complex characters, each as distinct as the other: King George of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Tsar Nicolas of Russia. How versatile can you get?

In Rhys’ case, he said it was easy to “disappear” into loony Rasputin because not much was left of him. “Disappearing into character in this case was very easy because it lets you physically vanish into the role,” explained Rhys. “So, it was very easy once I wore the wig and the beard—that really does kind of take care of business. It’s essentially a mask.

“But one of the great pleasures for me was showing up to work and seeing which of Tom’s characters would appear in the makeup trailer! I mean, they’re such magnificent, exquisite creations—all three of them!

Harris Dickinson in “The King’s Man” —PHOTOS COURTESY OF DISNEY PHILIPPINES

Phenomenal

“As Rasputin, I only had scenes with the Tsar. But when I saw the Kaiser, I literally had to sit back in my chair because he was simply phenomenal to look at. In other films, you can disappear plumbing the emotional fathoms of character. But with a film like this, you can actually disappear visually.”

Tom, on the other hand, was so focused on the task at hand that he didn’t have to worry about shuttling from one character to another—except when accents got in the way.

“I found it difficult sometimes to separate the accents between the Kaiser and the Tsar,” Tom admitted. “You’re right to ask about the degree of difficulty this task presented because I would sometimes get confused between those two.

“Rhys and I did have this amazing makeup team headed by the very gifted Jenny Shircore. She was the one who helped us ‘disappear into our characters,’ as you put it.”

“But that was also the best thing about it—you’re playing a different character every day. Of course George was easier to play because he was British and sounded more like me. But I had to concentrate quite hard on the accents, so I’d say the words to myself again and again. I’d listen to the tape recording I had of the only Russian person I know in London, then listen to a German tutor on YouTube—that sort of thing.”

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