Vice: An Interview with Eddie Marsan

24th January 2019

With its imminent release on Friday and with yesterday’s announcement of 7 Oscar nominations, the hype around Dick Cheney bio-pic Vice is picking up heavy momentum. Following our rave review earlier this week, we had the opportunity to talk to one of the film's supporting cast, the British actor Eddie Marsan who plays Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Chief of Defence during the George Bush administration years. 

Even though Marsan is mostly working Stateside these days, for me it’s his roles in the high calibre Brit indies that will always stand out. From the tongue-tied working class bachelor in Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake, to Leigh's lighter effort, equally remarkable Happy-Go-Lucky, where Marzan plays the irritable driving instructor. Or the unexpectedly gay hitman in The Disappearance of Alison Creed to the compassionate boyfriend to Olivia Coleman’s Hannah in Paddy Considine's disturbing drama Tyrannosaur. All stellar performances that convey an actor that is multi-talented, with a diverse range and a leftfield, quirky persona.

As if there was any doubt, Marzan's stuffy Republican guise as Wolfowitz is brilliantly on point, a far cry from the seemingly uphased, highly affable, liberally inclined voice that came from the other side phone conversation. Marzan was happy to talk to us his role, his success in the US, populism and Brexit.

Eddie Marzan as Paul Wolfowitz.

Can you tell us about your role portraying Paul Wolfowitz? 

Yes, Wolfowitz was the Deputy of Defence in the Bush era. I had just finished Ray Donovan, Adam McKay contacted me asking if I would come and do it. As I was a big fan of The Big Short, I immediately said yes to it.

Wikipedia suggests that Wolfowitz is a bit of a paradox. A Pro-Gun Jewish previously Democrat, now Republican divorced who also had an affair with Shaha Al Riza of Arabic origins and was further involved in a scandal of financial nepotism.

The way I played Wolfowitz, is that he considered himself to be a Truman democrat. He thought of himself as somebody who believed that it was the United States responsibility to spread democracy through the world. US is meant to help the Middle East just in the way that it helped Europe during/ after the 2ndWorld War.

There are so many correlations with people like Cheney to politicians we have now.

There’s that great scene at the end of the film, where Cheney says, ‘I did what you wanted me to do’. I think that populism in the form of Trump in the US or here with Brexit, is basically one big point… that is pointing at something else. Like the right-wing Brexiteers, pointing at immigrants, pointing any Johnny foreigner. Or pointing at Europe and saying your dirty capitalists. If they are anti-Semitic, they would say it’s part of some Jewish conspiracy or whatever… But actually, all it is, is an escape-goat for people’s personal disappointment in life based on an inability to catch up with an increasing pace of change in the world. They have to find someone to blame when there isn’t anything or anyone to blame.

Marzan as the irritable driving instructor in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky.

I was on your twitter earlier, you seem quite vocal about Brexit?

I watched the parliament withdrawal vote yesterday evening, if that’s what you mean. The whole thing is absolutely shambolic to the point that it’s fascinating. I guess we are living through historical moments.

What’s the twitter feedback like?

Well some people agree with me, some disagree with me… or some abuse me…. I don’t mind really. It’s all part of the fun. All part of the debate. If you want to debate, you have to accept it all really. This deal that Theresa May came up with is basically the essence of Brexit. Brexit is the choice between what the cost or what’s the point? If we are going to leave it will be at the cost of the most vulnerable in the country and if we are going to have a soft Brexit, then…what’s the point? you are going to be subject to EU rules without being allowed to have any say. I am vocal about it, I am pro-remain. 

You mentioned that you now mostly work in the US. How easy is it for an actor as yourself, established in the UK, to pick up and go and work in US? Are you starting all over again?

For me it was when I got asked to do 21 Grams. A lot of actors go to America without a job and start from the beginning. Personally, I would never have the courage to do that, considering I had a young family to raise. When 21 Grams came out at the same time in the UK, I then there was Vera Drake. Both those films releases gave me the exposure which lead to me a having a career in both places.

It happened on its own?

In a sense yes but I did audition for the parts and I got them, and it just went from there.

You are described as a character actor. When I hear that description I’m always slightly perplexed, as isn’t every actor playing a character essentially? 

Yes, I totally agree. The description is used too sparingly. I think people mean you are an actor that can play different parts rather than just one thing. Quiet often protagonists are quite good-looking, attractive, neutral characters that audiences can assimilate to. I play a variation of characters. Although to be honest with you, I don’t know how you can call yourself an actor if you are not creating a character.

Marzan plays a gay hitman in The Dissapearance of Alison Creed.

Like in your role Vice and in all the characters you have played, there seems to that distinct thing to you that shines through. 

Well you would have to ask each director why they gave me the role. It would feel narcissistic of me to guess what people think of me. The reason why someone would hire me, is for a myriad of reasons, all relating to their film. I think what I try to do is be professional and competent, not to show off, to be inhabit a character as best as I can. 

Where do we find you next?

I’ve just finished Hobbs and Shaw, it’s the latest Fast and Furious instalment. I have a Spanish film coming out, where I play a radio show host obsessed with Brexit, whose studio is then hijacked by terrorists. The Ray Donovan new season airs now in the UK and we are starting to shoot season 7 later this year. 

Vice is released on the 25thof January 2019.


Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.

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