Hans Matheson returns to the big screen this week as he leads an all-star cast in festive film The Christmas Candle: which is based on the book of the same name by Max Lucado.
We caught up with Matheson to chat about the film, what drew him to the character and his career so far.
- The Christmas Candle will be hitting the big screen next week, so can you tell me a little bit about the film?
I take on the role of David Richmond, the reverend, and he has formed this anger towards God, because he lost his wife and hic child tragically. Before that, he had a firm belief and a faith and in God and miracles but that event made him a little bit cynical and doubting of what he once believed.
He forms this anger towards go and, in some ways, he believes through good works and proving to others and getting them to follow his way of thinking, he will somehow get closer to God; it is almost like a competition. If anyone stands in opposition to that, they almost become a target for his anger. What this anger does is it imprisons him I think.
It keeps him from seeing the miracle of the universe and he is left with only his limited perception. He has been fighting himself through the reflection of others. However, it is all very innocent and he doesn’t really mean to do it.
What is wonderful is that there is redemption in the end, in which he sees that all the times he thought good works would lead somewhere, providence was at work the whole time. The miracle of life is the unknown.
That is not just a Christian thing because if you watch Brian Cox and his science programmes, it is the wonder of the universe and just sitting back and thinking ‘goodness me, I thought I was in control’. There is just a miracle of being alive in this world.
- You take on the role of David Richmond in the film so what was it about this character and the script that really appealed to you?
It was just this idea of authority. He is a vicar, has studied theology, and is in a position where he is preaching to others. However, it is this humbleness where he realises that there is so much more for him to learn. Maybe people in authority seem to have all of the answers, but they really don’t; that is wonderful because nobody has all of the answers.
Sometimes when people are in that position they are looked upon by others as having the answers, when actually no one has the answers and we are all in this game together. Who knows what is going to happen.
It is also seeing that the darkness is also the light, as it wakes you up out of your limited perception of your dream world into the bigger picture. Any bad things that seem to happen actually end up being good in hindsight. Nothing is really good or bad, and that is really what drew me to the character and the story.
- The film is based on the novel of the same name by Max Lucado how familiar were you with the book? How useful was the novel as you were developing this character - he is quite a complex chap?
Yes, he is a complex chap isn’t he? I read the book afterwards, as I didn’t have any idea about it before. I read the script; I think that the script is slightly different but it does have the same moral and it has the same story to tell.
For me, it is a romantic comedy and it is not necessarily a message from the Christian faith; I just don’t see it like that - maybe some people do. I think that there is a message in everything and in all paths towards, apparently, God: whether it is physics or whatever. It is just whether or not it lights you up or not and if there’s a resonance in you about certain things.
I saw it really like a romantic comedy and it wasn’t ‘oh my god we are telling a message about God and life and hope and love’ - it doesn’t need to be limited by that.
- The movie sees John Stephenson return to the director's chair for the first time since Five Children and It in 2004, so how did you find working with him? What kind of director is he?
He is a gentleman. He has a way of allowing everyone to do the job that he has employed them to do, while gently guiding them through and oversees everything.
He is not precious about his view, about the way things should be, and he really is open to discover whatever arises. He is a very good listener and when he does give notes they are very useful. I enjoyed working with him, as he is a lovely man.
- That does lead me into my next question. I was wondering how collaborative a process it was between him and yourself as you were developing the character of David?
To be honest with you, you just try your best every single day and you don’t always hit it; that is just the way that it is. We understand that in sport, as the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal don’t always manage to get the ball in the back of the net or defend the goal. You just try your best and you just always hit what you are trying to hit.
There were time limitations as we only had five weeks to do it. We had a read through, and before you knew it, we were shooting and we only had one of two takes. It would have been lovely to have had a little more time. We just did the best with the story that we had and the time that we had.
- It does seem that more and more films are being made under tighter and tighter time constraints. How do you find working like that as five weeks isn’t very long?
To be honest, the only thing that you can do is get on with it. In truth, I don’t think that it is the right thing to do things as I think that you miss process; process is where results and creative things happen and you discover.
The whole point of the job for me is discovering new things; that is what is exciting. If you are forced into a situation where you just have to come up with something, you will probably give something… not safe, but just something that you can relay on because there is just not the opportunity to explore together and try things.
I think it is a real shame because making movies should be fun. It is a fun job. I don’t know how, but sometimes it seems that they squeeze every last moment, and it is a shame, as it would be a lot more fun. In the end, the product and the story is the most important thing and if you can make a better story with a little more time, then surely it is worth it.
- A great cast has been assembled for the film with the likes of Samantha Barks, Lesley Manville, Sylvester McCoy and John Hannah all on board. So how did you find being part of such a great line-up?
Amazing. I was really honoured to work with Barbara Flynn; as far as I am concerned she is as good Helen Mirren, but she has not been given the same sort of roles. Lesley Manville is just so intelligent, warm, clear, and alive she really is just fantastic. The number of films that she has made with Mike Leigh, just time and time again she proves how great she is.
Sylvester McCoy you just can’t help but like him, as he is so funny and easy to work with. These guys don’t just sit back and go ‘look how good I am’ they just make it easier for you. They also make it a joy. I felt very lucky to be working with them.
Samantha Barks is great as well and she really does pull her character off. She is a very talented young girl and this is just the beginning of many great things from her. I really would like to wish her the best for everything, as she really does deserve it. She is really really good.
- We are also going to be seeing you back on the big screen next year with 300: Rise of an Empire? So how did you get involved with this project?
I had auditioned for Zack Snyder a few years ago for Sucker Punch; it was a great audition and we had a great time together but it just didn’t work out. He remembered me from that time and when 300: Rise of the Empire came around he just said ‘would you be interested in coming in for this role?’ I was like ‘yeah maybe, if I have got the time’ (laughs).
It was just a great experience for me because I had to get fit - really fit - in about ten weeks; it was hard-core training. It was fantastic and I had a great time making it. Visually it is going to be a real spectacle. I was really lucky to get the part and deliver it to the best of my ability. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t really tell you, but I think it is going to be pretty good.
- Throughout your career we have seen you work in both TV and film, how did you find moving between the two mediums?
I would like to say that you get more time when you are making films, but that is not necessarily true now. It is the same really. At the end of the day, there is a character that you are prepared to play and the moment comes every day when the cameras are rolling and something has to happen.
You cannot guarantee anything - that is why I always liken it to sport - there is an acceptance that you don’t quite know what is going to happen but you are open to whatever.
To answer your question, there is not really that much difference. If there was more time making movies, then I would say that there was a difference. At the end of the day, the camera is rolling and there you are and you just have to find it.
- Finally, what is next for you?
I have nothing lined up at the moment. I am just going to sit back, get the wood stacked, and enjoy the winter, if I can.
The Christmas Candle is in cinemas from Friday 13th December. For listing check: