A Good Night's work for Martin

Co-stars wax lyrical about Freeman's talents

It’s amazing how far a role in a once low-key sitcom can get you. Before The Office, Martin Freeman was an unknown, struggling actor. Now, via the likes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Love Actually, he’s a leading man with Hollywood’s A-list fawning over his talent.

‘He’s an amazing actor,’ gushes Gwyneth Paltrow: ‘So funny, so specific, so talented, so heartbreaking. He has this everyman thing but with an incredible depth, and sweetness, and intelligence.’

It’s an opinion she formed during the shooting of The Good Night, a romantic comedy that opens in the UK later this month. In it, Freeman stars as a faded pop star, living a dissatisfied life in New York, where he is reduced to writing half-baked advertising jingles. But in his dreams, things are decidedly different, as he enjoys a thrilling romance with the perfect –if imaginary - woman.

‘I read a lot of scripts and there’s not many I like, but I immediately liked this,’ says Freeman. ‘The script was so good, so believable.’ In fact, he said ‘yes’ more than 18 months before filming finally got started.

‘Gary is unhappy. He knows what he’s capable of and he’s nowhere near where he wants to be,’ he adds. ‘When he meets this amazing woman in his dreams, it’s no surprise he retreats there. It’s more fulfilling than his reality.

‘I couldn’t hear the pitch as I was reading it, which was a good thing. It wasn’t formulaic. It was personal and it overlapped with my own taste. That’s always a good starting point.’

The film was written, and directed, by Jake Paltrow who – you guessed it – just happens to be Gwyneth’s kid brother, whose previous credits stretch little further than directing a handful of episodes of NYPD Blue. But Gwyneth insists she wasn’t a nepotistic shoe-in for the part of Gary’s wife Dora – despite her big Hollywood credentials, and knowing a thing or two about being married to a musician.

‘I had to beg my brother to let me do it,’ she insists, and producer Donna Gigliotti backs her up: ‘It wasn’t Jake’s first instinct to cast Gwyneth, it’s true. She lobbied Jake for the part.

‘It took him a while to make that determination, which I understand. I can imagine it might be difficult to direct a sibling, especially an older sibling, with whom you are very close. But on the set they’re director and actor, not brother and sister. I’ve seen no other evidence than that.’

Gwyneth said she enjoyed playing Dora as ‘anyone that’s ever been in a relationship can relate to it and that makes it an interesting role to play’.

‘Gary used to be a passionate musician and she responded to the artist in him. But he’s become inert and they fight a lot. It’s a very unsatisfied relationship. They talk and don’t talk about the same things. They’re quietly growing apart. Dora is really sad and disappointed.’

But there is a ‘com’ element to this ‘rom com’, too. Which is where Simon Pegg comes in, playing Paul, Gary’s former bandmate and sometime jingle-commissioner in his new job as a successful advertising exec.

‘Paul’s moved on and is experiencing success but his integrity is no longer intact,’ says the Spaced star, ‘He’s boisterous, laddy, insensitive. He’s the friend you’ve had for such a long time, you can’t be bothered to not be friends with him.

‘It’s a really witty and interesting script and also throws up interesting ideas about the notion of reality and the potential dreams offer us. It was a great read, a real page-turner and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When Jake asked me to get involved, I said yes please.’

Freeman was happy to be appearing with his friend Pegg, having previously worked together on Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead. ‘Simon is one of the best actors we have with an innate sense of comedy’ he said. ‘He’s very good at his job and makes it fun.

Gigliotti added: ‘Simon is naturally one of the funniest men I have ever met - glib, facile, and smart in the best sense of all those words.’

Despite being set in New York, filming actually took place in London, with locations such as Clerkenwell having to stand in for the Big Apple. ‘It was very hard. London just doesn’t look like New York,’ said production designer Eve Stewart. ‘There are a few streets here and there where you can just about get away with it but the architecture is so different.’

The real-life scenes were shot on different film stock than the dream sequences - Super 16mm rather than 35mm – to give the two elements a different look on screen. And Freeman isn’t the only actor to appear in both sides of this fantasy divide. Penelope Cruz plays both Anna, the girl of his dreams, and Melody, a model Gary tracks down in real life – and who turns out not to be so perfect as he’d hope.

Cruz, too, waxed lyrical about her British co-star. ‘Martin has an amazing combination of control, of the technique of acting, but being there in the moment, seeing you and hearing you. He is a really honest actor and this has been a great experience, a great collaboration,’ she said.

So, if his co-stars are to be believed, The Good Night could well be another stepping stone on Freman and Pegg’s rise to Hollywood superstardom. As Gwynth Paltrow said: ‘In America, people are just discovering Martin and Simon, so it was such a cool choice of Jake’s.’

The Good Night opens on January 18. Here’s a trailer.

Published: 3 Jan 2008

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