Friends and Crocodiles
Eddie Marsan plays Butterworth
In Friends and Crocodiles, Eddie Marsan plays Butterworth, a marvellously
eccentric academic who is part of the charmed circle of fascinating
figures who surround Paul in his rural idyll.
He has spent years working on,
but never completing, his masterpiece on history.
Marsan, familiar to audiences worldwide after his deeply affecting
performance as Reg in Mike Leigh's award-winning picture, Vera Drake,
is delighted to have contributed to the equally thought-provoking Friends
"Stephen is so inspiring to work with," the actor enthuses. "He's
great at concealing metaphors in his drama - it works on so many different
levels. But he's also so knowledgeable.
"In preparing me for my role, he talked to me in depth about the
position of the artist in British society. He explained that during the Seventies,
artists were indulged, but in the Nineties they were ruled by the accountancy
Marsan goes on to outline where his character stems from. "He's based
on this guy in Cambridge who took 25 years to write one book. Butterworth
is someone who has been indulged by the millionaire Paul, and he finally
comes up with his book. Artists need to be treated like that.
"Butterworth is a complete eccentric. He wears fluorescent socks with sandals -
that was a good way in to the character. Also, Stephen gave me a very
useful note that Butterworth had very bad athlete's foot. That was another
key to playing this manky old academic.
"Above all, though, I realised that Butterworth is fascinated by the smallest things. So I played him as someone creative and inspired, someone who lives life at a different pace from the rest of us."
One of Marsan's happiest memories from the shoot was when his wife gave
birth to their first child.
"My poor wife was in labour for 26 hours, and neither of us slept for 48 hours. When we finally took the baby home, a car was waiting to take me to the set of Friends and Crocodiles.
"Stephen was so kind because he arranged the schedule so it was a scene
where all I had to do was doze in a greenhouse after a bout of drinking. When you haven't slept in a while, playing a snoozing drunk is pretty easy!"
A genuine EastEnder, who was born and bred in Bethnal Green, Marsan
served an apprenticeship as a printer before getting into acting after
working as an extra on a film being made in his area.
Now one of our most in-demand actors, he has recently been filming The
Illusionist, a period drama, alongside Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti in
Marsan has also starred in Charles II: The Power and the
Passion, Quite Ugly One Morning, Gangster No. 1, This Year's Love, Crime and Punishment and The Man Who Knew Too Little.
Over the past couple of years, his career has gone into over-drive, but
Marsan remains appealingly modest about it.
"Audiences seem to warm to
actors like me who have been knocking around for a few years," he
"They know that to be an actor for that long you must have suffered a lot of rejection. They also get sick of those stars who appear to be completely manufactured.
"I seem to do about one Hollywood picture a year. Recently, I've done
Gangs of New York, 21 Grams, Match Point and The New World. If you can do an American accent, the producers are very fair and give you a level
"Also, a lot of American actors are very square-jawed and hunky. People
like my friend Paul Giamatti and I look a bit different. That's actually an
advantage because there are very few American actors like that."
Vera Drake has, of course, played a role in propelling Marsan into this
starry place. He thinks the film made such an impact because "it was
very precise about the era. My parents went to see it, and they said that
was exactly what that time was like.
"But most importantly, the film had such a lot of heart. So many films
these days are based on the selling power of a celebrity, because producers
know that a certain percentage of people will always go to their films. But
Vera Drake was different: it was completely un-cynical."
Marsan is going on to film Pierrepoint, a drama about the British
hangman, and then Michael Mann's big-screen version of his hit TV series, Miami Vice.
"I'm playing a drug informer to the cops, Crockett and Tubbs, played by
Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx," Marsan beams.
"My wardrobe is amazing. I'm
going to be running around in these $5,000 Armani silk shirts. My costumes cost more than most British films!"