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24 September 2014
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Tess Of The D'Urbervilles 
Hans Matheson as Alec D'Urbervilles

Tess Of The D'Urbervilles launches Autumn drama on BBC

Hans Matheson talks to producer David Snodin

Alec D'Urberville is the son of Simon Stoke and Mrs D'Urberville. He is an heir to a fortune and the nemesis and downfall of Tess.


He seduces Tess and pursues her relentlessly until she agrees to become his mistress.


Hans Matheson explains his villainous character is more complex than first impressions suggest.


"With Thomas Hardy, things are not black and white, and there are actually strong parallels between both Angel and Alec.


"One thing I talked to the director, David Blair, about was that the role of the victim and the perpetrator both need each other to feed off, so there's something in it for Tess.


"And although Alec's actions are extreme, they're unconscious. So you have to understand him as a human being, as well as a villain."


Producer David Snodin continues: "Hardy is a very generous writer, he's admitted to being in love with his characters. He gave the character of Alec a background which explains why he behaves the way he does.


"He's very much under the wings of his mother and Tess is the first girl he's ever had refuse him. He's entirely seductive as far as Tess is concerned. He's young, good-looking, rich… she's never even met anyone like him before."


Hans continues: "I don't think it's uncommon for people to seek redemption through others. Sometimes people do that with religion, which is what Alec does after he has seduced Tess.


"But the moment that's challenged, the concept of whatever he believes in, things fall apart. So the moment he attains the things he desires, there's no peace."


Hans admits to preferring not to have read the novel before production started.


"Well, yes. I considered reading it, but in the past when I've read the book first, it's informed me to play the role a way that perhaps isn't intended for the particular adaptation.


"I was more interested in working with the writer David Nicholls and to see what insights into Alec he wanted to bring to the piece, between Tess and his relationship, mostly. But I did flick through it for some scenes, that's quite an 'actor' thing to do."


In terms of Thomas Hardy reputation for being a bit gloomy, Hans comments:


"It isn't a bundle of laughs, and it doesn't end happily, but it's about the countryside and it's about spring and the seasons and the descriptions of love… it surprises me that it hasn't been done as a film more often, because it's such a filmic novel."


David continues: "It's a sexy story on a very sexy level. It was very young and vibrant and even shocking in it's time – depicting a rape and a young unmarried girl made pregnant, it's suggested beautifully… that's a testament to the mastery of Hardy, he's also a fantastic writer of cliff-hangers.


"He takes you to the situation of the rape, and then leaves it, and that's the shock that makes you jump."


In terms of preparing for the difficult rape scene, Hans explains: "You try not to think too much about it, once the camera's rolling, you obviously try to imagine the circumstances and truthfully play the actions through.


"I don't think you can really think too much about anything, you've just got to let the psychology of the character happen.


"It is there, and it is quite shocking, distressing, mainly because of the way that it absolutely twists Tess's story, that's the moment that she absolutely becomes a woman, and an outcast."


David adds: "But it has a profound effect on Alec, too, obviously. Humans suffer, and through suffering try to find something to fill that sense of lack."


The four-part adaptation enabled production to take their time to tell the story in a way that the novel tells the story, with the proper proportionate time on screen.


David explains: "We are able to follow the whole depth of Alec's story. After the rape, he chases Tess. He converts to Christianity for whatever dubious reasons, and becomes a vastly different character, whereas Angel, who is the story's Prince Charming character, who supposedly saves her, is actually a bit of a pain. He's horrible to her."


The role of Alec required Hans to ride a horse: "Well, I'd ridden a bit before, but we did have a couple of days of training before hand.


"You really have to get into doing it every day to develop the calf muscle and, if you're not doing it every day, it's a lot harder to control."


David continues: "And the thing is that every time you have a horse, you have to have a stable and a groom and feed for it... they're more expensive to run than Hans Matheson!


"David Blair, the director, started to hate horses. He's still shouting at me watching clips in the editing process and the horses aren't even there!


"When you're shooting with horses you're not allowed to say 'action' because the horses understand you. You have to say 'commence' or spell out 'a-c-t-i-o-n'.


"David Blair said to me 'so if they can understand action why can't they seem to understand anything else, like stand still for instance!'"





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