Ioan Gruffudd interview: Fantastic Four (2005)

Promotional image from Fantastic Four

Interview by Andrew Wong.

Last updated: 01 December 2008

It wasn't all plain-sailing for Ioan in his role as stretchy comic-book legend Mr Fantastic in Fantastic Four. First of all, there were the problems with getting into his spandex suit:

"We had these muscle suits, that were built for us to go underneath the blue spandex - which made it figure hugging and made you stand up tall. But I had to cover myself in talcum powder and vaseline to slide into this rubber muscle suit!"

Ioan is, of course, no stranger to the costume-drama, having starred in Hornblower, King Arthur and The Forsyte Saga amongst other dramas. Indeed, today he's in a fetching purple-blue blazer. But costumes are something he finds useful:

"They make you stand in a certain way and give you the feel of that period and the character. With this one, the costume that I had was a little bit cumbersome."

Ioan describes the process of acting to nothing as "quite hard and tedious. You need a lot of concentration and a lot of imagination obviously, because I can't physically put my hand under a door or stretch for a bottle of wine 10 foot away!

"There were moments when I was pinching myself and asking what on earth was I doing, but you have to remind yourself that you're like a child again, playing in your back garden pretending that you're doing all these things again. And it works out fine.

"When you're out in the high seas doing Hornblower, or physically on the back of a horse in King Arthur, it's somewhat easier to get under the skin of the characters but this was probably my hardest acting job to date.

"The rewarding part of it all is seeing it all put together afterwards. If I've done my job in that moment of pretending that I'm able to do it, then the visual FX guys can take that away and extend and marry the two of them together so it looks great on the big screen."

Despite all the hard work and effort, Ioan thinks it was worth it for his acting career and future prospects:

"Certainly, it'll help to raise my profile, to be involved with something as big as this... I think success gives you the opportunity to work with the best."

Fantastic Four, having been a comic book success since the 1960s, has amassed plenty of fans. But when Ioan went to meet them, he found that his softly-lilting Welsh accent was a problem in playing an all-American superhero:

"Last year I went and they introduced us as a cast and it was extraordinary. There were about 7,000 people in the conference room, all passionate comic book fans, and they were deathly silent when I was trying to endear myself to them because I spoke in this broad Welsh accent. They couldn't quite fathom how this actor was going to play the part of their beloved Dr Reed Richards, Mr Fantastic.

"After that I worked incredibly hard on the accent and on getting the essence of an American superhero, and I think they'll be very pleased when they see the film."

However, having worked on an authentic-sounding American accent, he can't turn it on and off at whim and back in Cardiff, he's reverted to his softly-spoken hint-of-Welsh:

"It's something that I do specifically with a character and a script. I could do an American accent, if I were immersed in the accent, meaning if I were living back in Los Angeles and rehearsing and auditioning the whole time. But it's like being an athlete, you have to train these new muscles in your mouth and for me it's easier to specifically work with the text that I'm using."

When Ioan first went to Hollywood, people were expecting Americans to have a very hard time just pronouncing his name - but surprisingly, that hasn't happened.

"People in America and Hollywood are very good at pronouncing my name, to begin with. Socially, they're very adept at listening to somebody's name and repeating it, cleverly in the first couple of sentences so the name sticks to begin with. They're determined to get it right, whereas often I've had people not listening.

"Here in Britain, we don't really listen and get a bit nervous in social environments. And as far as explaining where Wales is, it's often 'Is that Wales, England?' I'm delighted to have the opportunity to educate people."

Life in Hollywood has been good for Ioan: "I'm really enjoying living in Los Angeles. It's a great city to live in. I'm living a very suburban domesticated lifestyle out there - a two bedroomed little bungalow with two cars, and we're just driving around, going to meetings here and there - it's lovely! I find driving there easy. The people who live in LA don't find it easy, I think. They're not great drivers out there!"

However, Ioan's not given up on Wales for ever. He can see himself retiring and coming back, but for now, when he does return, it's just to visit the family at home and relax. "It can be such a busy lifestyle, being an actor and promoting a film, so it's nice to come back and have a proper rest."

When he is at home with the family, he'll occasionally watch Pobol Y Cwm, the BBC Welsh-language soap that gave him a start in his acting career. "I don't recognise half of the characters there now so I have to be constantly reminded by my parents. But I'm delighted that it's still going. That gave me such a great start in life as an actor.

"They did ask me last year to come back ... as Ioan Gruffudd, as if I was in Cwmderi, promoting something or opening a charity fête or something, but I thought it might have been a bit odd to come back as myself, having played such a prominent character in the series."

But they tend to be flying visits, before he goes back to Hollywood with "some Glengetty teabags and maybe a bit of bara brith that my mum would make me." Already, Ioan's committed to another two Fantastic Four films which could take him up to 12 years to finish - depending on how well the first film goes. But in the meantime, he's just relaxing.

"I'm being offered some lovely things. I'm just not going to rush into anything so there's nothing signed on the dotted line at the moment. I'm certainly determined to do something before we go back to do the second one, something completely contrasting."

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