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Tom Hollander, Ben Mendelsohn on Portraying Real-Life Figures

Tom Hollander, Ben Mendelsohn on Portraying Real-Life Figures

Khalid Abdalla

The Crown

Abdalla’s first question after being cast as Dodi Fayed in The Crown felt like a simple one: What did Princess Diana’s lover sound like? “The extraordinary research team had just one thing that they were able to send me, which was of Dodi calling in to Larry King to ask Burt Reynolds to do an impression of Tony Curtis doing Cary Grant. It’s the weirdest thing,” says Abdalla, who managed to glean an understanding of Dodi’s accent and gentle demeanor out of the 17-second clip. For Abdalla, the lack of source material was not so much freeing, in terms of portraying Fayed, as it became a mission to respectfully represent a person whom history had left in the shadows. “Simply in the fact that Peter [Morgan] decided to give the Fayed storyline space to be explored with the same dignity as anybody else’s, there’s a big cultural vibrancy in that,” says Abdalla. “He was essentially un-mourned. There are even people who to this day ask me, ‘Is he still alive?’ ” Abdalla worked on making sure the Arabic dialogue between father and son was as rich as Morgan’s words on the page. “His script is written in English, and we’re turning it into Arabic. The benchmark was that we create Arabic dialogue for which Peter’s original English as subtitles would be the best possible translation, not the other way around,” he explains. “The two languages kind of stress tested each other.”

Tom Hollander

Feud: Capote vs. The Swans

Although the idea of portraying someone as distinctive as Truman Capote is daunting, Hollander wasn’t going to let fear stand in the way of a great gig. “I was obviously going to do it,” says the English actor. “The scripts were so good. And it was Ryan Murphy and this incredible cast. I was just going to have to deal with the challenges. If you can convince yourself that you are up to it — and once you’re over your nerves — the challenges become a series of wonderful opportunities and adventures.” Hollander felt, in part, assured by the fact that his Capote was from a different era than other pop culture portrayals of the author. To nail Truman’s voice and mannerisms, Hollander worked with movement coach Polly Bennett and dialect coach Jerome Butler. “The Maysles brothers’ documentary was a major resource for learning how to do the voice,” he says. While he tackled the challenges methodically, Hollander admits there were still moments of trepidation. “Initially it was, ‘Will people believe me? Is the voice convincing?’ Also, he was a writer and he was famously brilliant. I had to be able to say the lines with a certain speed to communicate intelligence,” he says. “It took about six weeks, I reckon, before I thought, ‘They can’t fire me now or they would’ve done already.’ ”

Ben Mendelsohn

The New Look

There are two roles in Ben Mendelsohn’s career that have changed the way he views the world: Rupert Murdoch in Black and White and Christian Dior in Apple TV+’s The New Look. “What I love about Christian is that he’s a hero with deep sensitivities,” says Mendelsohn. Inhabiting the iconic French designer was a more esoteric process than trying to nail Dior’s appearance and mannerisms. “I have an advantage in that the name Dior is very well known, but not many people have an image of Christian,” says Mendelsohn, who nonetheless took some cues about Dior’s comportment from old film footage. “He was precise, gentle, contained. He’s someone that takes time and is deliberate,” he says. The decision for the Australian actor to adopt a French accent was one of pragmatism. “We were shooting in France with a lot of French actors. I can’t speak with an Australian accent,” says Mendelsohn, who insisted on tweaking some of his lines in ADR. “There were things others wouldn’t hear, and I’d be like, ‘No, no, no,’ because if an Australian audience hears [me slip up in that accent], it’s over.” Describing his depiction of Dior’s anguish during World War II as some of the hardest work of his life, Mendelsohn says he approached playing the icon with both shyness and deep affection: “I love him more than anyone I’ve ever played because I think he’s such a decent person.”

Rufus Sewell


See Also

The first thing Sewell stresses is that he is English, not an Anglophile. “I didn’t grow up in a royalist household,” he says. But while his ambivalence toward the royals may have led to accepting the part of Prince Andrew in the era of his reputational free fall, it soon dawned on Sewell that he was entering unique professional territory. “I’d felt a surge of a bravery and said yes. Then, the next morning, I said to myself, ‘What the fuck did I just say yes to?’ ” he says. “Being very aware that there are actors for whom [mimicry] is a natural gift, I wasn’t sure if I had that particular muscle.” With a realization that there would be side-by-side comparisons, Sewell carefully studied the 2019 BBC interview Scoop is based on to nail the prince’s posh-yet-blokey accent, physical ticks and a demonstrable thought process. “I thought I could see the little creature behind [the eyes] trying to work the wheels. I had an idea about what I thought he was doing. I wanted to place myself behind those eyes,” he says. There came, however, a point where Sewell decided he needed to eschew straight impersonation, putting essence above authenticity: “It made me conscious of myself in a way that took me out of being present. In the end, I’d rather be a little less like him and more present in the moment.”

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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