Handsome enough to romance Mandy Moore in Chasing Liberty and Scarlett Johansson in Match Point, Matthew Goode finally goes “full gay” — his own words — after queer turns in Brideshead Revisited and Watchmen. Third-billed in A Single Man, Tom Ford’s directorial debut, Goode appears as Jim, the deceased lover that Colin Firth’s college professor mourns in a series of intimate flashbacks. Before returning to his romantic comedy roots in Leap Year (opening January 8), the 31-year-old Brit gives us the goods on his costar’s snuggly body and sensitive kisses, plus that time they spent 45 minutes drinking gin in their underwear.
Advocate.com: You’ve worked on a number of films with gay themes. How conscious are you of your gay fan base?
Matthew Goode: I know it’s a typical fucking actor thing to say, but I’m not terribly conscious of any fan base, really. I’m not particularly known in my own country, so it’s not like I come out the door to see three lovely chaps wearing scarves and saying, “Good morning, Matthew, we love you!”
Tom Ford has said that A Single Man is “not a gay film.” As the actor kissing Colin Firth on-screen, how do you see it?
I kind of agree with him. He wasn’t making it as a political piece, and the theme of love and loss is fairly universal. Obviously you can’t escape the fact that these are men kissing, but what’s lovely about George’s remembrances of Jim is the fact that it’s not a sweaty clinch — which would’ve been fine, because I would’ve been very happy to snuggle up to the rug on Colin Firth’s chest. It was remembrances like sitting on the sofa reading books together, and there’s a beauty in the banality of those scenes that also speaks to their universality. You can call it a gay film, but what’s really nice it is that it shows the intimacy between two adult males as absolutely normal and exactly the same as heterosexual intimacy.
What’s your take on the controversial “de-gaying” by the Weinstein Co. of the film’s marketing campaign?
There are a lot of people around the world who are quite homophobic, so I suppose they’re just trying to not put people off and get as broad an audience in as possible. If it gets more people into the theater and therefore possibly changes their views, then that can only be a good thing.
No, and I’d never met him before, either. We actually met on the plane on the way over to make the film. He came up and was like, “Hi, I’m Colin Firth.” And I was like, “I, uh, I know who you are. Nice to meet you.” When we got to L.A., the first thing we had to do was go to the hotel and — since we’re pasty Englishmen and the film’s set in California — have a spray tan immediately. So it was like, “Take all your clothes off and stand in the bath next to Colin,” while they spray-painted us with this stuff that made us look — well, I have to say we did look a bit better afterward. But then we had to stand around in our pants for 45 minutes drinking gin and tonics, waiting for the stuff to set a little, so it was quite a bizarre way to meet someone you have a lot of respect for. That’s when I noticed that he was tremendous shape for an older man, I must say. He’d been in the gym a bit. It’s a real luxury to get to hang out with your costar. If you can develop a friendship in real life, then it can charge what you can do on-screen. Sometimes it’s better not to know them, but with the closeness of the relationship between George and Jim, it really helped.
Is Colin someone that younger British actors like yourself want to emulate?
Definitely. I was such a fan of Another Country and some of his other early work like Tumbledown, because he brings a real complexity and subtlety to his work and makes acting look extraordinarily easy. But in the last few years — and I hope he won’t mind me saying — I think he’s been really underutilized. So I think this is a really lovely turning point for him, and I’m overjoyed for him because he’s become a friend. One of the best pieces of acting I’ve seen in the last few years is when Colin takes the phone call about Jim’s death. He’s just amazing in that scene.
Colin told me that you were a good kisser. What did you think of his skills?
Right back at ’im. Sometimes you see straight actors trying to portray gay men as very aggressive, so the kissing is superaggressive and rough. I’m sure that does exist, but we liked that our kissing was sensitive.
Compared to shooting love scenes with a woman, do you find it more challenging to get intimate with another straight man?
Well, I’ll let you know when I have to do something with full-frontal. But I don’t think you can have an erection in a scene, and I always find that funny: If you’re going to have sex, you can’t suddenly have the man springing into bed with a floppy knob. It should be a little bit saturated with semen and standing out at an odd angle with a few veins involved. [Laughs] Obviously I’m a man who likes women and has a child now, but I’m not squeamish and I love all people. If you’ve been entrusted to do the job, then you find something to love in the other character and you do your job.
Young American actors sometimes shy away from gay parts for fear of being pigeonholed or mistaken for gay in real life. As a British actor, is that something you’ve ever been concerned about?
I’ve never looked at those kinds of roles as something to be avoided. I somehow ended up doing three in a row, really, with Brideshead, Watchmen, and A Single Man, so I steadily got more gay. I was “full gay” in this one. But the parts were all so good. I wouldn’t do a bad story with a character that was just gay for gay’s sake — which sounds like a porno, which I’m not particularly into. But I know what you mean about Americans. There’s a real problem with masculinity and sensitivity in Hollywood. I don’t blame actors for not coming out because America might then have a problem with watching them kissing Cameron Diaz. And then there are certain actors who don’t want people to think, I wonder if he’s really gay, because he did terribly well in that gay part. America’s a slightly harder country, where men are constantly trying to be men. And it’s not just Hollywood; everyone goes to the gym.
You’re certainly not shy about your showing off your gym-toned physique in films.
Yes, I’m always asked to get my bum out, but in this one I was fully clothed throughout, really.
Are you forgetting the black-and-white nude photograph of Jim that George retrieves from his safety deposit box?
Oh, shit, that’s true! That was taken on the first day of filming. We had a female photographer on set, so I was like, “Oh, bloody hell.” We went off into the desert and Tom came too, because he has to micromanage every part of the film — at least that’s what I told myself. He was like, “Matthew, could you possibly give us a bit more pubic hair?” I was like, “What?! Oh, come on!” But it was nice that they caught me in a moment when I was finding it all quite funny, so it’s a slightly goofy photograph, which seems more naturalistic than some brooding shot where I’ve done a million press-ups before and look inflated.
Where’s that photo now?
Tom probably has it locked up in a bank somewhere, I would imagine.
Before casting you in A Single Man, was Tom a fan of yours from seeing your other films?
I think he’d seen Brideshead at some point, but I never really asked, just in case someone would bring something up and he’d go, “Oh, Christ, yeah, I did see that, and you’re actually not right for the part.” I never like delving into why a director wants me.
Were you familiar with him as a fashion designer?
My other half’s in fashion, so there are always various magazines lying around, and you can’t help but see him on billboards occasionally. I was very aware of his face and him sitting behind Keira and Scarlett on the front cover of Vanity Fair. I’ve met a few people who are iconic, but — and I don’t know what it was — I was very nervous about meeting him. But the moment I met him in Claridge’s to have a few drinks and discuss the project, I was put at ease pretty quickly.
What kinds of conversations did you have with Tom about your character?
My part is based on Don Bachardy, who had a very close relationship with Christopher Isherwood, but it wasn’t like I was going to base my performance on Don, who has a very strange voice. There’s also a lot of Tom in the story, and I saw the film essentially as a love poem to Richard, his partner, but we didn’t talk that much about it at all. It was all sort of in the script, really, and Tom just seemed to like the effortless affinity that me and Colin had with each other. It wasn’t like he ever said, “You need to think of two horses running through the fields together and feeding each other hay.” I’m sure we talked about it, but I never fucking remember anything. I do the job, cut the umbilical, and what will be will be. I’ve learned my lesson that if you hang on to something, you’re always going to be disappointed with the final product. I’ve never particularly liked what I’ve done, but this the rare time that I do — probably because I’m not in it that much. There’s usually a direct correlation between films doing very well and me not having a big part in them.
How has working with Tom impacted your wardrobe in real life?
I generally put on whatever’s nearest the bed in the morning, which I know slightly infuriates my other half. I’m always like, “Well, do you know what, darling? If I was changing my underpants and my socks every single day, it would just contribute to the laundry basket.” Because when you’ve got a baby at home, there’s enough fucking laundry already. So I change that sort of stuff every two days — and I don’t know why I’m telling you. [Laughs] I did get a couple of lovely suits out of Tom. We worked fairly cheaply on this film — for almost nothing, really — so I think he felt obliged. Or maybe he just didn’t trust me to turn up looking smart to all the festivals we had to go to.
You played a man whose wife leaves him for another woman in the 2005 romantic comedy Imagine Me & You. Have you ever been left for a woman?
That hasn’t happened so far. If my other half did go off with another woman, I think it might ease the blow a little. If she went off with Jake Gyllenhaal or Brad Pitt, you’d be like, “You fucking asshole, how dare you!” But if it’s with some beautiful lady, you’d be like, “Well, there’s not much I can really do.”
What can you tell me about your role as an Irish innkeeper in the upcoming romantic comedy Leap Year?
With the adorable Amy Adams. I’ve always wanted to work with the director, Anand Tucker, ever since I saw Hilary and Jackie. Amy was already involved when I came on, which is the reason it got made, but I was like, “What the fuck are all the Irish actors doing? Surely they don’t need me to do this.” But Anand wanted me, so I had to go learn the accent and do my best. It was really good fun because it doesn’t take itself too seriously or try to reinvent the genre. People have already said, “Man, why are you doing this fucking film? You had a really good run with interesting, in-depth stuff.” But I knew I was going to have a brand-new baby, so I’d rather be filming in Ireland, which is just across the pond from me, rather than in Kuala Lumpur, which is where you can sometimes end up.