'In the Bedroom' star hears Oscar buzz

By , Arts and culture correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Oscar-hopeful Tom Wilkinson ponders his possibilities over morning coffee. "If I was younger, all this," he says, waving a hand indicating interviews and attention, "would certainly turn my head."

But, says the British-trained actor whose performance in "In the Bedroom" is raising Oscar hopes at Miramax, "I find it rather enjoyable ... in small doses, like maybe a fortnight." Paraphrasing Shakespeare, he adds, "the work's the thing, not all this activity."

Wilkinson is well-known to followers of the mainstream Miramax-style independent film, art-house movies that appeal to a wide audience.

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Quirky roles in "The Full Monty," "Shakespeare in Love," and "Ride With The Devil" have turned this character actor into a familiar face to many.

But "In the Bedroom" offered Wilkinson his first opportunity to play the central character in a film, a father and husband who must deal with a family tragedy. While the events take a dramatic turn, the movie's ending, Wilkinson says, "is fraught with ambiguity."

This willingness to entertain more than one interpretation is the real gift of "In the Bedroom."

"It's refreshing to see a film made by a mature sensibility, with a mature sense of drama," he says.

At the same time, the film has an inevitability about it. This sense of familiar events presented in a new context is what gives a good film its power, Wilkinson says.

He points to classic plays from the Greeks and Shakespeare to Bertolt Brecht. "Brecht was never interested in what happened," he says. "In fact, he would tell you the events before the show. He was interested in the how - how people made their parts and their choices to take their lives forward."

The actor, who trained in London, says film is the medium of the 20th century. But, he adds, it may not continue into the 21st century, given the power of all the new technologies, such as the Internet. Whichever way the art of storytelling goes, he says, good art stimulates your sense of perception and encourages you to peer into things more deeply.

All the Oscar buzz around his film has thrown his choice of what to do next into an unfamiliar spotlight. But Wilkinson says he tries to hold onto what he has always looked for in a role.

"I need to find a character that is actually going somewhere," says the actor. "I look for a man who has transformed himself." He has several projects already completed, including "The Importance of Being Earnest." Now he's looking for scripts that will allow him to dig in and stay interested.

"I like the quality of absorption," Wilkinson says. "I like to be absorbed in my job. I want to find something that will leave me with things to discover, to find out about the character."

All that said, Wilkinson, who is perhaps better known for playing hesitant, brooding characters, says he wouldn't mind doing a big Hollywood action film.

"Popular culture is very important," he says, "because it embraces everything." Wilkinson fondly recalls all the popular comic-book characters from his childhood. Families who keep their kids away from those stories actually "deprive them of something important," a connection to their everyday life, he says.

That's one reason he says he feels films are even more important than ever.

Audiences "need entertainment," he says, especially after everything that has happened in the past four months.

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