2017 has been an outstanding year for Dan Stevens. Not only did he star in the year’s top-grossing film so far, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, he also earned widespread acclaim for his lead role in Marvel’s X-Men-themed FX drama Legion. In the meanwhile, he also somehow found the time to appear in a whopping six more films, including the Thurgood Marshall biopic Marshall and the quirky comedy Colossal.
Fans of Downton Abbey may recognize Stevens as Matthew Crawley, who was such a fan favorite that his untimely death caused a bit of an uproar. This week Stevens stars in another period drama, but with a Holiday twist — he plays writer Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas, a fact-based tale about the intense six-week period when Dickens penned the now classic A Christmas Carol. Stevens spoke with RT about his Five Favorite Films, about the remarkable true story behind the film, and about his own family’s holiday traditions.
Let’s start with Withnail and I. That’s gotta be pretty much up there. I adore that film. I can quote it at great length. Many of my great friends love it, too. It’s a film about two overindulging actors who go on holiday by mistake. What’s not to like? It’s wonderful. There’s so much I would like to say about that film. It’s this sort of beautiful eulogy, really, but a very, very funny one. It’s probably got as many quotable lines in it as any film, really. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann just… I don’t know. I adore it. That’s the problem with a film you love so much, is I don’t know really what to say about it. I completely love it.
What else would I go for? 2001. That’s gotta be up there. Just the trippiest, most beautiful epic. Again, I’m just sort of floored, really.
I went to see the New York Philharmonic play the score live to a screening with my wife not that long ago, and it was awesome. There was an interval built in — it was obviously part of the film. We were shuffling back in after the interval, and I heard an elderly couple who were maybe not loving the experience. This guy is shuffling in and said to his wife, “Well, if you thought nothing happened in the first half…” [laughs] Yeah. She was not really loving that.
Singin’ in the Rain. I’ll put that up there. I now watch that with kids, which I love. I’ve always loved that film. My five-year-old son loves the “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence as much as I ever did, and that’s just delightful. It’s a wonderful film about film, which is so often a great source of enjoyment. In glorious Technicolor. I don’t know. It’s funny — I’m sort of now re appreciating it through my kids but the scene where the dubbing goes wrong and sort of saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” and, “No, no, no,” into this sort of giant microphone. It seems to be timelessly funny, that. It’s adorable.
This Is Spinal Tap. Let’s put that one on there. This list is gonna get really long in a minute. I mean, I love all of Christopher Guest’s movies, but I’ll put that one up there. I could easily say Best in Show as well. I don’t know, there’s just something about the Britishness of the rock and roll, which has always made me laugh, in a way. It seems to say a lot about the age that I grew up in and just before I came along. At the age I first saw it, I was very right for watching a satire about the ’70s and ’80s and a culture that had just come before, I guess. The performances are so delightful. I also really like Waiting for Guffman. God, he’s wonderful director.
The Life of Brian. Put that up there. I can watch Monty Python any time of the day or night, anywhere, particularly the series. That film is just so kind of brazen and smart and silly. It’s outrageously funny and epic as well. People don’t make comedies on that kind of scale anymore. Epic is usually associated with something very earnest and serious. I just love how they sort of blew that out of the water.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve had an incredible year so far — Beauty and the Beast, Legion, even Marshall and Colossal — and now you’re starring in The Man Who Invented Christmas. I was actually unfamiliar with the story behind the film. How much did you know about it, going in?
Dan Stevens: I guess a little, but not as much as I came away with, certainly. I think inevitably when you sort of dive into quite a small window on someone’s life — we’re talking about six weeks, really, the action of our particular story. You think that something that became such a cultural monolith, and it had a such a huge impact on the way that we celebrate Christmas in the West, but also the way we think about redemption and greed. It really speaks perhaps into a lot of quite universal things, that story.
The fact that it was created in six weeks in such a mad frenzy, and that he put himself under a huge personal amount of pressure… He had four kids at the time, one on the way, mounting debts. He’d knocked out three not terribly successful books back to back — the Americans really didn’t like Martin Chuzzlewit. He was in a bit of bind, and yet was clearly this fount of incredible social satire and a good deal of anger, I think, about the society that he could see emerging around him and the rise of rampant industrial capitalism. All of these boiled into this incredible work.
So I hadn’t really appreciated the time scale, I think. I knew that, yes, going to the workhouse when he was a kid — that loomed over his work. I sort of knew certain biographical elements. But to have them distilled into this little moment really that changed his life and changed everybody’s life quite significantly, it’s amazing to see how condensed that was.
RT: As you mention, this book did change a lot of the traditions associated with Christmas in the Western world. Are there any special traditions you celebrate with your family during the holidays?
Stevens: Yeah, one which has emerged since having kids, I think, which we borrowed from great friends of ours who do the same thing, is that on Christmas Eve, everybody has to gather around and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s a great tradition, and it’s also a great version of the tale. Yeah, one of my favorites. I’ll put that on the list as well. Put that in brackets. [laughs]