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Doctor Zhivago (2002)TV Miniseries

Interview with Hans Matheson - from the Masterpiece Theatre Doctor Zhivago website

How did you prepare for the part when you discovered you had won the role of Yury Zhivago?

I went to visit Pasternak's niece in Oxford and she gave me some of the poetry his sister had translated. I just couldn't believe it. His poetry inspired me beyond belief. Read Doctor Zhivago, then read his poetry. While filming, I think Boris Pasternak was with us somehow -- Giacomo (Campiotti, director) and I both thought that! One sunny day on set, we were doing the scene where Yury and Lara meet for the first time after the war. Yury had gone back to Moscow, and goes in to a library and sees her. They then meet in the courtyard... In the book, it describes this gust of wind that blows through the middle of them, and it actually happened to Keira and I. Giacomo and I just looked at each other and thought 'He is with us!' -- and maybe he was!

I think the essence of Yury, the most essential part of him, is that he is in love with life. Whatever tragedies happen to him inspire him to a new understanding of life and love. My job is to understand his emotional journey and I do -- because of my own experiences in life.There are times in my life when I have felt lost. Looking back you see why you had to experience that. Some people would become cynical, and that is the great thing about Yury -- he never becomes cynical, but keeps his heart open, which is wonderful. I feel his honesty always comes through and wins in the end. It was a great opportunity to play a wonderful character with such a huge range of emotions. I hope people will be inspired to read the book because it is incredible and stands the test of time.

You had great sympathy for Yury Zhivago... he is presented with a very difficult set of circumstances...

There is always a moral dilemma for him because he has a wife and a child and he leaves them for Lara. I think we all have things to learn in this life and his is meeting Lara. It's destiny -- they are soulmates. Maybe they met in a previous life. He grew up with Tonya, so she is his best friend, as well as his lover and wife. In the end he goes back to her because the love he shares with Lara becomes an impossible love, it's like they are living a dream. They have no food and no work, but they want to be together even though it's impossible and that's what's tragic. Life has things in store for people. That's just the way it is.

Do you believe in fate and soulmates?

We have all had a great love in our lives and maybe lost them as well. At the time you lose them, you see it as something of a misfortune, but that is destiny in itself. Behind every beautiful thing, there is some kind of pain.

Are there any moments during production that particularly stand out for you?

When we were filming in Slovakia, they changed the schedule one day and we had to do the scene of Lara leaving -- which I wasn't expecting. Usually, when you know you have to do a scene like that, you prepare yourself, maybe too much sometimes. For the first time, Giacomo played Yury and Lara's theme to me during this scene and I felt something magical happen. Something beyond words in a way. It felt incredible. I remember a moment when I was saying goodbye to somebody in my life and seeing them for the last time. For me, it felt like I had released something from my body. I know this sounds a bit strange. In some way playing these parts is therapeutic. They help to deal with issues in your life.

How did Prague become a home away from home for you?

In the last five years, I have spent a year of my life in Prague, which I have enjoyed very much. It's changed a lot since I first went. I believe there was a golden age there. The architecture is wonderful, amazing. You can just imagine all these fantastic artists there thinking, 'let's create a wonderful place" -- the castles, the bridges, the stone masonry, the carpentry. You just don't see that now. I don't think people have the time or the money to make buildings as they did then.

Are you concerned about comparisons to the 1965 Lean film? I don't think of it as a competition. How many people have played Hamlet, or Romeo? You don't feel that the same comparisons are made when people play Hamlet time and time again. While I was reading the script, I was watching a video on great violinists, because I am really into old fiddle players of the 20's and 30's. One violinist said that it's an insult to the composer to say a piece of music can only be played one way. And that stayed with me. I thought how true that is. Some people say that there are only five great stories ever told, but it's how they are told that keeps them fresh every time, and it's how the audience see it and feel it. The David Lean film was the first time anyone had really experienced epic wide-screen cinema with a great score, so it was magical for them and always will be.

I hope people can open their hearts to our production before they have their daggers ready. I am not Omar Sharif and Keira is not Julie Christie. I am Hans Matheson playing Zhivago and Keira Knightly is playing Lara. I would say this is more daring emotionally. Films have moved on since Lean's version. There is something more real about this production. People will take from this what they want. At the end of the day, for me, for Giacomo and for everybody involved, we tried our best. That's all you can do.

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