Interview with Hans Matheson - Transcript from the DVD of Doctor Zhivago
For Yuri, I feel the essence of him, the most essential part of him, is that he's in love with life, he never becomes cynical. His heart is open, he has a big heart, and everything that happens to him, what most people would consider tragic, inspires him to a new understanding of life, and love. And he's a poet, he's, whatever situation he finds himself in, he can only be himself, honesty always comes through and wins in the end, I feel.
I mean, there's always the moral dilemma, of, that he has a wife and a child, and he leaves them for Lara, but for me, I think we all have things to learn in this life, and his really is, his meeting Lara, it's fate, it's destiny, they're soul mates. Maybe they've met in previous lives, and will meet again, I don't know. I think he always follows his heart, and you know, I think that this will always be the way. The issue with Tonya I feel, maybe she will become a better person, and maybe she has something to learn from losing Yuri as well. But I don't think that he ever loses his love for her, it's always something that haunts him, and he carries with him, and in the end he goes back to them, you know.
He goes back to his family, because the love he shares with Lara becomes an impossible love. It's like they're living a dream. In Varykeno, they have no food, they have no work, but they want to be together, but it's impossible. And that's what's tragic, really. I think we've all had a great love in our lives, and maybe lost that love as well, and at the time when you lose them, you see at as something as a misfortune, but that is destiny within itself. I think that goes with it, you know, the loss as well as the beauty. I think as Bob Dylan said, that there's no such thing as, you never experience beauty without some kind of pain. Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain there. And that's what you mourn, that's why you grieve, because it was so wonderful, and because it was so beautiful.
I don't really feel on Boris Pasternak's level intellectually. You know, his father was a painter, Leonid Pasternak, the kind of company that he was in would be Tolstoy and Rachmaninoff. These are unbelievable people, geniuses really, and I think we owe a lot to Russian culture and Russian literature, really. But I feel my job is to understand it emotionally, really, his journey and I do, because of my own experiences in life.
But I'm kind of one part of the jigsaw in a way. There's Boris, Boris Pasternak. It's just a wonderful book, and I hope that if nothing else from this piece of work, that people will be inspired to read the book because it is incredible, and it will stand the test of time, and has. There's Giacomo, there's Boris, and there's me. I'm really here to play the emotional side of the character. You know, some days you feel inspired, and in touch with a scene, other days you dont, but for some reason it works wonderfully, and I just, I love that aspect of filmmaking, in that every day is different, and you have to take risks, and be open to the, yeah, just to be spontaneous. You know, you might not necessarily feel like playing a tragic love scene, but somehow you have to find it in yourself, you have to just find a way, a way through.
When we were filming in Slovakia, they changed the schedule for the day and I had to, we had to do the scene of Lara leaving, about 7:30 in the morning, and I wasn't expecting it, really. Usually when you know you have to do a scene like that, you prepare yourself, maybe too much sometimes. And I had to just find that moment, and Giacomo, for the first time played the theme of Yuri and Lara to me, and played it during the scene. And, I mean, in a way, even if people that are watching it don't feel it, or don't feel the same way that I do about it, that's not really my concern, but I felt, for some reason, that something magical happened then, something, something kind of beyond words in a way.
It just felt incredible, because I remember a moment saying goodbye to somebody in my life, or seeing them for the last time, and it felt for me, like I was, it felt like I released something from my body. I mean, this sounds a bit strange, doesn't it? It sounds a bit (laughs), but for me, it was like, I suppose, playing these parts is therapeutic, you're kind of, you know, dealing with issues in your life. So, yeah, that was very special for me, that moment.
Yeah, I think that meeting Giacomo, definitely, because he's such a real person, and he's the first director I've worked with that I've felt completely at ease with. And, he pushes me, he pushes me to the limit, and I?m usually the one pushing to do more, to ask for more, to do more takes, you know, to explore the scene in different ways. I always feel, just do another take, you know, you never know what might happen, cause I feel that you kind of, you manifest it together. I mean, you talk about the book, you talk about the scene, you talk about what it might mean, but then there's doing it.
You know, you might understand it intellectually, but, then, you've actually got to perform the scene. And Giacomo understands that. But he also understands what it takes to get there, and he encourages you to risk. And that's really important because you have to be prepared to fail, you know, why not? What's there to lose, you know? Otherwise you become predictable, and the scenes become predictable, and we're here, you know, we're in Prague, and we're making a great love story, why not take a risk? And I hope that comes through somehow.
But I feel that the David Lean film had, I mean, for that generation, it was the first time they really experienced an epic 35 millimeter, wide screen cinema with a great score, with a great soundtrack. So, it was magical for them, and it always will be, I feel, because it's like re-doing a Beatles song, or something. Even if you do it technically better, and it sounds better, looks better, or whatever, you know, it will never be the same as The Beatles. For them.
For me, it's very different, I feel that it's a great opportunity to play such a wonderful character with a range of emotions. But, you know, for a lot of people it's a film rather than a book.
I feel that even in this production, I?d go as far to say that we haven't been true to the book in many ways, because there's so much in the book that just can't be shown on screen, because Boris Pasternak is a poet, you know, without a doubt. And his sister, I think, quoted, that he was a fantastic pianist; he just changed his instrument to words.
I went to visit his niece, I think, in Oxford, and she was very kind, and she gave me some translations of his poetry by his sister, and I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe the difference. It was incredible. I mean his poetry just inspired me beyond belief. There's two poems that just break my heart, one of them is called, "Winter Night", and the other is called "Parting." And the scene that I was talking about, when Lara leaves, when I read that poem. That's the great thing about what you experience in your life and what you bring to your work. It's the difference between knowing it intellectually, and then reading something, and going "Oh my God I know exactly what you mean", and you feel it. And you think, "My God, I relate to this pain", and that's wonderful. And, you know, in the book, it doesn't make you feel one thing or another, it's like we're up and down. There's descriptions of nature, he's just in love with nature, and then, you know, he loses Lara, or he loses Tonya ,and everything is inspiring.
I think that with a great piece of work it never makes you feel one thing. It's like, you don't quite know where you are, because it's a mixture of feelings, and that takes life experience.
Me and Giacomo have this thing that Boris Pasternak's come, because there's been a few scene where ..(laughing) Well, it was a sunny day like this, and the first time that Yuri and Lara meet, after the war, and he gets back to Moscow, and he goes to the library and he sees her, and then he meets her in the courtyard. And in the book it describes that this gust of wind just blows through the middle of them, and it happened. It happened, and me and Giacomo just looked at each other, and went "Whooo, he's with us". There's just certain things, and maybe he is, because, you know, he is a great man, I think, Boris.
Well Keira Knightley, when we started this production, was sixteen, she's now seventeen, which is unbelievable, because when I was sixteen, seventeen, I kind of thought I knew everything about life and love and things, as you do.
But, you know, in the last ten years, there's ten years between me and Keira, I've kind of gone through the mill a little bit. But Keira seems to know it! It's incredible, actually. She seems to be, she's like an old soul. She's a wise head on young shoulders. I think it was quite a shock to everybody that a sixteen year old would be cast in such a great role, such a mature role. She goes through motherhood. But, you know, I feel that she's right for the part. She has a kind of enigmatic quality about her, which is very important for Lara. And I think in this production we've gone deeper into the relationship between her and Komarovsky, which is very damaging emotionally, you know, I think it's almost like abused, which is what makes her who she is, and what Yuri loves in her in many ways, that kind of mysterious quality and that pain. From the moment he sees her, he recognizes something , something in her, some kind of pain, and he want to heal that. But yeah, that's what I say about Keira, I don?t know where I've gone (laughs), she's great! And Sam, he's brilliant! Every scene I have with him, I have to hate him, so it's been quite difficult to because I actually really like him. And yeah, I remember one of the first times I met him, I was in my dressing room, just playing my guitar, and he came in, I felt quite embarrassed, but he kind of asked me to play a little bit, and I realized that he was a human being. He's been very supportive, taken us out to dinner, and he's very funny as well, he's really funny. So, yeah, that's been great, Sam's a great guy. I'm not Omar Sharif, Keira's not Julie Christie, but, I'm Hans Matheson playing Yuri Zhivago, and she's Keira Knightley playing Lara. And, you know, I think there is, I'd go as far as to say, I think that this is more daring emotionally. I think films have moved on. I think in the last ten years, if you look as filmmaking in the last ten years, I think we, we're more open to who we are. I think we're more daring, emotionally, on screen. So, hopefully, we, I think there's something, I shouldn't really say this, but I think there's something more real about this production. But, you know, people, people will take from this what they want, you know. By the end of the day, for me, Giacomo, and everybody involved, we tried our best, and that's all you can do.