Interview with Ioan Gruffudd

Now, he’s starring in Michael Apted’s historic drama Amazing Grace, playing a different kind of hero in the form of William Wilberforce, the leader of the British abolition movement who made it his life’s work to try to end the slave trade in England during the early 19th Century. What is it about you and alliterative names? First “Horatio Hornblower”, then “Reed Richards,” now “William Wilberforce.” Did this coincidence dawn on you when you took on this role?
Ioan Gruffudd: It did actually. Yes, absolutely. I sort of insist it every time.

CS: So if someone wants you to play a character whose name isn’t alliterative, your agent makes them change it?
Gruffudd: Yes, I would change it. (laughs)

CS: How did you find out about this role?
Gruffudd: I read the movie to be honest with you. I wasn’t aware of William Wilberforce or his achievements at all. I was sort of ignorant to the fact, so I read the script and fell in love with it and thought I really could do a good job with it. Then I went and pursued it by auditioning and meeting Michael Apted, sitting down and having several meetings with him, then testing for it and then the wait before I got the job.

CS: Do you think Michael had seen your Horatio Hornblower movies, and knew from them that you could pull off this character?
Gruffudd: I think so. I know that the period costume drama genre doesn’t terrify me at all. I love these characters, and they’re such great characters to play. I think he just gathered that from the test I had done, as much as my previous work.

CS: It’s funny you mention that, because this isn’t your typical period costume drama. Most of the time they’re fairly frivolous, but this has a very serious message.
Gruffudd: Yes, I call it sort of a political thriller, really. That’s what we were determined to do, not to make it a real biopic of William Wilberforce, but to make it a real story and to show what he achieved in Parliament, sort of the intrigue, the machinations and all the workings of the British Parliament back then.

CS: Did you have any idea Michael had such a great cast lined up for the movie with Albert Finney, Michael Gambon and all these other great theatrical actors?
Gruffudd: Once I was on board and then I heard the people who were coming in to play these parts, I was blown away and that’s testament to the script and the story and to Michael, I think. These guys are legends in my world, and I think the fact that Michael was attached to this movie made me want to do it even more. You need a director of this sort of caliber to pull something like this off.

CS: But basically, you were the first person signed on to the movie and then they cast around you?
Gruffudd: You know what, I can’t remember at all. It doesn’t matter. It was so exciting that these people had come to do it.

CS: And you had never heard about William Wilberforce or his achievements before reading the script?
Gruffudd: No. I wasn’t aware of his history or his background or what he’d achieved. I didn’t even realize there was a difference between the abolition of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery thirty years later. This really kick-started the whole movement, ending up in the abolition of slavery in the States in the 1860s, I think it was.

CS: Did you have to do any research into his life once you got the part or was it all in the script?
Gruffudd: It was pretty much all in the script, but of course, you’ve got to really flesh it out, so I read as much as I could about him, to try and bring him to life, especially the aspect of his religious conversion, trying to achieve that in a such a way that it wasn’t too

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