Jane Austen wrote William Elliot as one of literature’s most memorable cads. In a buzzy new Netflix adaptation of Persuasion, Hollywood’s nicest guy proves it’s a role he was born to play.
Golding on contemporary interpretations of period dramas: “I think it’s sacrilege to say,” the actor says carefully, “but I really like modern takes on period dramas. I love the fact that we have the choice of whether to watch the classics or more contemporary takes on these stories.”
On how he approaches his acting roles and getting into character: “I try to concentrate on the material in front of me. It’s about reading the script so thoroughly that every thought you have in normal day-to-day life, you’re thinking about from the perspective of Mr. Elliot,” he says. “So I would imagine, What would he be doing in this situation, or, How would he reply to this? It’s really about staying true to our script and coming to the table with a point of view about how Elliot should be when there have already been so many different iterations. For me, that made it easier to really enjoy playing such a colorful character on the screen.”
On his character Mr. Elliot, in director Carrie Cracknell’s Persuasion, a period-appropriate but spiritually modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s last completed novel, amongst a group of characters who never quite say what they feel, he is honest, even to a fault: “I think he’s far less complicated than we would imagine he is. He’s one of those people who knows what he wants and is going to mold the universe to his will. Within the story, he has his goal and he’ll do anything to get it—or to get into the pants of his perspective target. For me, it was a joy to know that as much as the character goes through, he’s not going to end up with lady. I could just have fun with that.”
On his steadfast work ethic and his serendipitous rise to fame after being discovered in London for Crazy Rich Asians while working on as hairstylist and travel program host: “I’ve worked tremendously hard for the majority of my lifetime. My first passion was hairdressing, and working in that industry in London from the age of 15 instilled at the early stages gratitude and empathy for others. I’ve lived a really beautiful existence in a way that I’m so grateful for, being able to have experience in different levels of life. It gives me a sense of reality. Like, if all of this went away, I think I’d be okay. I was something else before, I could be something else again.”
On working on Persuasion and what he learned from the story: “There’s a tremendous amount of passion [for Austen’s work]. This is definitely a relaxed, enjoyable, funny take on Persuasion, but it’s going to open the door to interest in literature. It’s broadening the draw to the subject… I think the lesson of Persuasion is truthfulness. Truthfulness not only to others but to yourself and your own feelings. Sometimes we fool ourselves and follow our brains rather than our hearts, and we get into so much trouble. But you just have to accept your own truth and live with it, even if it’s the wrong decision.”
[Photo Credit: Cyrill Matter/Town & Country Magazine]
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