James D'Arcy Interview
James D'Arcy Interview
James D’Arcy is a British actor who, having graduated from LAMDA, has gone onto make a name for himself as a period actor in many popular television dramas, including The History of Tom Jones, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Sherlock and Mansfield Park. Having moved onto the big screen he’s now playing another historical character alongside Andrea Riseborough, as they portray Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson, in Madonna’s W.E. Talking to View’s Matthew Turner, he spoke about working under one of the most famous women in the world, learning to play the bagpipes better than the king and how the films is really about the eternal story of love.
It was nice to see the Fox family so well represented in the film.

James D'Arcy

I know, I was a bit annoyed actually, when I found out that James [Fox] was playing my and Laurence’s [Fox] father. I did suggest to Madonna that perhaps my mother should play the Queen, just to even things out. My mum’s a nurse, so that didn’t really work in the end.
But did James and Laurence find it amusing to continue this family tradition?

James D'Arcy

They didn’t really talk about it. You had Fox and Fox and it felt more peculiar perhaps to us than to them. I’m trying to think if they even had a scene together. They did have a scene but I don’t think it made it to the film. There’s a scene where I played the bagpipes, which I think has not made the final cut of the movie.
I did suggest to Madonna that perhaps my mother should play the Queen...
I should think not ...

James D'Arcy

I was very good as it happens. You get the DVD and have a go at that. I learned to play the bagpipes in six weeks.
What tune did you play?

James D'Arcy

I Enjoy Sporting with My Brown Haired Lass was the tune I played. But this is a good insight into working with Madonna. I went to see a wonderful man to teach me, and he said he couldn’t teach me to play the bagpipes in six weeks, it was impossible. You start with the chanter and you play that for six months, and then you do the bags for a few months, and then you put them together and after a year you might get a bit. But, he said, “What I can do is make it look like you can play the bagpipes.”

So I emailed Madonna and she wrote back and said “I need you to try and learn to play the bagpipes. Just because somebody says you can’t doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.” I thought, well alright, fuck it. I’m here for the film, so let’s see what I can do. I said to the man teaching me, “Here’s the email, what do we think about that? It’s really a gauntlet thrown down.” And we did it. I played three minutes of bagpipes, with all three pipes going, which we could have plugged up.

It was sort of amazing, and it did somehow sum up how it was working with Madonna because there was no space for the word no. It was always, challenge yourself to do more than you think is possible. Bend reality. And that’s quite exciting. All the way through I was thinking ‘I won’t be able to do it, I won’t be able to do it,’ and then I did it. And at the end of it there’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment that you did something that you truly didn’t think you could do.
How many cigarettes did you go through in the course of the film, he always seems to have one in his hand.

James D'Arcy

Well, that unfortunately is the truth. It’s disappointing that it was the truth. I smoked a lot, yeah.
Are you a smoker?

James D'Arcy

I used to smoke, probably almost as many as he did. But I haven’t smoked for a while, so it was a trip. We finished the film, and I stopped.
Maybe the bagpipes compensated for your lungs?

James D'Arcy

I’m sure that’s what it was.
Doing the research, and playing someone that there is such a visage of, is it difficult to bring your own interpretation to it?

James D'Arcy

I didn’t find that difficult because there isn’t a view of him.
There is a visual image though, and the stories that people have created around him.

James D'Arcy

There are stories, there’s no one definitive view of him so that’s immediately liberating. Firstly, to massively generalise, there’s a minimum of two views because one of them predominantly exists in America, which is that there was this extraordinary love affair. And the other one predominantly exists in Britain, which is that the man absented himself from his duties to his country. And both of those stories are true.

So like all of our lives it’s complicated, and that helped me a lot because there is no definitive image. There’s a lot of stuff that’s written about them that I personally came to the conclusion was not true, and was probably propaganda. But that’s neither here nor there. Really, ultimately, I’m not a historian, I’m not a documentary maker, I’m just an actor. I didn’t write the script and I didn’t direct the script, my job is to try and service the script and the vision of the director. And in this particular instance the good news was that the story Madonna wanted to tell was very clear.

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Content updated: 20/02/2020 17:22

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