Kate Beckinsale and Xavier Samuel in Love & Friendship.
According to Xavier Samuel, when you have the chance to work with a writer and director like Whit Stillman (Metropolitian, The Last Days of Disco), you take it.
“He’s an auteur and he doesn’t make films very often, so to have the opportunity to work with him is something you don’t really have to think about,” Samuel told IF.
The Adelaide-raised actor stars as Reginald DeCourcy in Stillman’s latest film, Love & Friendship, an adaptation of an early Jane Austen novella, Lady Susan.
The manipulative and charming Lady Susan (played by Kate Beckinsale) is on a mission to find a new husband for herself and for her long suffering daughter Frederica, and swiftly seduces Samuel’s DeCourcy.
“It’s really a kind of joy to see a film that has a central female character who’s beating the system or the constraints at that time she had to deal with,” Samuel said.
“I didn’t realise at the time how naïve my character was (laughs); I thought he was a little bit smarter than Whit’s opinion of him. He’s sort of a sheepish, naïve young man who thinks that the reputation of this woman is what she’s defined by."
Stillman’s interpretation of Austen’s novella has an Oscar Wilde sensibility, said Samuel, with many scenes forming a battle of wits. He describes one of the challenges on set as “keeping a straight face”.
“There’s so many funny moments, and so much silliness amongst the elegance,” he says.
“The dialogue is so clever, sharp and quick. That’s a great challenge and just a fun thing to work on; to try and tune into the musicality of the lines and the way they operate.”
Samuel first broke in Hollywood a few years ago when he starred as a villain in the Twilight saga, and then went on work with big names such as Brad Pitt on World War II film, Fury.
Home has since become "a bit of an abstract concept” for Samuel – the actor has spent most of the last few years in LA – but he still has impressive slate of Australian films lined up.
Samuel’s reasoning for keeping in touch with the Aussie scene is simple – “there are really interesting filmmakers here, and I’m lucky enough to be involved.”
“Film and TV in Australia is moving into really interesting territory. People like David Michôd, Justin Kurzel and Cris Jones; these sorts of filmmakers are making waves overseas. It’s certainly producing an extraordinary amount of talent.”
Among his upcoming Aussie credits is MIFF opener The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, the debut feature from writer-director Jones.
The titular character, Otto Bloom, is a character Jones wrote especially for Samuel. Bloom experiences time in reverse; he passes backwards through the years, forgetting the past while remembering the future.
It’s a complex notion to get your head around. Samuel recalls coming to Jones with a notebook of questions about Bloom: what’s his relationship to spontaneity? Would he have had to have learned English backwards if he was hearing it backwards?
“At one point I thought maybe I should record all my lines backwards and then play them back, and then it would have a weird kind of dialect. Then we just got to a point where we were overthinking it (laughs), because it is a simple story. It’s a love story,” said Samuel.
Samuel will also be seen on the small screen soon, starring as Simon Heywood in Seven Types of Ambiguity, a six-part drama series for the ABC.
Samuel describes the experience of working in television as a shift,.
“That was probably the most challenging and enriching experience I’ve had as an actor, because you spend so much time with the character; an amount of time I’m not used to,” he said.
Also in the pipeline for the actor are leading roles in the Aussie features Bad Blood, Spin Out and A Few Less Men.
Love & Friendship is in cinemas now.