It can’t be easy being known as the ”cute guy from that movie,” especially when that movie opened six years ago. Not that Brit babe Ben Chaplin, 31, has fallen off the planet since ”The Truth About Cats & Dogs”; he’s just been experimenting with movies that didn’t quite have the same box office appeal (”The Thin Red Line,” ”Lost Souls”). But opposite Nicole Kidman in ”Birthday Girl,” Chaplin does what he does best — plays the semi socially inept cute guy who falls for the entirely wrong woman (in this case, Kidman’s mail order bride/crook). EW.com caught up with Chaplin to discuss working with the world’s hottest actress of the moment, and more.
What made you choose this film?
When I read the script I saw [writer/director] Jez Butterworth’s name on front. At the time he was hailed as the new British voice and I wanted to work with him. It was also all set around where I grew up in the green belt outside of London in suburban England — a part of England that is never filmed — so it seemed too good to be true.
Did you have to go through a whole audition process?
No, he came to see me in a stage production of ”The Glass Menagerie” and just offered it to me. I was surprised he wanted me.
So you were in place even before Nicole Kidman?
Yeah, I ordered Nicole and she came.
Is that right?
Okay, no. But before Nicole was in the picture it was a much smaller independent film. We were looking at lesser known English actresses — mostly no one famous. But then lots of girls more famous became interested because there was real buzz about the project. It was slightly shocking to get her.
Admit it. You were a little scared to meet her.
She’s not that sort of girl. She puts you at ease immediately. She’s very professional and all about acting but still likes to have a laugh and so do I. But she definitely kept me on my toes. If you snooze you lose with Nicole. She didn’t know any Russian before the movie. I was bowling in China recently and I heard what sounded just like Nicole and it turned out to be this Russian woman.
What’s up with you playing cute yet gullible guys?
Well, ”Cats and Dogs” was almost the definition of gullible, but I try not to analyze those things too much. It’s not my place to say whether I’m cute or not. I spend a lot of time trying to be very fair with every character. I care about all the characters I play and I get quite defensive about them.
Your character, John Buckingham, is this lame porn-obsessed guy who hates his job, mail orders a bride, and is way into bondage. Why did you choose such a weirdo?
After ”Cats and Dogs” I got offered a lot of similar roles and ones I didn’t like as much, so I deliberately waited a long time to find this. I didn’t want to do the same thing because that would have finished me off. I’ve always been in it for the long haul, not a quick buzz.
What kind of research did you do for such an unlikable character?
I spent a lot of time worrying about John in this film. I bought some pornography, which I’d never done, just to feel the embarrassment of buying it. I looked up some mail order brides on the internet, and I even worked in a bank to see how it was.
What did you do at the bank?
I was given carte blanche to help them clear out the safe and the next day they were thousands of pounds down. I thought, did I put a bundle in my pocket? I remember instinctively putting my hands in my pockets to see if I had gotten so into character that I stole their money. But it was just a counting error.
What are you working on now?
I finished ”Murder by Numbers” with Sandra Bullock. It’s a thriller about two high school seniors who commit the perfect murder. I’m slightly nerdy, if a policeman can be. I like that because I hadn’t done that sort of thing before. And then there’s ”Touch” with Michelle Yeoh. That’s about a Chinese circus of acrobats and the adopted abandoned English boy. I use my skills to become a cat burglar, but then I’m on a mythical quest to find this holy Buddhist relic.
Do you get to do some fancy footwork?
Let’s just say my ass kicking definitely has comedic elements.