Hugh Dancy taking you inside a refugee camp in Rwanda

The country of Rwanda has been a very weighty subject over the last few years. First, with Don Cheadle's Hotel Rwanda; and now, John Hurt and Hugh Dancy in Beyond the Gates.

The film is based on actual events that took place in the African country in the mid-1990's following a group of refugees holed up in a UN makeshift camp. But, when the UN troops pulled out, they left some of the refugees to die.

Hugh spoke to us about taking part in such an emotional film; here's what he had to say:

Does the atmosphere change on set while you're making a movie like this? Are you able to have fun?

Hugh Dancy: In the short answer, yes. But in specific to this movie, at times it was challenging and I expected that when I got into it. One was, we were working with the Rwandans, in the crew, and that allowed us not to carry the whole story so heavily; and if they're not, than what right do you have. They were enjoying life, despite what they were going through. The other thing is we were as far from Hollywood movie making as possible; we were just doing work, and doing our best.

How much research goes into a role like this, and did it help to have David Belton (producer and writer) on set?

Hugh Dancy: I didn't need to talk to David because we were in Rwanda, which is as close to the experience as you can get. As far as the research, I was playing a character, who doesn't know what's going on; but my character is seeing what's going on right in front of his eyes. He has a more optimistic view of the world, and has his head in the sand, so to speak. So, from a research and work point of view about the history of genocide, it was more important how this guy could not know what was going on and why is he so kind of gullible and need to preserve. And that was so easy, because it is such a beautiful country; as soon as I got there, I could see why he fell in love with it. I spent a lot of time in the country; I wanted to know as much about it as possible.

Do you prepare differently for the character because it's based on a true story?

Hugh Dancy: I don't play a real character, so I wasn't beholden to anyone particularly in life or a behavior. But what was more important was being able to go and show this film to the Rwandans; this is part of what happens to us. But from a character point of view, this was more to figure out what this guy goes through; the movie is laid in such a way that it's made to feel that it's a beautiful place, and you try to act in a way that's going to be pleasant.

So what was it like going back and showing the Rwandans this movie?

Hugh Dancy: Astonishing, really; we showed it in the national stage in Kigali - about 23,000 people came between the two screenings. The atmosphere is how you'd expect; they're there more demonstrative people, and less inhibited than we are - to watch this re-enactment of their people, we didn't know what that was going to be like. The response was remarkable; sitting in the audience, you could hear the moments of silence, but you could hear people crying out at moments. They believed in this story we told; they recognized the emptiness of the streets and a lot of sadness. There's nothing worse than doing a story like this and messing it up - fortunately, I learned we did not do that.

What's the night life like in Rwanda?

Hugh Dancy: It's a very poor country, so it's not Vegas. We were working pretty hard, but we had the weekend, and we weekended pretty hard. There were a couple of clubs, one of them called Car Wash in Kigali - it's called that because it's actually a car wash. You can take your car there, and drive it in to an enormous puddle; they actually remove your seats and clean your car, clean the inside of it. We were able to also travel to the border near Congo, which is where the gorillas are - there's plenty to see.

How different is Beyond the Gates to Savage Grace, both true stories?

Hugh Dancy: They're very different. The central base is this bizarre family unit, the Baekeland's; they lived a stylized and quazi-artistic lifestyle - and the way you make the movie reflects that. It's not something to make like a documentary, as we did in Beyond the Gates. The book, of the same name, Savage Grace, is the account of this family's decline - it's brilliant; there's no narrative, there's no editorial comments. It's taken from interviews done by different people; if you read this book, you get a sense of this brilliant blueprint of the movie - you get a sense of the movie.

What do you want audiences to take away from Beyond the Gates?

Hugh Dancy: What we tried to do is take an audience to the other half of the world and a piece of history you didn't live through, but go there emotionally and imaginatively - it's so rewarding. We didn't want to make a history lesson, we didn't want to make a moral fable; we just wanted to travel to the other side of the world and realizing that could be you and me.

Beyond the Gates opens in theaters March 16th; it's rated R.