Stuart Townsend on Head in the Clouds
Not much is off-limits for Stuart Townsend, an easygoing, focused man whose sun-kissed, sharp good looks belie an Irish descent. As he speaks with the press today, making the rounds to promote his latest film with girlfriend and academy award-winning actress Charlize Theron, rain mercilessly pelts New York City and the subway tunnels, the one constant in the city that never sleeps, have flooded.
This reporter found himself running 20 blocks to make it in time for his interview. My personal story is of no consequence, but to Townsend, rather than running headfirst into personal anecdotes or movie talk rehash, the first thing he asks about is me.
"How was your morning?" If he's asking out of politeness, it's unnecessary. If he's concerned -- well, hey, it works.
His calm, collected demeanor and mild Dublin accent gently remind of another actor perpetually making headlines with his sensational shenanigans, however it's obvious – at least from this brief encounter -- that Townsend is a different creature from that rogue altogether.
What's interesting about Townsend: he's hardly the overnight Hollywood sensation the media latches onto. His ascent does not match the mercurial rise of fellow actor and friend Orlando Bloom, nor has he reached the point where his name is a bonafide marquee title. To put it bluntly, Colin Farrel he is not.
This truth is a reality Townsend readily realizes and carries with him.
"It's a mad business, you know. Most of the time, I'm pretty frustrated as an actor. A lot of the films I want to do, I don't get, and a lot of the films that are out there are sequels, teen comedies, you know."
Instead, after working in London for several indie flicks like 1999's Wonderland and 2000's About Adam, Townsend began the long trek to infilterate mainstream consciousness: blockbuster flicks like Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, both of which received less-than-stellar reviews.
"I loved LXG," I say.
"Then you were one of the few!" he chuckles earnestly, admitting some of his biggest work so far is not necessarily his best.
With John Duigan's Head in the Clouds, his luck might change. Townsend plays the mild-mannered Cambridge student Guy who falls for the self-indulgent, insatiable socialite Gilda (Charlize Theron) and befriends the stripper Mia (Penelope Cruz). Fate rears its ugly head through the horrors of World War II, smashing their self-made oasis, forever altering the course of their lives. If The English Patient copulated with The Dreamers, Head in the Clouds would be their secret lovechild.
"Some movies I think you do because you like the character or love the director or the actors or whatever," Townsend explains. "This was definitely about the story -- it was a great love story – complex -- and I thought it would be a great thing for us to do."
By "us," Townsend of course refers to Theron and himself. Together, they're the celebrated – yet understated – "it" couple of the moment. They ostensibly refrain from making sensational headlines, skirting the gossip media chains rather successfully, yet photos of them – walking, dining, grocery shopping, you name it – perpetually plaster celeb mags. Head in the Clouds marks their first onscreen collaboration. Would they consider working together on future projects?
"Yeah, people ask me if I want to do more films with her. I don't, because I think people get very tired of seeing the same two people very quickly," he says. "Back in the old days, that was the norm almost: you had a couple who did movie after movie together but I personally wouldn't like to see the two of us onscreen all the time and I don't think anyone else would… We'd been offered other stuff, but it wasn't right – we just felt that this was a good story you know? And there is always that worry [about] the whole Gigli syndrome, but I felt that this is a different type of movie." He pauses for a second.
"And you know, we're not Bennifer, we're not that couple at all. I think a lot of people who see the movie won't even know we're together and that's probably better if they don't, you know?"
Townsend does not discount possibly writing or directing films in the future as so many veteran and up-and-coming actors seem so apt to do these days. In fact, Townsend already has a script.
"I have spent the last three years being pretty frustrated and so two-and-a-half years ago, I started writing a script and I finished it. I got a producer a couple of months ago and we started shooting in March, so fingers crossed!"
Tentatively titled Battle in Seattle, the political plot chronicles five days during which the world trade organization visited Seattle – what resulted was a violent clash of civilian protesters and police authority.
"It's how the was media represented from the viewpoint of the cops… It's an incredible event and it's been somewhat forgotten." Townsend's eyes light up when discussing the project, his staid mannerisms growing more animated.
"It's been interesting because I think if I had hawked the script around three years ago, they [studio execs] would have been like, ‘No, no.' But now, it's generated real interest. It's mad because you're writing it and asking yourself, ‘Am I half-mad? This is gonna be a pile of shit!'"
After promoting Head in the Clouds and wrapping up Battle in Seattle, Townsend films his next project, a British comedy called The Best Man, directed by Stefan Schwartz whom he worked with on Shooting Fish, and costars Seth Green.
If Townsend had his way though, it seems he'd simply be happy working on independent films until professional retirement. To him, it seems less about the paycheck at the end of the day and more about the quality of the work, the final product. When asked about this, Townsend remains easygoing, if consigned to the freewheeling idea that life – and his career in the process -- has a way of working itself out.
"I used to think, 'This is my career. I'm going to do a lot of independent film and work with great people.' But, life doesn't turn out the way you think it's going to…. There's no control over it. I don't think I'm primed for anything. It's just whatever fate sends me next."
- JP Mangalindan