Xavier Samuel talks Anonymous

Xavier Samuel talk Anonymous Blu-ray, available today

On Blu-ray and DVD starting today, February 7th, Anonymous is the latest dramatic thriller from acclaimed director Roland Emmerich. It attempts to solve the mystery behind the true author of William Shakespeare's most iconic works. Xavier Samuel stars in the film as the Earl of Southampton, a William Shakespeare dedicatee and the focus of his sonnets. We caught up with the actor to discuss some of the controversy behind this exciting new release. Our conversation is below.

There's not much ocean in Anonymous. So what was the draw for you?

Xavier Samuel: (Laughs) Yeah, you are right. I do try to find movies that are near or on the ocean. (Laughs) Look, I think this is a pretty controversial story. Its not often that you get to be in an Elizabethan thriller. I have always been fascinated by William Shakespeare. I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in a story like this.

Roland Emmerich doesn't shy away from the fact that there isn't a lot of truth telling in this story. It's not based on fact. As an actor, that must mean you have to pay more attention to the authenticity of the era, just in selling the piece home.

Xavier Samuel: John Orloff wrote a great script, so that is your starting point. My character, the Earl of Southampton, did exist. Though a lot of the relationships have changed, who he is has stayed consistent. I read a lot about that guy. Also, you have to be aware of the ideology of the film. It's a fast paced, thrilling story. Also, aside from the whole authorship thing, it's ludicrous to come up with any theory...Because there is so little information about it. There are a lot of strange coincidences that point to some of it being correct. But in terms of the whole authorship thing, you have to work out that the film is more about the relationship between art and politics, than how art can affect a great deal of change. So I focused on that aspect of the story, and less on "who dunnit?"

Those watching the movie, who are not well versed in the history of it, might not realize Earl of Southampton was a real person. In keeping with the themes of the movie, do you feel, through this project, that you have any authorship on the character of Earl?

Xavier Samuel: You have a bit of license, you know? You have to make the character your own. Because he's not around to talk to, and get to know. You have to go off the history books, and use those pieces of information that you find. Those becomes little springboards that are useful. As I was reading about him, I discovered that he was the rock star of his time. He had a massive entourage with him, wherever he went. He lived well beyond his means. He was an ambassador to the theater. He gave a lot of money to the writers to keep them writing. He really supported the theater. He was a very loyal guy. He stood by what he believed in. He stood by is friends. You grab those pieces of the picture, and you can start to assemble, little by little, what this guy might be like. Then, it's kind of up to you.

He can't speak for himself, as you said. His backstory has been filtered through god knows how many different writers throughout history. And many different voices get added to that. It really becomes a collage of who this person truly is...

Xavier Samuel: Yeah. You have to offer just a fragrance of who this guy might have been. Also, you can't be too egotistical about it. You have to remember what the function of the character is in the story. In this instance, it was to stay loyal to Essex and his good friends. I think if we incorporated everything I read about him, it might end up being a little inappropriate.

You call the Earl a rock star of the Elizabethan age. Was it hard for you to discover exactly what that means, and what that might be?

Xavier Samuel: Well, there was no guitar! I was actually a bit bummed when I learned that. When I say "Rock Star", its about the qualities that come with that sort of attitude. It's not about always being obnoxious. But it is about presenting yourself as someone the people want to listen to. As someone who is charismatic. In terms of rock stars, I think of those guys as being charismatic. You want to be around them. It's about the qualities that make a person exist. That's the type of guy he was really. He was flamboyant, and funny.

Speaking of flamboyancy...Roland Emmerich is a very flamboyant filmmaker. This could have been a small, indie movie, but he put his iconic, bombastic spin on it. Do you think this would have been a different movie had he not been attached to it?

Xavier Samuel: No. Not at all. I think he was the guy for it. People always forget that he directed The Patriot. Which was a really compelling period drama that dealt with similar issues. I knew he had that string in his bow. Also, he is known for blowing things up...In this film, he rebuilds them. He does something profound in recreating the London of that time. We get to see that. It's an amazing thing in itself. If you go see the movie for no other reason, that is something that is equally as interesting as well. Also, he really is an actor's director. He is insightful, and he has great instincts. He is able to communicate exactly what is at the heart of a scene. I really enjoyed working with him. I can't imagine it being someone else.

I don't think anyone else would have been able to capture this world with the same eye he brings to it...

Xavier Samuel: It is very dark, and very intimate...Isn't it?

Where do you stand amongst the controversy? It was interesting to watch the chord this struck amongst viewers. Do you lean to any particular side?

Xavier Samuel: Uh...I think its an elitist theory to say that a working class man like William Shakespeare couldn't have possibly written these plays, because he had no idea what it was like to be an aristocrat, or be in the cause. He wouldn't know about the lineage of kings...I think it is valid to have a working class genius. I think that's what he was. The idea that it had to be an aristocrat is a bit elitist to me. But then you look at the information that is there, and there are a lot of strange coincidences about Edward De Vere that pop up. You go, "That is pretty hard to reconcile with." If you study it long enough, you can come up with the theory that the Earl of Essex wrote the plays. There is a lot of information that can be perceived in many different ways. But, I also think, when all is said and done...It doesn't matter to me. There is still this body of work. You can call it whatever you want. It still exists. The plays are still profound. They are very contemporary and relevant. That is where I stand on the whole thing. You can say whatever you want. The work still exists.

History tells us that working class geniuses not only exists, but they account for probably 80% of the art in this world.

Xavier Samuel: Exactly. You said it.

What is your take on the Anonymous title, in terms of yourself as an actor, taking a written work, and interpreting it through yourself, filtering it to the point where other parties may become anonymous to what we're seeing you do on screen...

Xavier Samuel: I'm not sure what you mean...

(Laughs) I'm almost not sure what I mean either...

Xavier Samuel: (Laughs)

I guess, what is the parallel between what we see play out in the movie, and your relationship with John Orloff, once his written words are in your hands? How anonymous does he become? Because this really seems like a writer's movie...

Xavier Samuel: Right. You are talking about the people behind the scenes that you don't actually get to see in bringing this performance to life. They are not thrown into the limelight. Anonymity is an interesting thing. No one has it. If you go to your hometown, you see two or three people who know you. It's an interesting concept. To overcome a pseudonym. Look at all the great authors who've never put their name forward. Like George Elliott. The kind of great authors that haven't been unmasked. It's an interesting thought process. I remember reading about Stephen King. At the height of his success, he'd received a lot of criticisms. People said, "Just because you're Stephen King, people read your book." So he started this blog under a different name. He would release a chapter every month. It generated a massive following. He was able to go, "Its not just about my name. Its about the way I am forming these words." I think it's an interesting concept. What you decide to put your name on. I haven't thought about it in that way. I'm glad you ask this question. I think it's a whole other conversation, isn't it?

It speaks to your role as in actor in the movie. You are in Elizabethan drag. You're not recognizable as yourself. You can hide under that costume, and in a way, become anonymous...

Xavier Samuel: Yeah. That is what you hunger for as an actor. The opportunity to disappear. To be unrecognizable. To create something that doesn't look anything like you. Obviously, it still has an essence of who you are. That's what makes any character interesting. It is still a part of you. That's what audiences marvel at. The ability to be unrecognizable. You know? It's great when your mom goes, "Oh! I didn't even know it was you!" You hear that from your friends and family. "I forgot it was you!" That is endearing. It means they've been involved in the story. You can't be too egotistical about it as well. Because you want to be able, as an actor, to step out of the way of a story. You don't want to get in the way. You want to facilitate it, so it's told well.

You also have a movie coming out called Bait. That's a movie that finds you trying to save yourself from sharks inside a flooded grocery store, right?

Xavier Samuel: (Laughs) Yes. Sharks in a supermarket. It's a new genre of filmmaking. Can you imagine being stuck in a flooded super market? What happens is, a big Tsunami hits this coastal town. It blows the town apart. My character happens to be in this super market. Conveniently, my old girlfriend happens to be there with her new boyfriend. Also, conveniently, a criminal is holding up the super market. All of this stuff times up in the super marker at the time that this tsunami hits. Then it floods. They are all trapped in there together. Aside from being trapped in there together, with your ex-girlfriend and a criminal, there is also this shark wading around. It's a lot of fun. It doesn't take itself too seriously. Its very tongue and cheek. And very action packed, I suppose. It's nice to do something that is so off the wall, and packed with craziness. Who wouldn't want to do a film about a shark stuck in a super market. It's kind of a bizarre thing.

When do we get to see this movie in the states?

Xavier Samuel: I don't know for sure. Maybe September. I'll keep you posted. I'm pretty sure its in September, but please don't take my word for it.

Buy Anonymous on Blu-ray and DVD today!