With star turns in Everest, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Great Gatsby, Australian actor Jason Clarke has brought his flawless American accent and on-screen magnetism to numerous character roles.
Here he talks about stepping into the lead as ”a dangerous man who committed one of the most devastating acts in history” in Cédric Jimenez’s new film The Man With the Iron Heart, partially shot in Prague:
The Man with the Iron Heart is inspired by a true story, but according to the director, it’s a heroic epic.
The story of this film captures one of the greatest moments of the Second World War. Two ordinary guys managed to kill Reinhard Heydrich, and eventually they lost their lives in unbelievable circumstances. I remember that once when I was a little sick, I didn’t go to school and was watching TV at home. I saw a movie about how the paratroopers hid in the church, everywhere the shooting, then the water … Oh, my God, it’s something very epic! I never forgot that. When I had the opportunity to visit Prague and see where it happened, I was in shock. It was only then I realized that it really happened.
The film is exceptional for portraying Reinhard Heydrich’s life and career leading up to his assassination. In what time does the film take place?
The story begins after the First World War. In Germany, and throughout Europe, where riots will emerge. The economic situation is bad. People are dissatisfied. Reinhard Heydrich is at the Navy Academy and we are gradually following his upward progress: the Nazi party, the SS, the Wehrmacht, and finally the assassination. Basically, it’s the period of the peak of German domination and World War II.
Who was Reinhard Heydrich?
First of all, Reinhard Heydrich was a very dangerous man who committed one of the most devastating acts in the history of mankind. He was a symbol of Nazism, becoming the epitome of what Hitler and his loved ones were trying to achieve. He had a lot in his mind. But we must realize that this is a three-dimensional figure. For what he did, there must be some reason.
That’s what you’re focusing on in the film, how he was, how he lived. . . how was Heydrich like a man and not a figure from a textbook?
He had to realize to a certain extent that what he was doing was not right. The fact that he did it, he made something extra, doubled the effort … it all tells who he was. I am glad that it’s told not only in the book, but also thanks to Cédric in the film. Heydrich had children, he played piano, just like every ordinary man, he liked to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake, he liked classical music. His father was a composer. He probably would have liked to talk about a lot of things. Therefore, none of us should think that real monsters are completely different from us. Or that any of us couldn’t be such a monster.
Is there no danger when you introduce Heydrich as a human being, you will excuse him in some way?
We didn’t have the slightest intention of trying to save Heydrich’s face in the movie, but we wanted to bite into all of his personality and weaknesses. We didn’t want to forget that he was an ordinary person. It’s not a Marvel movie, but a man who existed and had parents and siblings, and a real human heart in his chest. Tomorrow you could walk around the very same guy on the street and you wouldn’t even notice.
Everyone appreciates that you really put that in the role in and focused on it. Being a Nazi monster could be quite complicated. The director says that you were not afraid to dig in.
I’m very fond of preparing for a role. I like to read everything that can be read, whether I use it or not. And then there will be times when you have to let it out.
To a point, we tried to really inspire the atmosphere of fear and infinite aggression. Moving around this time was not very pleasant. Not that I intentionally behaved hostilely. But you can’t get into such a mood just in the middle of the scene. There is only a thin line between when you are in the place where you want to get into the role and hold it in yourself and when you let it go. It was clear to me that I was performing in a Nazi uniform.
Heydrich’s wife also has a big role. Did she know what her husband was?
From the first moment she saw him, Lina knew that Heydrich was someone who could take care of her family, give her what she wanted, and at the same time return to Germany its original state. And work hard on it.
She was the one who actually pushed him into a career in the SS.
Reinhard was the type of man who had succeeded in everything he had done, and I think Lina had noticed that. He had discipline. Lina then pushed him into the Nazi party until he finally became this unimaginable figure of power.
How was it working with actress Rosamund Pike, who plays Lina Heydrich?
I love Rosamund very much. We have long tried to find something we could do together. Rosamund is the type of person who knows exactly what she is doing, and she is very good at it. She’s always ready for what’s going to happen. We have a nice relationship together so we really enjoyed filming. Cédric with us in such a way that we could let ourselves be carried away by the scene and how it acted upon us. Just: I am Reinhard, you are Lina, so we’ll play it. That’s exactly how it was in the scene on the train that takes place at the beginning of the movie. Not much is better than having some other actor feel like that.