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New Challenge For Actor In ‘Madding Crowd’ Role

Matthias+Schoenaerts+as+Gabriel+Oak+and+Carey+Mulligan+as+%22Bathsheba+Everdeen%22+in+%22Far+From+the+Madding+Crowd.%22+%28Photo+courtesy+Fox+Searchlight+Pictures%2FTNS%29
Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak and Carey Mulligan as

Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak and Carey Mulligan as "Bathsheba Everdeen" in "Far From the Madding Crowd." (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures/TNS)

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Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak and Carey Mulligan as "Bathsheba Everdeen" in "Far From the Madding Crowd." (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures/TNS)

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By Colin Covert

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

(TNS)

In “Far From the Madding Crowd,” the versatile Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts takes a difficult part and makes it soar. Schoenaerts, who has starred as thugs, crooks, murder suspects, cokeheads and war criminals, understands hard roles. But here he was cast as Gabriel Oak, the kind, loyal, lovesick hero of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel.

The character’s language wasn’t hard. “When I was young, I grew up trilingual, which gave me a brain that is ready to absorb all kinds of dialogues and languages,” he said in a recent phone conversation.

It wasn’t the period setting. He’s about to make a National Geographic cable series as half of the 1800s American explorer team Lewis and Clark.

All he had to do was make a man without any flaws spellbinding.

“The character blew me away. He’s always honest, he’s always truthful, there’s no self-pity, there’s no complaining. There’s only loyalty, authenticity and selflessness. I thought, ‘Wow, did such a man exist?’ I thought I would learn a lot from this character. Not only on an artistic level, but also on a human level.”

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdeen in "Far From the Madding Crowd." (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures/TNS)

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdeen in “Far From the Madding Crowd.” (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures/TNS)

He compared it to switching his nationality for films shot in France, Germany, Britain and the United States. “You just focus and try to let it happen. It’s like a sportsman. Just work, work, work, man. Just go for it.”

Schoenaerts’ father, Julien, was a famous theater actor. “It fascinated me from an early age in my life. At some points I just didn’t want to have anything to do with it, you know. But I ended up going there somehow. Walking around in the theaters, seeing him work, all the atmospheres, your system absorbs them. In time you will reconnect with them.”

Appearing in World War II dramas, romance in prerevolutionary France, modern horror chillers and Hitchcockian fantasy, Schoenaerts has a brain-spinningly diverse resume. What drew him to the Hardy classic, beyond the chance to work with Carey Mulligan as the independent-minded heroine, was “the emotional complexity of what goes on between these characters” — including romantic rivals played by Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge — “and the very modern portrayal of who this woman was. Because back then it was very unconventional to be a woman in that way.”

Schoenaerts has become much in demand to work with outstanding female stars, recently pairing with Kate Winslet, Tilda Swinton, Michelle Williams, Noomi Rapace, and twice with Marion Cotillard. A week before our call he had just wrapped shooting on “The Danish Girl,” where his scenes with Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne were similar in some ways, yet remarkably different.

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel in "Far From the Madding Crowd." (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures/TNS)

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel in “Far From the Madding Crowd.” (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures/TNS)

Schoenaerts plays an art dealer representing portraits of his boyhood friend, shy, delicate Danish painting instructor Einar Wegener, who models for his painter wife while dressed as a woman. Posing for those fast-selling canvases awakens Einar’s long suppressed desire to be a woman, leading to his groundbreaking sex change surgery.

“That transgender surgery is part of their really complex, beautiful triangle,” he said. “Love and so many things unfold. I can’t give away the story of course,” but he was willing to predict another Academy Award bid for Redmayne after the film’s November release. “I’m sure this won’t just be his second nomination. It will be his second Oscar in a row!”

©2015 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

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New Challenge For Actor In ‘Madding Crowd’ Role