The Grand Duke of Corsica is a black comedy that meditates on life, love, and the pursuit of architecture. Currently out on Amazon Prime, the film follows architect Alfred Rott (Timothy Spall) as he is retained by the Grand Duke (Peter Stormare) with the intention of building a monument in Corsica. Meanwhile, back in the 1200s, one man (Matt Hookings) ventures out to become Saint Francis of Assisi and eventually serves as Alfred’s inspiration.
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Stormare spoke to Screen Rant about his journey through the film and collaborating with director Daniel Graham.
Screen Rant: What drew you to The Grand Duke of Corsica?
Peter Stormare: It is hilarious and it’s kind of complicated. But sometimes when you do these so-called art movies, like smaller, independent movies, it’s a lot of heart put in from everybody from our director, screenwriter, everybody working with the project. Because you go in and the wage is not the best, and everybody’s more or less on a minimum. But it seems like in these smaller movies people are more eager to put in their own hearts. Even people working with the electrical and gaffers and everybody, you talk, you’re close.
It’s a minimal crew and you have more contact and people give their opinion, and say that was really funny in the rehearsal when you did, and it can come from anybody. Usually, when you’re working in the bigger industry, you’re very isolated as an actor together with a director. When you go on this smaller project, which I’ve done a lot of lately, is that people are… some directors even finance part of the movies themselves with a credit card. They’ll put their house on a second mortgage just to get the thing done.
Sometimes it takes a lot of heart to do a project because no one wants to do it, none of the big studios wants to do it. The Duke of Corsica, says it’s a cool script, but you know who the hell wants to see this? I don’t care. When I grew up in theater my mentor told me it doesn’t matter. It’s 900 people out there, but your mission tonight is to go out and really move one person.
That’s the only thing you have to do, maybe to alter that person’s life in a better way. Just to plant a little seed in their heart, in their soul, so they can lead a better life. That’s your aim every night. Not to get the applause from 900 people, but one person, select one person in your head.
That’s always what I do. I carry that with me into the theater and I have, into movies and theater, and sorry. I carry that into movies and TV and whatever format I’m doing, even voices. Like to reach one person, I’m talking to one person, not to a hoard of people.
One person always. I have a designated receiver in my head. And that’s with this movie too. It’s not going to be a blockbuster, but it’s going to be there. And it’s going to bubble on the streaming. And some people are going to see it and say, “This is kind of weird, but there are some moments in this movie I won’t forget.”
Whereas some movies you’re going in to see and you walk away and you forget it. Forget about it when you get to your car or to the subway, it’s gone. It’s in the past. You enjoyed the one and a half hour to two hours with your popcorn and getting spoon-fed, well, forced fed. But I really like, myself, to watch stuff that invites me on a journey. That demands a little bit from me, you know? It’s, the old saying, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
That is a good saying for me because I don’t like to watch things that are, well you know what I’m alluding to. But everybody figured out who killed the guy, but the characters in the plot, they don’t know. And we know, the audience knows, especially TV cop dramas, we all know who did it, but the people in the drama they don’t know. And we think, but we still look at it because it’s easy, it’s easy to fast food. This is not easy, fast food. This is a little harder. It’s like trying some Venezuelan native dish.
Can you talk about working with Daniel Graham? What was the collaboration process like? Did working with a director-writer help inform your performance a little bit more?
c: I had the luck to team up with Timothy Fall, which I admired on-screen before even seeing him on stage. He’s a great actor, and he comes from the same background as me, theater. Creating a character takes some time.
When we met up with Daniel, [there were] a lot of telephone calls in the beginning because they’re in England and I’m in L.A., and we talked about the characters. Daniel said from the beginning, “I write, it’s my writing. It’s the same language, but you have to form your own characters.” So for me, it would be nice if we could meet, not just to rehearse, but maybe before we shoot a scene or the day before we shoot a scene in the evening, after wrap. We can sit and plan the next day and just read the lines and see what comes up.
Sometimes we improvised. We said, “The lines here, they don’t fit really. It would be better, could I say this?” Daniel was, “Yeah, of course. It’s your character and finds the language.” We sort of did a theatrical rehearsal, every evening or every morning, together with the director. And he said, “I really like this line, in the beginning.” I said, “Okay, let’s keep that if I can change this line?” He said, “Yeah, absolutely, but keep this because that’s a little love of mine when you just say those three words.” Oh, okay.
It was like creating, let’s say an adaptation of a book. When you’re on stage together with a director and a writer and you adapt a book, then you together with work with a cast and you develop. And after three weeks you have a play, you have the lines.
That’s how we worked. And that was really nice. And I must say to Daniel because sometimes we took away some of his darlings, I’m sure. And he never was sad or angry and said, boom, boom, boom, this got to be in there. Because he said, “That sounds great. Yes, yes, yes. That’s much better than my line. I’m not a Chekhov,” he said, “I’m not a Shakespeare. But I gave you sort of a direction.” I think for a director and writer, as he was, both writing and directing, it’s very generous.
Those director writers are the best because they know, like a writer and you read a lot too… I read a lot today where the writer writes for six characters and everybody has the same grammar. You’re from Los Angeles, I’m from Sweden. But even if you and I grew up in the same neighborhood, more or less in Los Angeles, we don’t have the same kind of language.
We use it differently, and we use it from our parents differently. You might come from a richer family, I come from a poorer, or vice versa. So each individual, there were the Cohen brothers and some, and Tarantino is very good because they have a special language for each character. What is the character’s background? Because they know about the old way of writing for the stage. The priest talks differently than the lawyer and the maid talks differently than the mistress of the house. So they all have differences.
Daniel said, “You have to find the language for him,” and he was very open. And that’s the collaboration I love. That’s the part of theater I love. I hate to perform in theater. The rehearsal time, those three to five weeks you can have for rehearsal is the best, because you’re an adventurer, you’re on a journey. You try to map out the white territory of the earth.
What did you want to bring to the role of the Grand Duke in your discovery for that character as you were going on that adventure?
Peter Stormare: What I wanted to bring in because it’s, in my life I have, I was brought up with a spiritual mother. That always pointed out to me that whatever you do in your life, don’t close the windows and doors that are open. Because we tend, the older we get, to close all the windows and doors of our body. We forget where the keys are and all the hinges rust and stuff, and find then they might not open anymore. So keep your mind open.
I was a dreamer as a young kid. I was very much into sitting alone, staring out a window, or being in a dark room all by myself, looking at my glowing paint and stuff. I wanted to bring into, like a spirituality into him, and the fantasy there that in this world there’s another parallel universe for me that does exist.
What is the truth really? I mean, is it just because we can touch something that it’s really real, or what is it? Is the Duke living in a castle, or is he a magician? Can you alter the view of Alfred Roth that comes and visit him? Can you alter and pretend this is a grand castle? Maybe it’s just a little shack. And I just wanted to toe the line where fantasy and realism don’t have a border. You can cross it like it’s an invisible border.
I think people who are living in that kind of landscape are happier than people who are just non-believers, who don’t believe in anything. Who doesn’t believe in reincarnation or aliens or a God, or the light, or whatever, but everything is just here now, and for me. It ends and I’m dead. People say to me, “No, no, you believe in an afterlife.” But for me, I’m just the flower. I grew up and then I wither and die, but the flower plants seeds, and there’s another flower coming up that bears seeds from that flower. How do you explain that? “Oh, I never thought of that.” I know I’m a carrier of DNA and things that go way back. And sometimes we’ll have deja vu, or we remember things, or we dream things. And for me, it’s so nice when I dream, because it’s like, “Oh, that might be my ancestor’s experiences.”
Things I carry within myself. And also, by talking to you now, and I said this to people during the pandemic. Isn’t it amazing, I know we’re b***ching and itching that this got to be over, this got to be over. I got to have my vacation. I got to go on the Caribbean cruise every year. And I say, “but why are you here on earth do you think?” And they say, “Well, what do you mean?”
Well, because we have ancestors. My ancestry goes back thousands, thousands of years, yours too. And they endured, they had patience, or they had to live out; they’ve gone through famines, wars. They’ve gone through pandemics, they’ve gone through so many things so you and I could be here for this time on earth.
Maybe this is a time where we have to rethink our way of living and maybe see that we must provide something good for future generations. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here, if my forefathers or fore-mothers haven’t endured all the pain and suffering and held back sometimes.
But occasionally I find friends and on set, we talk a lot. I talk a lot, from everybody, from teams just to prop where I started once when I was 19 in Sweden. So I talk to a lot of people and we get into this. And it’s an eye-opener for many of them who say you’re right. I mean, I’m here because my ancestors must have survived a lot of shit.
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The Grand Duke of Corsica is now available to stream on Prime Video.
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