Rupert Graves Online.
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2008 - God On Trial.

Author: BBC Press Office.
Publication: BBC Worldwide.


Rupert Graves is Mordechai.

Kuhn's son Mordechai is calm and composed at the beginning. He looks after his father, ensuring he is well and healthy, more anxious for his wellbeing than his own.

He is appointed Inquisitor of the Court, which he accepts despite his father's obvious distress at his appointment. Mordechai becomes argumentative, scornful and angry.

Rupert explains: "I imagine Mordechai and his father have been in Auschwitz for a while. He's a progressive Jew in his thinking, somebody who's very empathetic and sympathetic.

"I imagine he had a job before the Holocaust in something like public planning – I think he's very civic minded, a very reasonable man. But I'd say that, unsurprisingly, he's fairly depressed at the moment."

Mordechai's relationship with his father will strike a familiar chord with a lot of people despite the extraordinary setting: "The two men are very different. The latter has a great deal of faith whereas Mordechai has no faith at all; he believes in reason and experiences and the real world.

"They have huge differences of opinion. Mordechai married a gentile which upset his father quite severely. They probably argue about faith a lot but are very close; they live very well with their differences.

"And if you are in a place where your own mortality is on the line, you cling to warm and familiar relationships. Also, because his father is old, he's very concerned about him. Their relationship intensifies under the pressures of the horror of the situation."

He continues: "Kuhn is a very traditional Jew with a lot of faith in God and the comfort that gives. If you can have faith and you believe in a greater world and a greater spirituality than your own predicament, that will give you great solace.

"I don't think Mordechai has that faith – he feels he has to deal with the situation full on and becomes exasperated with his father who he sees as almost ready to roll over and accept what is happening.

"Mordechai feels he has to fight and struggle to work out what he can do and question what is actually happening, how the world can have come to this."

Rupert adds: "When I first read the script I didn't know much about Judaism, but was soon completely sucked into the theological debate.

"It's all set on the night of selection with one group of men who are selected to be gassed and another group who will survive, with neither group knowing what their fate is; they have a night not knowing whether they'll be killed the next day.

"So it was fascinating for me to read this fiercely intense theological debate, with the background buzz of the horror of impending death. It seemed to me a brilliant way of spending your last night on earth because it distracts your mind – I can't think of anything worse than lying in your bunk knowing you might be killed tomorrow; this debate, in some way, can give you focus and temper the terror."

Rupert was very interested in the way in which the film was made: "It was very unusual. We did great long takes – sometimes lasting as long as 20 minutes, which you never usually get.

"The lovely thing for the actors was that the cameras were hidden, way out of our eye-lines. You therefore didn't have much idea that they were there and you certainly didn't know who they were focused on or what frame you were in, so you didn't have any of that worry of playing for the camera or positioning.

"So you can just involve yourself completely do a long take, completely absorbed by the subject matter, imagining yourself in that situation and responding to what other people are saying.

"It's felt like being on stage at times because we had 50 people, including the supporting artists looking on from their bunks, a proper audience. You had a great run at each speech, which you don't often get on film."

Rupert admits to feeling quite haunted by the conditions in Auschwitz: "One of the extraordinary things about the Holocaust was the determination of the Nazis to dehumanise people.

"They did that by making them wear terrible thin uniforms and it was freezing, minus 30 at times. Their heads were shaved to rob them of their personality and identity and individuality.

"Because I'd read around the subject, as soon as I had my head shaved and was in that costume I immediately felt depressed and understood just how the psychology of that dehumanisation works."

He continues: "What's horrifying is the sober way the Nazis managed to officiate this horror. It lasted for years on a gigantic scale; it was ruthless, inhumane and it shocks me just how well organised it was.

"They thought every last detail through, from the cattle trucks to the shaving of the head, the inadequate clothes and rations – someone worked out how much nutrition would just keep people alive. It was an extraordinarily well-planned extermination, just an awful dehumanisation of a people.

"You can think of Kosovo and Rwanda and places like that which are awful but I'm not sure of anything that is on that scale – so coldly planned. I suppose it's a lesson in how humans can become evil when they believe in an ideal – how an ideology can make monsters of men."

Rupert adds: "It's a brilliant cast and a wonderful script. I think that's a gift from the writer to the actors and they used it well.

"Also the supporting artists were with us for two weeks and they were completely riveted, even though they weren't actively participating in the debate. They were so absorbed, concentrated and focused and between takes would talk to us and ask loads of questions. They got completely sucked into the story and added so much to the film."

Rupert enjoyed working with the director, Andy de Emmony: "He was fantastic. The great gift he gave us was the gift of trust and calmness."

He concludes: "I don't have any religious faith myself but find the idea of the debate completely compelling. What makes the drama unique is that the participants try to work out whether they have forsaken God or God has forsaken them, a huge theological debate set in a circus of horror.

"It's a fascinating examination of theology. The debate is absolutely gripping, which I hadn't initially expected at all. The way in which the drama unfolds, the conclusions they come to and the routes that they take to get there are sometimes quite shocking.

"I think if you do have faith you'll be quite challenged by God On Trial, and if you don't you'll still find it fascinating."
©2008 BBC Worldwide.


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