Suffragette tells the story of the movement that fought to win women the vote. The film is being hailed as a further triumph for equality – with a mostly female cast in an industry dominated by men. One of the only male actors in the film is Ben Whishaw, who is not just in Suffragette but every upcoming film and TV project worth watching.
The 34-year-old stars opposite Colin Farrell in The Lobster. He appears with Jim Broadbent in the BBC’s eagerly anticipated espionage drama London Spy, then in Ron Howard’s Moby-Dick-inspired juggernaut In the Heart of the Sea, closely followed by Oscar-tipped The Danish Girl with Eddie Redmayne. And before all that there is a little British film called Spectre, featuring Whishaw’s second stint as a hipster-esque Q to Daniel Craig’s Bond. The Big Issue caught up with him during his busy schedule…
Why has it taken until now for a heavyweight film about the suffragette movement to be made?
I’ve absolutely no idea. Sarah Gavron [Suffragette director] has been trying to make it for a long time. I didn’t know much about this part of history. I had no idea the struggle was so radical, brave and bloody.
Do you feel this period of British history should be highlighted more? A greater emphasis in schools, perhaps?
It is weird how certain things have just not been communicated about that experience in schools. It doesn’t seem to be in our collective memory as something that these women endured to bring about change. It’s quite shocking. The film is powerful because you see the sacrifices they make to pursue political action and the desire to bring about change. You see the courage and you see the cost.
The film is powerful because you see the sacrifices they make to bring about change
The film has received a 12 rating but it is certainly no nostalgic period drama. Is this a film for young teenagers?
The film is strong, it is powerful, it says that if you feel angry about inequality in your life then challenge it. It’s great that the film is a 12 rating. It’s an educational film. We’ve forgotten about the struggle because we live day-to-day with the results of it, and take it for granted now.
Are you a feminist?
I don’t think I could describe myself as anything like that because I don’t understand exactly what it means. Of course, I think that we should all be equal. I see no difference between me and anyone else. I don’t know enough about the feminist perspective, the struggle, to be part of any club like that. But from what my friends tell me, this struggle – although improved from 100 years ago – is still ongoing. There is inequality. I have lots of female friends in the acting industry that feel hugely angry about the state of things.
Let’s talk Spectre… Tell us everything.
I’ve not seen it yet, and also I can’t really…
You’d make a good spy. Are you telling us you don’t get to watch it in a secret MI6 bunker?
I finished at the end of May, although I’ve got to do some post-production stuff still. The film is basically finished and everyone that I’ve spoken to, including Sam [Mendes, director], is thrilled with it. I’m as excited as everyone else to see it. But like everyone else, I probably won’t get the chance to see it until it’s released.
What’s your franchise of choice? Were you a Bond fan as a kid?
I didn’t get to Bond until I was a teenager. I watched the Star Wars films when I was very young but it was all about Disney films for me. Disney was exciting when I was a kid. My favourite was The Sword in the Stone. Absolutely brilliant. I’ve watched every Disney film from the ’80s onwards.
After Suffragette you’re in The Lobster, in which characters who cannot find a romantic relationship are turned into animals. If you faced being turned into an animal for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
It changes from day to day. At the moment I’ve got a thing for walruses. I’d like to be a walrus. I like the look of them. I like their mass and weight. It’s got quite a cast – Colin Farrell, John C Reilly, Rachel Weisz – and it moves from laugh-out-loud funny to utterly disturbing. The Lobster is definitely creating its own rules. It doesn’t conform to anything. It’s a polar opposite to something like Suffragette. It’s special and has a very exciting quality to it. It takes something that is very familiar and mundane – this quest that most people have been engaged in at some point, of trying to find a mate – and it heightens the perspective on what that is. It makes people talk about their experiences, about social and group pressures, and about love, intimacy, honesty and equality in relationships.
Alan Cumming recently said that being gay in Hollywood brings a greater level of attention on his personal life. How would you respond to that?
Personally, I don’t feel that people are prying into my private life. And if they do I tell them that I’m not going to talk about it and that seems to work. I don’t feel that my private life, as someone who is in a relationship with a man, is any more scrutinised than another kind of relationship. Not that it would make any difference who I was in a relationship with, I wouldn’t want to talk about it. It’s my private business and that’s all there is to it.
The Lobster is definitely creating its own rules. It doesn’t conform to anything
You provided the voice of Paddington in the best family film in recent memory. When will we see Paddington 2?
I hear whispers that Paul [King, Paddington director] is at work on the second but I haven’t heard anything from him directly or read anything. But I do think there will be a second. People really loved that film and I know there’s a real desire for another.
One more question, do you have a Big Issue vendor?
I’ve been working on Upper Street in Islington lately and there’s a guy outside Pret that I’ve bought the magazine from a few times. Oh, and there’s the guy outside the Coliseum on St Martin’s Lane who I speak to a little bit.
Thanks for your support, Ben. Pleasure!
Suffragette and The Lobster are in cinemas now; Spectre is released on October 26