It’s All About Empathy [New Interview with RA]

Film maker Candida Brady has reacted to fans’ requests and prodding for more material on Urban and the Shed Crew and made good on her promise to release an interview with Richard Armitage.

This looks as if it may have been filmed on the occasion of the premiere of Urban in Leeds last November. It is always lovely to listen to Richard speak, but in this case I really enjoyed hearing his thoughts on a few things that make this film very special – the fact that it is a story based on RL people, and that many of the main characters are children and a dog. What stood out to me in this interview snippet, is RA’s emphasis on empathy. That’s right people. It’s so obvious, it needs to be printed bold here.

Here, on the issue of playing a RL character, RA describes the difficulty of capturing the life story and personality of the character respectfully and truthfully, a process of preparation that demands empathy, a characteristic that he seems to have in abundance. Maybe that is why he also detects it in his colleagues – he singles out his young co-star Fraser Kelly’s capacity for empathy and emphasises that he was impressed that a young boy of Fraser’s age was so empathic.

The word seems to be a favourite of Mr A’s; he has mentioned it often, both in relation to his work, but also in reference to interpersonal communication (i.e. when he discussed cyberbullying and fan communication). As one of the lucky ones who have been able to watch Urban when it premiered in Leeds, I can say that the word truthfully encapsulates what the film is about – one man’s empathy with the plight of a horde of street kids, and one kid’s dire life in particular. It is a fitting emphasis, as the film hopefully evokes empathy in the viewers, which ultimately could make a difference for the many neglected children still living in our societies all over the world. Therefore it is a great pity that this film has not found an outlet yet. Speaking as an empathic person, not a fan of the lead actor, I can say that it is not only *worth* being shown, but that it really *should* be shown. As long as there are kids living this way, empathic film makers like Candida Brady and empathic actors like Armitage and Kelly, making empathic films like Urban, are *needed*.

If you have found a bit of empathy – and some spare change in your pocket – you may want to support Action for Children. Here’s a link to Richard’s fundraising page on justgiving.com.

You can read my review of the film here.

44 thoughts on “It’s All About Empathy [New Interview with RA]

    • Wow, that was really interesting. Empathy as “selfish moralising”. Interesting idea, and some of his arguments have a kernel of truth, when applied to the examples he uses. But empathy applies to more than just charitable thoughts. And I think that is where his argument falls flat. He seems to think that empathy equals selfishness and/or irrationality. Well, maybe the former is true – but that does not necessarily mean that empathically selfish people are not capable of thinking rationally. Anyhow, interesting thought. Thanks for linking!

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  1. I’m getting really sick of the way people (especially Richard Armitage) throw that word around. But I’ll take any Armitage interview at this point!

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    • Ouch.
      I quite like the word. Maybe because it is vague and seems to apply to anything and everything. (I am wishiwashi happyclappy myself.) But I also like what it stands for. Is it the vagueness that infuriates you? Or the fact that it has become a buzzword? I am not surprised that it features heavily on Armitage’s mind and in his vocabulary. Disregarding the fact that he describes himself as empathic – empathy *does* seem to be a characteristic that you need as an actor…

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      • Or to put it another way — using “empathy” as the term of critique here makes it seem like Urban’s main issue was that his mother wasn’t sympathetic to him. I would strongly disagree with that. Conditions like the ones described in the book are not the result of individual failures of behavior.

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          • I objected to how he used it the last time I heard him use it, in his message about the refugees. What he says about Fraser (Frazer?) Kelley here seems to use the term in the same way. He seems to mean something like “understanding” which to me is different from empathy. I do not think, for instance, that Armitage can empathize with the situation of a refugee (with all due respect to him).

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            • Ah, I see. So you are saying he is mixing up empathy and sympathy? If you define empathy in the strictest possible way, I suppose it is never possible to empathise with another person – unless you have experienced the same things that they have and share the feeling. His definition of empathy seems to be a bit looser than that…

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              • Yes, see original comment about throwing the word empathy around. I believe empathy may be possible under certain circumstances but I can’t imagine that he’s been in them, although of course I can’t definitely establish that he hasn’t.

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    • I don’t think the Shed Crew’s problem was a failure of empathy, for starters. It was a failure of society (and economy). This is a central point of Hare’s book. But we’ve been over this ground before, no?

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        • I had a conversation somewhere (maybe not with you) about the apparent distortions in the trailer — trying to make it a feel good film and diluting the social critique of the book.

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          • Thanks for the reminder – yes, I remember that discussion and yes, we did touch upon that in the comments on my review, too. I do wonder whether this “distortion” is actually hindering the release of the film?

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            • I wondered that also for a few reasons, including one comment on my blog where the commenter described the film as ‘delightful.” Also, based on the trailer that seemed to show a lot of zany pranks, as well as some of the reviews, including yours, that I read. In addition, there was talk by Candida Brady at one of the Q & A’s about toning it down to make it more suitable for the younger actors to play, and RA, himself, talked in this interview, about making it “entertainment,” – so, overall, but without having seen the film, I’ve been wondering if they took too much grit out of it to make it, more or less, a film about a man and a boy. I’ve been saying it for a while.

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              • For my own personal taste – as I stated in my review – I found the film not gritty, edgy, hard-hitting enough. That is based both on the aesthetic choices but also on the decision to leave out issues that affect the children (early sexualisation, prostitution). I fully understand their reasons for omitting these issues, and aesthetic choices are always subjective. But it definitely is not a delightful film as in “happy comedy about a man who turns his life around”. The gloss over the harsh reality is very thin indeed.

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                • To me, the subtext of the book was very much a picaresque adventure. But in most social critique that element is supposed not only to make you laugh but also to make you choke on your laughter. It’s a hard balance to strike, I suppose.

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  2. 😀

    Hätte ich mal gewusst, dass meine Aussage, dass ich gerne mal wieder Richard-mit-mehr-Inhalt sähe, innerhalb weniger Tage zum Erfolg führt, wäre meine Beschwerde schon viel füher gekommen.

    Sehr schön! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Loved listening to his thoughts again and bonus it look me back to Leeds and also some of the questions raised by audience there He’s not alone as an actor in stressing the need for more than just sympathy to give the portrayal truthfulness. I’ve seen a few interviews with TH recently and he mentions similar ideas. And I remember wondering about the empathy at least in the child actors possibly brought about by the subject and their acting of the situations. In hindsight I think the trailers somewhat misrepresent the tone of the movie which is not quite as light as it may seem. It remains a subject important to explore and a film which should be seen. I do think he is right about the personal connection between Urban and Hare It was very evident when seeing them.with Hare in person. Glad to be back thinking and talking about it.

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    • Empathy seems central to acting. (Well, to life in general, of course.) Even though that was not verbalised in Leeds, it was clear that RA had identified with the role in some shape or form. I’m not sure how much that is possible for the really young actors. As Serv pointed out – understanding, yes; empathy is perhaps a different issue. In any case, I don’t doubt that the makers had the best intention with the film. It’s a difficult call to make, and not necessarily guided by the wish to produce a commercially successful film. Your question at the Q&A pointed into that direction – working with young actors, complicated it. Keeping *their* mental balance in mind, may have influenced the decision.

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      • Das Wohl der jungen Schauspieler ist ein wichtiger Punkt bei solchen Filmen.
        Es erfordert von den Verantwortlichen viel Feingefühl und eben Empathie, herauszufinden, wie weit sie gehen können, um möglichst nahe an der Realität zu bleiben ohne dabei diesen Kindern zu schaden. Die darzustellenden Umstände und Ereignisse schaden nämlich den tatsächlich betroffenen Kindern massiv und darum geht es schließlich.
        Hariclea und du, ihr habt den Film ja schon gesehen und wenn ich euch richtig verstehe, haben sie die Balance ganz gut hinbekommen.

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        • Was die minderjährigen Schauspieler angeht, ja. Aber man muss zugeben, dass das auf Kosten der Buchvorlage geht. Das Buch war da – in der Beschreibung der Lebensrealität der Shed Crew – doch erheblich deutlicher. Aber genau das abzuwägen, ist eben der entscheidende Punkt. Einen Vorwurf kann man den Verantwortlichen da nicht wirklich machen. Es bleibt eben dabei, dass gerade bei Filmen nach literarischer Vorlage das Resultat nur *eine* Interpretation von vielen ist.

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          • Ich muss zugeben, dass ich aus ganz niederen Instinkten RA einfach gerne mit diesen langen Haaren (na ja, relativ langen Haaren) in einer Rolle sehen würde, in der er niemanden niedermetzelt oder anbeißt. 😉
            Traurig, frustriert und zum Teil hilflos, aber liebenswürdig…

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            • RA hat sich mit der Frisur ausgesprochen gut gemacht. Weiß gar nicht, warum er darüber selber so gelästert hat – wahrscheinlich fühlte er sich an seine Jugend erinnert. Da trug er ja mal original diesen halblangen Bob. Aber viel wichtiger ist, was du über seine Rollen sagst – man würde Herrn A doch gerne mal als einen ausschließlich positiven Charakter sehen. Nicht immer diese irren Serienkiller, verbiesterten Webereibesitzer, moralisch dubiose Superagenten oder entmachtete Tyrannen. Ich kann mir da so einiges vorstellen, was nicht gleich in den Rom-Com-Bereich fällt und doch ein wenig das Herzl erfreut…

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              • So einiges, oh ja, so einiges… *seufz*
                Die Bilder von “Berlin Station” weisen eher in eine andere Richtung. Ist ja auch vom Thema der Serie her keine Überraschung.
                Wir müssen also unsere Wünsche weiter ins Universum schicken – vielleicht hilft uns Hedgehogess ja 🙂

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              • Puh! Ihr macht’s einem aber echt schwer.

                Aaaaalso, ich hab gestern eine oder zwei oder drei Flaschen Blauer Zweigelt geköpft, zwei Gläser gefüllt und mich mit dem Universum über eure Wünsche unterhalten.

                Das Universum hat sich erstmal beschwert. Ich zitiere: “Können diese verrückten Hühner sich nicht was einfaches wünschen? Dreharbeiten in der Nachbarschaft oder so?”

                Allerdings beschwert sich das Universum *immer*, und meistens bedeutet das nur, dass ich gefälligst Knabberzeugs anbieten soll.

                Einige Chips und Erdnüsse später, beim zweiten Glas Wein, erklärte das Universum: “Wenn die Hühner was Süßes, was zum Spielen und was zu naschen wollen, dann sollen sie Ü-Eier nehmen. Mr. Armitage ist dafür ungeeignet.”

                Meine Erklärung zu den Doppelbedeutungen führten zu einem roten Kopf beim Universum, einem “Is’ nich’ wahr!”, einem überhastet geleerten dritten Glas und einem darauf folgenden Hustenanfall.

                Nachdem sich das Universum – mit dem einen oder anderen stärkenden Schluck – von seinem Schock erholt hat, hat es auf Vicar of Dipley, Sparkhouse und The Impressionists verwiesen. Ich hielt dagegen, dass wir – ähem! -, dass die Hühner was Neues sehen wollen, füllte die Gläser nach und packte noch ein paar Flips auf den Tisch..

                Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuund: Das Universum hat versprochen, dafür zu sorgen, dass unser – ähem! – euer Wunsch in Erfüllung geht.

                Allerdings hat es keinen konkreten Zeitpunkt genannt. Zumindest keinen, den ich bei *dem* Gelalle hätte verstehen können.
                Und ich bin nicht sicher, ob sich das Universum heute noch daran erinnert, worüber wir gesprochen haben.

                😉

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                • Totlach 😂 Armitage als Ü-Ei. Also, ich bin schon schwer besorgt, dass das Universum wirklich so gar keine Ahnung hat, was die Fähigkeiten – und Wirkungen – des Unübertrefflichen Weltbesten Einzigen Armitageano angehen… Aber ich danke dir an dieser Stelle für deine Bemühungen, das Universum auf die Reihe zu zwingen. Ich hoffe, die Spesen sind noch übersichtlich, und du bist selber mit Wein und Flips auch zum Zuge gekommen. Ich würde ansonsten aber mal vorschlagen, dass du das Universum im Auge behältst und ein regelmäßiges Follow-up mit ihm anberaumst. Wir müssen da am Ball bleiben, und das kriegen wir nur mit gründlicher PR und Gesichtsmassage beim Universum hin. Du bist da ha bereits involviert, dann kann die Leadership auch bei dir bleiben. Bin gespannt, wie das Projekt weitergeht.

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              • Was denn? Süß isser, spielen würden wir gern mit ihm, und vernaschen wollen wir ihn auch … 😀

                Das Universum jammert inzwischen nicht mehr nach Aspirin, also steht einem baldigen erneuten gemütlichen Abend nicht viel im Weg. *gg*

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