Three Great Things: Jim Broadbent

The Oscar-winning actor, whose new film The Duke comes out Friday, shares some of the art he loves best.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the April 22 release in theaters of The Duke, a new real-life comedy drama starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, the Oscar-winning British actor shared some of the art that he loves most. — N.D.

One of my favorite films, a film that probably changed my whole idea of what film could be, was Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. The whole atmosphere of that picture is remarkable.

When it came out in 1970, I saw it straight away and several times. I saw it when I was at art school, where I spent a year before going to drama school. Around about that time, I realized I wasn’t going to be an artist because I spent all my free time going to the cinema. So there was clearly a clue here that I was more interested in something else. And the excitement of M*A*S*H – the overlapping dialogue, the irreverence, the wit, the huge breadth of the casting and the whole ambition and vision of the piece – was just so stimulating, as indeed were most of the Robert Altman films that came after. It got me hooked completely.

The thing that impacted me the most was certainly the idea that you could be as natural and real as that on a film. It completely affected my approach to acting when I got into it properly myself, and that is something to still aspire to – I still dream about getting to that level of ease with the camera and with the other actors, that sense of fun without being overindulgent. That was what was so good about it. It was tight and it wasn’t self-indulgent. The way Altman orchestrated the film, it was all working very well towards the whole.

I only met Altman very briefly once, and I never got to tell him the effect the film had on me and the course of my life. There are so many of his other films that I also love, like McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville, which are also great poems, great writing. I was so tongue-tied in his presence, I don’t think I could have managed to tell him all that, even if I’d tried.

The Peasant Wedding
I have always loved Bruegel, but recently I did a huge 1000-piece jigsaw of one of my favorite of his paintings, The Peasant Wedding, so I got to look at it in some detail and was reminded what a wonderful picture it was.

I think I saw it originally at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, because there’s a lot of Bruegels in Vienna. I remember going to see a whole bunch of them and being almost the only person in the gallery. It was a huge, wonderful experience. It was like going back and being in almost direct communication with Bruegel from the 1500s, and I was the only one in that room looking at what he did all these hundreds of years ago. There’s an awful lot in common between Bruegel and Altman, between The Peasant Wedding and M*A*S*H or McCabe and Mrs. Miller. The Peasant Wedding has a visually very sophisticated perspective, taking in the whole barn where the feast is happening and all there are all these people, with different conversations taking place and different activities going on. There’s a great movement in it, with the guys at the front coming forward with the door they’ve unhooked and are using as a sort of portable table or tray. There’s a dynamism and an excitement to it, so wherever you look, something is going on, which is the case with Altman’s films as well. The detail is so exciting.

Ohoopee River Bottomland”
There’s a country song by Larry Jon Wilson called “Ohoopee River Bottomland.” I originally saw and heard it in a wonderful film called Heartworm Highways. It’s an American documentary about different country acts of the 1970s. Larry Jon Wilson was filmed recording this particular number, and it really struck me. I became fascinated with the song and with him and went on to track down all his albums. He is not very well known, but he was an extraordinary artist and was included in this lovely documentary that it also seems like few people know. Look it up.

“Ohoopee River Bottomland” tells a tale, and Wilson has got a wonderful, very strong, resonant, deep voice. It’s obviously a personal tale, an autobiographical story he’s telling. Or so it seems. And it’s very moving. It’s a song about a guy who lives in the country, and I come from the country, from rural England. It’s about him going to the city and then coming back to the country, so I can identify with that, although, by and large, I stayed in the city. But I can identify with that nomadic quality of leaving the country to go elsewhere, and then being drawn back. And it’s beautifully explained in the song.

Featured image shows Jim Broadbent in The Duke, photo by Nick Wall, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

Jim Broadbent is an Academy Award®, BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning theatre, film and television actor who is currently starring with Helen Mirren in The Duke, which is in theaters from April 22 through Sony Pictures Classics. He is best known for roles in Iris (for which he won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes), Moulin Rouge (for which he was awarded the BAFTA for performance in a Supporting Role) and the Harry Potter franchise. He was BAFTA nominated most recently for his role alongside Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. He has appeared in the romantic comedy drama Le Week-End (for which he was nominated for a British Independent Film Award as Best Actor), Paul King’s critically acclaimed Paddington films, Nicholas Hytner’s Lady in the Van, Sharon Maguire’s Bridget Jones’s Baby and Ritesh Batra’s A Sense of an Ending. Since his film debut in 1978, Broadbent has appeared in countless successful and acclaimed films, establishing a long-running collaboration with Mike Leigh (Life is Sweet, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake and Another Year) and demonstrating his talents as a character actor in films as diverse as The Crying Game, Bullets Over Broadway, Little Voice, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Hot Fuzz, The Damned United and Cloud Atlas. Also honored for his extensive work on television, Broadbent won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his performance in Tom Hooper’s Lomgford and an Emmy for his performance in The Street for which he won an Emmy, while his earlier role in The Gathering Storm earned him Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.