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TV Interview

'The Best of Men' Eddie Marsan Q&A: 'Everyone's cried their eyes out'

By and Freddie Edwards
After making the London 2012 Olympics some of the most extraordinary Games ever seen, the people of Britain are now throwing their support behind the Paralympics, which begin on August 29.

In preparation for the event, the BBC is set to tell the emotional story behind the birth of the Paralympics in The Best of Men, which stars Eddie Marsan as Sir Ludwigg Guttmann - a German neurologist who founded the Games while treating disabled WWII veterans in Britain in 1948.

Speaking to Digital Spy about the project, which also features Rob Brydon and Tracy-Ann Oberman, Marsan explained how the story of Guttmann has inspired, educated and moved all those who have seen it...

Eddie Marsan as Dr Ludwig Guttmann in 'The Best of Men'

© BBC / Whitby Davison Productions



How would you sum up The Best of Men as a viewing experience?
"I think it's an unknown story about the creation of the Paralympics, one man's story about overcoming prejudice and disability. It's an inspirational story about what, with tenacity and courage, you can achieve."

Were you aware of Dr Guttmann when you signed up?
"No I wasn't. I had no idea who he was. So I hope this shows everybody the story of him."

How much research did you do into his story? Did you speak to any Paralympians?
"I read books on Guttmann and I listened to recordings of Guttmann speaking about his life in a radio interview he did in the 1970s.

"I read a great book that was written in the '80s. And then there was an interview he did with the BBC, a radio interview. There was a video of it but I didn't watch it because I didn't want to do an impersonation."

So Best of Men is very much your interpretation of him?
"Yes, but actually it's supposed to be quite accurate. But that's not to my credit, that's because of the writing of Lucy Gannon."

It must have felt like a huge responsibility trying to do justice to him.
"It did, especially when I was working with a load of disabled actors who told me that he'd transformed their lives or the way their lives developed and how they were treated. It was a great responsibility and a great honour.

"I had great fun playing him. He's really mischievous and tenacious and full of compassion. He was a great man, and it's great fun to play a great man."

Eddie Marsan as Dr Ludwig Guttmann in 'The Best of Men'

© BBC / Whitby Davison Productions



So what was the atmosphere like on set? With people starring in The Best of Men who had their lives changed by Guttmann, it must have been pretty emotional.
"We had two actors of the cast who are in wheelchairs. [Another] actually had a broken back and was disabled for six months before he recovered. What these people have done is face the worst nightmare you could ever face - you wake up one day and [are] not be able to move your arms and legs.

"They just got on with it. They led the way in showing us humour, courage and perseverance, because they got on with their lives. I don't know how they do it, but they've done it."

Is it going to be a more humorous and fun-filled experience than people will be expecting?
"The great courage that [director] Tim Whitby has shown in making the film and Lucy in writing it is that it's a very compassionate film, but it's not a very sentimental film. That's what Guttman was. He was very compassionate but not sentimental."

Do you think people are going to be surprised seeing Rob Brydon in a serious role, given how he's known as a comedian?
"He gives a wonderful performance but I've always thought he was a good actor because of the part he played in Gavin and Stacey. And also what he did with Human Remains as well.

"He's a good actor. It doesn't surprise me. He gives a wonderful performance as a man facing the fact that he won't be able to make love to his wife again."

So does his character Sergeant Wynn Bowen have a funny side too?
"[The performance is] full of humour, and he's very funny and mischievous, like the naughty boy of the ward. He goes through an amazing emotional journey."

Is The Best of Men going to touch on the past of Dr Guttmann, for example his time in Nazi Germany?
"It talks about it briefly in the film. There's a whole film you could make about Guttman in Germany saving the lives of people in the Jewish community, which he did do. You could make a film about that and if you had a two hundred million pound budget you would make a six-part miniseries, but we didn't.

"We did a 90-minute film to talk about his work at Stoke Mandeville and the creation of the Paralympics. We did touch on it, and it does inform the context of the film."

Eddie Marsan as Dr Ludwig Guttmann in 'The Best of Men'

© BBC / Whitby Davison Productions



Do you think this might inspire someone to make a series about it or a movie about Guttmann?
"It may well do. I don't know who they'll get to play Guttmann, they'll probably go for Robin Williams or something."

If they invited you to play him again, would you be up for it?
"I'd love to do it. I'd like to play him everyday. I wish I could be as courageous and as intelligent as him. I think it's my favourite role I've ever played."

How big a factor do you think the London Olympics was in getting The Best of Men made? Do you think it would've been told without it?
"It got made now because it's the story of the creation of the Paralympics. I think these things come by osmosis, because it provokes people's curiosity about the subject matter, so therefore it comes into fruition because of that. Although it's a film that goes beyond the Olympics. It talks about the foundation of the Paralympics, but it's a human story and an epic story."

Was it intended as something that would give food for thought to people caught up in the London 2012 celebrations?
"It's a story that I never knew and when I read it, it made me cry because it inspired me so much. It's incredible that no-one ever knew about it. So now they should know about it.

"Everybody I've spoken to has cried when they've seen it. That's journalists and other people, everybody, they've all cried their eyes out."

Do you think it could be heading for some big awards? Or are you not really thinking about that?
"Honestly, I don't take any notice of all that stuff. You can't predict anything. Let it exist on its own and let it be what it is, and enjoy it for what it is. It's a wonderful story. Lucy and Tim and [producer] Harriet Davidson have done Guttmann a great service and they've made a great film. All I want to do is keep working, I don't care about that stuff. Just give me another job."

Eddie Marsan as Dr Ludwig Guttmann in 'The Best of Men'

© BBC / Whitby Davison Productions



Would you say that the Paralympics is still overshadowed by the Olympics?
"It's a younger organisation and it's a smaller organisation. It's getting there. I tell you what's fascinating about Guttmann, there was an article recently that summed it up. Hitler hated the Jews, he wanted to destroy Jews, but he also wanted to create a euthanasia programme to destroy disabled people.

"But by doing that what he actually did was he sent a man to Britain and that eminent neurologist founded the Paralympics, and so this proved wrong all Hitler's prejudices and ideas. You have a celebration of disability and overcoming it, and it was a Jew who did it.

"Guttmann's daughter said a wonderful thing. She said that Guttman was Hitler's present to the world. She said he was Hitler's gift."

Are you going to be more invested in the Paralympics this year because of The Best of Men?
"I'm looking forward to all of it really. I can't wait to see it all. I hope I get some time off work. I'm looking forward to sitting down with my kids and watching it all. I've got much more of an understanding of it now. I'm really excited."

The Best of Men airs Thursday, August 16 at 9pm on BBC Two.

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