James Wilby said he danced a jig around the kitchen table when he was given the role of the title character “Maurice” in the film adaptation of E.M.Forster’s 1914 book.
After a few years experience working in British theater, television and small film parts, Wilby had received his first leading role in a movie.
Forster described Maurice “as someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid and rather a snob.”
Maurice also falls in love with Clive Durham, a fellow undergraduate student played by Hugh Grant, and struggles with being gay. Later, Maurice finds romance with gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves).
Released in 1987, the film, set in pre-World War I England at the University of Cambridge, is a provocative and unabashed celebration of gay male love. It’s a memorable movie for gay cinema.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Maurice,” the film has been restored in a 4K scan and has showings at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles.
Director James Ivory, of the renowned producing team Merchant-Ivory, co-wrote the script with first-time feature writer Kit Hesketh-Harvey and approved the restoration.
In an interview with Q Voice News from his home in England, Wilby, 59, reminisced about dancing a jig around the kitchen table and breaking the bed with Rupert Graves. Here are some excerpts.
On getting the role of Maurice
“Jim himself called. I remember exactly what he said, I just wanted to tell you, You’re it. You’re Maurice,” Wilby said. “I said, Bless you, and that was the end of the conversation. My mother and I did a jig around the kitchen table.
“It was lovely that she was there for that moment,” he said. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
On what made the phone call dance worthy
“It was a vindication for deciding to be an actor. I have a math degree. Can you imagine how upset my father was when he found out I decided I didn’t want to be a banker or accountant?”
On English actors playing gay characters
“It’s no big deal. As actors here, we are different,” Wilby said. “For me, it’s about the role. As an actor, you should be able to wander into any role.
“I didn’t become an actor to be a film star. I became an actor because I love acting.”
On why English actors are different from American actors
“We don’t’ take ourselves as seriously. There’s a sense in England that if you take yourself too seriously, we call it masterbation,” Wilby said. “I’m not denigrating your nation. I do notice that the American actors take themselves too seriously.The more fuss you make, the less free you are with the work.”
On how he approached playing Maurice
“For me, you go back to the source text, the script and the book it was based on. On one level it’s a simple love story. He gets his heart broken once, and then it works out,” Wilby said.
“What’s interesting about Maurice, E.M. Forster said he deliberately choose a character who was athletic, good looking and mentally torpid. It makes him sit up and think, Who is he? It wakes him up to stop being a jock. He was set on that path, and then rejects it,” Wilby said.
“At one point, he goes and sees a hypnotist and thinks he can be cured. But he realizes quite fast that it can’t be, and it’s a human condition.”
On preparing for the kissing scene with Rupert Graves
“The big kissing scene at the end with Rupert and me, it happened on day three when we hardly knew each other. We went out to a meal at an Indian restaurant to talk about what we would do the next day,” Wilby said. “We talked about everything but that.
“On the way back to the hotel, I said I think we should go for it, and Rupert said, Yup,” Wilby said. “The next day, he stuck his tongue down my throat, and that was the end of that.
On breaking the bed with Rupert Graves
“When we were rehearsing the bed scene when Rupert and Clive made love and consummate their relationship, the bed broke and the cinematographer Pierre Lhomme said, What a man,” Wilby said. “Everyone laughed, and it defused the tension on the set.”