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Sunday
May082011

Take Three: Eddie Marsan

Craig from Dark Eye Socket here with this week's Take Three. Today: Eddie Marsan

Take One: The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)
Marsan is elusive and perplexing as ex-con and current kidnapper Vic in J Blakeson’s British thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed. It may be his best role to date. It’s certainly his most visible in terms of screen time and lasting impressions. Vic and Danny (Martin Compston) kidnap a girl called Alice (Gemma Arterton). We’re not initially certain why or what for, but surprising details emerge. It’s an intriguing, slow-burning three-hander, largely set in two rooms of one house, with a slippery plot that gets drip-fed to us with unsettling incremental unease. There’s a psychological and dramatic weight to Vic that Marsan smartly unearths. He utilises his familiar best attributes to expert effect, but twists them into something else. Vic spends much of the film in a desperate state. He gives orders to “assistant” Danny and threatens Alice. He’s in charge, but of what exactly is open to debate. But Marsan's expressive, layered acting style never lets caricature or over-indulgence creep in. Any more information will ruin the risk of ruining Alice Creed’s many wily turns; just know that both the film and Marsan are excellent.

Take Two: Heartless (2009)
In Philip Ridley’s spooky Brit flick Heartless things are often not what they seem. To rid his face of a heart-shaped birthmark, Jim Sturgess’ Jamie makes a pact with Papa B (the devil, by another name) to commit random acts of vandalism on his behalf. Not a great idea by any stretch, but he’s helped (or is it hindered?) in his pursuits by Marsan’s Weapon’s Man, a shifty, nameless visitor with a sly, blackly comic side. Heartless is an uneasy blend of grim humour and demonic horror but it's instantly more appealing during Marsan’s amusing one-scene appearance. Doing the devil’s legwork, he comes on like a dark salesman of the soul, using the over-practiced niceties and witticisms of a pushy middle man. Marsan's bite-sized performance is wickedly funny and unnerving, sending one or two shivers down the spine and a few along the funny bone. The last time an actor was this good in surrealistic character mode, with a snappy in-and-out turn, was Robert DeNiro in Brazil.

Take Three: Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
It’s quite possible that Marsan has one of the best, or luckiest, or most deftly-managed careers in the movies. He's had some enviable bosses: J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III), Alejandro González Iñárritu, (21 Grams), Terence Malick (The New World), Michael Mann, (Miami Vice), Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles), Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) and Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York) among others. (War Horse, with Spielberg, and a Bryan Singer film are incoming). And this lot – Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Farrell, Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and Charlize Theron – have all made for dependable work colleagues. But his best collaborator, with 2003’s Vera Drake and, especially, in 2008 with Happy-Go-Lucky, has been Mike Leigh.


To say that Scott, Poppy's (Sally Hawkins) temperamental driving instructor, had issues is like saying time is infinite. Marsan makes him feel like a pitiable, wrong-headed individual, sucked up into the throes of modern existence, instead of an easily discardable nutjob to be vilified. You could have parked a car in the gaping chasm of his social conscience, but he’s still very much part of the fabric that binds Poppy to her life of whimsical decency.

The neatly-trimmed goatee, ill-judged earring, generic dress sense and “En-Ra-Ha!” mantra are integral embellishments, and his misanthropic tendencies -- that defiantly ugly disdain for others -- are crucial characteristics. Marsan's control fully grounds this caustic character.  I bet nobody passes their driving test the first time, if at all, with Scott.

Three more  for the taking: Sherlock Holmes (2008), V for Vendetta (2006), Red Riding trilogy (2009)

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Reader Comments (6)

Thank you for mentioning Vera Drake :) I had seen Happy-Go-Lucky a few years ago, and I thought Eddie Marsan was really good in it, but I was even more impressed after I saw Vera Drake for the first time a few weeks ago. I almost couldn't believe it was the same actor. I thought Vera Drake was amazing, and I'm very surprised that Imelda Staunton didn't win Best Actress.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

I LOVED Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky; his performance is so fascinating, terrifying, and disturbing while still pathetically compelling. It goes against every expectation of how a conspiracy nut with anger issues would normally be played, and it makes the movie that much greater. I also love that the movie NEVER lets him off the hook. Just fantastic work.

It's also so impressive how easily he shifts between breaking-the-mold roles like Scott, and character work in blockbusters. Marsan's got versatility and talent; thanks for saluting him!

May 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterAndreas

Just wait for Tyrannosaur. As scary as he's ever been.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIbad

Honestly he’s a really great actor. He’s the type of unnoticed actor who actually spice up or make the film even better.

What great is that in Happy Go Lucky, a view from such a small car’s dashboard, we can see two totally different types of person, when both meet up for driving lesson.

Actually Marsan’s character in Happy Go Lucky is even funnier than Poppy.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikhael

Ibad -- i saw TYRANNOSAUR a few weeks ago. You're so right. Totally terrifying in it. That movie is so freaking disturbing on several levels.

May 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Such a fantastic choice for Take Three. I'm always pleasantly surprised when he pops up here and there. Just the other day, I was watching the 2008 version of Little Dorrit and guess who totally stoled the scene as a rent collector/self proclaimed detective?

Also, where was his Oscar nod for Happy-Go-Lucky? Probably the same place as Sally Hawkins'.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark
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