Excerpts From An Interview With Ioan Gruffudd
Star of "Amazing Grace"
Hotel Palomar, Dallas, Texas, Feb.7, 2007
Outlook: How much did you know of Wilberforce before accepting this role?
IG: Not much at all. I wasn't aware that there was even a difference between the abolition of slavery and the abolition of the slave trade, so when I read the script I was blown away about what this guy actually achieved, purely out of his own compassion.
Outlook: Do you think he had a sort of a love/hate relationship with the Church?
IG: Well, he was shipped off to live with his aunt and uncle when he was very young, and they were very strong Methodists, at a time when Methodism was considered quite radical. His mother became dismayed at what she considered too much religious influence, and so she brought him back to high society, to the balls and extravagant way of life, and for a time he lost his faith altogether. But that experience also gave him many introductions to influential people, which led to his being interested in politics, so that he then became a man of action. I think that otherwise he would have led a more meditative life, not in the public arena. The Evangelical Christian that he became at the end was much more about day-to-day living, how to treat people, rather than about doctrine.
Outlook: But that is the doctrine!
IG: (laughs) Well, yes, quite so. He wrote every day in his diary about the things he said and did that day, and he was quite susceptible to guilt. But he wasn't beating people about the head with his own beliefs, he was acting more out of a sense of compassion. The perseverance and the patience he displays in getting changes made in Parliament is really quite inspiring.
Outlook: Why do you think he was so resistant to the redemptive love of Barbara?
IG: How do you mean, "redemptive"?
Outlook: Well, the way she loved him, the way it restored his health and his energy and his self-confidence...
IG: Yes, absolutely. She did, and because he was so immersed in his work he didn't think he had time for that. But at a point when he was sort of defeated, both spiritually and physically, the love of a good woman carried him through.
Outlook: Has this experience affected you personally?
IG: Well, I found myself trying to help the people working in the factory in Wales, where the mines have been closing and there is little other work, and my heart just bled for the workers. But I'm afraid the factory is going to close anyway, and the jobs are moving to China, so globalization is another conversation entirely...
Outlook: Except that in the movie, the argument against abolishing the slave trade was that it would adversely affect the British economy.
IG: Quite right! I think the reason it took so long to change the law is because it was about changing a mentality, about not looking at people as objects to assist the economy.
Outlook: There's an intersection of politics and religion here, that good religion is a positive influence on politics, rather than being separate from it, or at least that seems to be the perspective of William Wilberforce.
IG: Yes, absolutely.
Outlook: I'm interested in his relationship with his Pastor, John Newton.
IG: Yes, he seemed to have had a big influence on him. Even as a young boy he met (Charles) Wesley, and his Pastor continued to be important to him throughout his life.
Outlook: As a Pastor myself, I think of that as kind of the idealization of a pastoral relationship, that it would continue to be important through an entire lifetime.
IG: Yes, and that's the point, I think, that it's over a lifetime, that as a young boy you're introduced to Sunday School, and there it begins.
Outlook: In this movie, you do "tightly wound" very well.
IG: (laughs) Thank you! I picked that up from the biography. He couldn't sit still for a minute. He was either writing or reading or composing a speech or having dinners and entertaining. His pockets were full of miniature novels, which he was always misplacing.
Outlook: Like he couldn't stand to waste a moment.
IG: Precisely. When he was a young man, and enjoying himself at the University, as he should, he describes himself as a "dilettante," which I have a hard time believing, but it was as if from then on, he was determined not to waste any more time. And Michael (Apted, the Director) was constantly asking me to tone it down a bit, because we were still going to have to make him likable.
Outlook: You're also quite convincing in demonstrating the passion of this man.
IG: Thank you. It was so interesting, the way they debated in Parliament in those days, kind of a lost art, the oration game they played--it was a sport to them, they thrived on it.
Outlook: Do you think Wilberforce would have been a bore as a dinner guest?
IG: Gosh, no. He was an invited guest at many dinner parties, and bought wine for people, and was constantly hosting the entertaining himself. I think he would be a fascinating man to meet one of the best orators of all time, and at such a young age.
Outlook: I understand you did your own singing in the movie.
IG: Yes, being immersed in the Welsh culture, chapel-going, singing very important, I was pleased to be able to represent yet another talent of his--singing as an invited guest!
Outlook: I think I can safely say that church audiences will be most interested in this film.
IG: I certainly hope so. In my parents' chapel in Wales, people have already responded positively, and in other places in the UK. I think the film can also be an educational tool, and an inspiration, even, for children who can find a role model, for someone who can make a difference. Besides, it's such a witty script, at a time when so much of our entertainment is a "dumbing down."
Outlook: It was a pleasure visiting with you.
IG: Thank you for coming in. We need all the help we can on getting the word out.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas