ABOVE: MATTHEW GOODE AS HUGH ALEXANDER IN THE IMITATION GAME. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACK ENGLISH/BLACK BEAR PICTURES AND THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY.
British actor Matthew Goode is nothing if not charming: he was chillingly charismatic as Mia Wasikowska‘s mysterious, murderous uncle in Stoker; warm and alluring as Colin Firth’s deceased lover in A Single Man. He was even pretty affable when he played Mandy Moore’s love interest in the 2004 teen movie Chasing Liberty.
The Imitation Game, which opened in wide release yesterday, puts the 36-year-old’s natural talents to good use. Goode plays Hugh Alexander, a former chess prodigy and the leader of a small group of mathematicians trying to break the German codes at Bletchley Park during World War Two. Alexander’s leadership is challenged, however, when another mathematician joins the group: the film’s protagonist Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Where Turing is awkward, blunt, and struggling to keep his homosexuality a secret, Alexander is smooth, sociable, and slightly caddish.
Just before Christmas, Goode sat down for a Guinness or two with his friend, Welsh actor Matthew Rhys. Though the Matthews initially met in London, both are currently based in New York for work—Rhys for his FX cold war spy series The Americans; Goode for his CBS legal drama The Good Wife.
MATTHEW RHYS: In case you’re wondering what we’re doing, there’s a small jar of crayons on the table at the Ear Inn, and I’m tracing the recording devices as if they were the victims of gruesome murders.
MATTHEW GOODE: We’re talking about Laurence Fox, which is one of the reasons that we know each other. They [Rhys and Fox] first worked together in Deathwatch , a long time ago.
RHYS: The critically acclaimed Deathwatch, if you don’t mind.
GOODE: So I heard about you from him. Laurence just loved you immediately and was saying how talented you are and if anyone should be a fucking movie star, it should be Matthew Rhys.
RHYS: Yes, well people I meet, I tell them to say that.
GOODE: From then on I was like, “I must have a drink with this guy.” And then we kept meeting each other at costume fittings and it took about another eight years until we did Death Comes to Pemberley .
RHYS: Death Comes to Pemberley for the BBC. I sort of knew that it would be like working with Peter O’Toole, and I wasn’t wrong!
GOODE: It was a giggle. It really was. And then Anna Maxwell Martin.
RHYS: Who? Who?
GOODE: Who was joyous.
RHYS: Joyous. But on the first day, we were all turning up in sort of strange places in Dalston for rehearsals.
GOODE: I was slightly late.
RHYS: Were you?
GOODE: Yeah, half an hour. I had that sinking feeling of, “Oh, I’m going to be in trouble the first day.” I pride myself on being on time. Wasn’t I here early today?
RHYS: He was! He is as incredibly punctual as he is tall and striking. But it was suggested at I think 11:28 am that we should possibly have a pint.
GOODE: Just a little quick trip to the pub.
RHYS: Something to take the edge of the first day nerves.
GOODE: Pubs around there are really nice and historical. It was more of a factual investigation.
RHYS: Oh yeah, it was. You even knew one pub that served a particular type of beer, and I was incredibly impressed by that. That summer was a bit of an Enid Blyton novel to me. Sadly we didn’t solve any crimes. The only real crime was what we were doing on camera. [laughs]
GOODE: I was sort of there and nipping back to see the children. Whereas you were just playing Darcy and therefore…
RHYS: He’s really not saying anything. He’s trying to look as moody as possible.
GOODE: You did very well.
RHYS: Thank you, darling.
GOODE: With big sideburns.
RHYS: Massive. Tell me, Matthew Goode.
GOODE: Let’s start this off.
RHYS: Let’s start at the beginning.
GOODE: Go on.
RHYS: When your agent approached you with The Imitation Game, did you think it was a sort of game show to do with impersonations?
RHYS: A Generation Game, only you’ve got to do impersonations?
GOODE: Actually it wasn’t my agent that approached me. It was—
RHYS: —I don’t really care. Next question, next question. [laughs]
GOODE: You dick.
RHYS: Who approached you?
GOODE: Benedict [Cumberbatch] phoned me. I was aware of it because the script had been hanging around; it was going to be done by a big Hollywood star, whose name shall not be mentioned.
GOODE: Leo! Leonard. Sir Leonardo Di-Caprio.
RHYS: To play the Keira Knightley part?
GOODE: To play the Keira Knightley part. Then he decided he didn’t want to do it, and it all sort of fell apart. Then suddenly I’m taking the kids out of the car with Sophie shopping and Benedict phones and says, “Do you want to play the part of Hugh?” And I was like, “Yep. I think that would be great. I’ll just get the kids in and get them fed. Can you phone back?”
RHYS: Welcome to the world of show business, everyone. This is how it works: Unloading kids you get parts in huge movies. How did you know Benedict?
GOODE: Benedict, I’ve known for years. One of my first jobs I played the heroin-taking brother of Inspector Lindley in the The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, with the lovely Nat Parker. My junkie girlfriend—on the job, not in real life—
RHYS: Was Benedict Cumberbatch?
GOODE: Was Cumberbatch’s missus at the time. So at the wrap party, we went to that place on Oxford Street that has that disco dance floor. You know, the one that flashes.
GOODE: A lot of wrap parties at the time used to go there. It was cans of Red Stripe—that was all you could drink.
RHYS: Separately, what was your favorite wrap party and why?
GOODE: That was a pretty good one because Ben’s now a friend. But wrap parties don’t tend to be that amazing.
RHYS: They’re always shit.
GOODE: Because it’s a bit more than sad.
RHYS: What does wrap stand for?
RHYS: Wind, reel, and print.
GOODE: Oh, of course! Dammit, you’re already looking smarter than me.
RHYS: That was my master plan. No, sorry. I keep interrupting you. This is not a very good interview.
GOODE: It’s a great interview.
RHYS: Yes, so you met him then and you’ve been friends ever since.
GOODE: Yeah. This is the first time we’ve worked together. We’ve always just drunk together and celebrated each other’s successes together.
GOODE: He’s had many more, which means he has been buying more for me, which is great. He pops around and sees the family. I haven’t seen him as much recently because obviously he’s been in far flung places in the world.
RHYS: Like Cardiff, doing Doctor Who.
GOODE: [laughs] Like Cardiff. No, he didn’t do Doctor Who. That was Sherlock.
RHYS: That was a test and Matthew Goode passed!
GOODE: “IMDb Hero: M. Goode.”
RHYS: When you read the part of Alexander, what were your first thoughts?
GOODE: My first thoughts were…
RHYS: Which shoes? Which suits? Cigarettes?
GOODE: All of those. I do like to get the smoking in in a period film, because they all were.
GOODE: I remember thinking, “It’s a shame that there wasn’t more maths, ‘cause it would have been nice to know a little bit more about the bomb and the machine.”
RHYS: I agree.
GOODE: Obviously if you’re playing some of the smartest men in the world, you want to sound really smart.
RHYS: Yes. What sort of maths research did you do?
GOODE: Not a lot because it wasn’t required.
RHYS: Did you do sums and things like that?
GOODE: What we looked at was how to make a bomb—how the bomb was put together. Because Matthew Beard, who’s a lovely man, brought in some books and we would try to wrap our brains around some of the ideas of how the machine was calibrated and what it was about. It ran on algorithms, which is how Google is run.
RHYS: And the world, I think.
GOODE: Which was very fascinating but slightly over our heads considering we were struggling to do The Guardian crossword at the same time.
RHYS: So if there’s one thing you want tell people that possibly isn’t in the film, but you want to scream and shout about, what would it be?
GOODE: One thing that I love is, when I was a lad, I’d go and get my school uniform from a place called Pinder and Tuckwell in Exeter. It was one of those old-school systems where you would get a chit—a bill—and they’d put the money in a small capsule in a compressed air tube. That was the best bit about getting the old school uniform. I always thought, “I’d love to have that in my house.” So anyway, Hugh Alexander, when he was approached to work at Bletchley Park he had been working for the John Lewis [department store] partnership. He was the head of engineering for the company. And when he went to Bletchley, he put in that system.
RHYS: For John Lewis, the amount of tubes you’d need to circumnavigate the store would be huge. And the amount of compression needed would be massive. How would that work?
GOODE: I would imagine in a back room somewhere there may be some workman peddling furiously.
RHYS: Is there one thing when you’re being interviewed you always [want to get across]?
GOODE: I’m trying not to mess up. I don’t want to say something that I think is funny—
RHYS: And have it be misconstrued.
GOODE: Yes. But then again, I don’t want to be someone who seems like they take everything too seriously. It’s the old RSC thing of when they bow, there’s this look on their faces like, “I bled for you.”
RHYS: Which is how I often regard you.
GOODE: When was it that you first started enjoying my company?
RHYS: I think it was the Inspector Lindley Mysteries. That’s when I started enjoying you. “Who’s this junkie?”
GOODE: I think Peaches  was the first time I heard of you.
RHYS: When you bit into one? The first time you experienced the fruit?
GOODE: I’d heard about these two Welsh blades living up in East London—you and Ioan [Gruffudd]. Highly regarded.
RHYS: By the Welsh.
GOODE: But very handsome and talented and about to take over the world. Then you were forever breaking hearts—my sister is completely in love with you because of Brothers & Sisters.
RHYS: Good. When will I meet your sister?
GOODE: Soon as.
RHYS: Talk to me about fishing.
RHYS: For compliments.
GOODE: [laughs] I actually don’t like them. Don’t you find that that’s a very difficult thing to take, particularly in the theater?
GOODE: Yeah. It’s a really nice thing to do, but I find compliments quite uncomfortable.
RHYS: Why? Is it because you doubt the sincerity of them?
GOODE: No. I suppose it’s embarrassing.
RHYS: It is embarrassing. I don’t think it sits well with our national psyche.
GOODE: No, it’s not a very British thing to do.
RHYS: Are you slightly riddled with insecurities and self-doubt?
RHYS: Do you doubt your own talent?
RHYS: Do you think that’s something to do with it?
RHYS: When you take a compliment you think, “You’re lying! You’re lying! I’m terrible! I’m just getting away with it!” Do you feel like you’re getting away with it?
GOODE: I suddenly doubt them because, clearly, if they’re complimenting me they don’t have a clue of what they’re talking about. It’s a wonderful profession. I don’t know about you, but I imagine you’re the same. I love the job. I love people. There’s a line in—
RHYS: —The Dresser?
GOODE: Peter O’Toole on stage.
RHYS: Oh, Jeffrey Bernard.
GOODE: Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, where he talks about people that go to the races, and he’s like, “Criminals! Bastards!” etc. and then, “And exceptionally nice people.” And that’s how I always think of it.
RHYS: We’re utter vagabonds. We do terrible things and we do this weird, strange job, but what I find is there’s not much judgment in our world. There’s always acceptance.
GOODE: You mean behavior rather than performance?
RHYS: Both. How was your experience working on The Generation Game?
GOODE: My sister used to be on The Generation Game.
RHYS: Which sister?
GOODE: I’ve only got one.
RHYS: Oh then I have met your sister!
GOODE: You met her on Skype.
RHYS: No. We had a day with them. We went to Bushwick.
GOODE: Oh yes. [laughs] Crikey. I remember that.
RHYS: How was your experience on The Imitation Game?
GOODE: We’d just had Teddy [Goode’s youngest daughter]. I had just finished this film called Pressure—I was literally filming my last day in Aberdeen. It had been a really great shoot with Danny Huston, who’s a joy. I got a phone call saying, “I’m going into labor,” and I was like, “Oh my God!” So I spoke to my director, Ron [Scalpello], and Ron was like, “Shit. Right. Okay. We don’t need you in this scene, so strike that. Let’s film you out now and we’ll be done in half an hour.” Which is incredibly kind. So he shot me out. I got on a plane from Aberdeen down to London Heathrow. Got there. And then about two hours after I arrived, little Teddy was born.
RHYS: You made it? Brilliant.
GOODE: And then about three days later, I was doing rehearsals for The Imitation Game, which was quite brutal.
RHYS: No sleep.
GOODE: Well, [Goode’s wife] Soph had it a lot worse obviously.
RHYS: Did your mother really direct amateur dramatics?
GOODE: She really did. She still does.
RHYS: So you grew up with drama in your life. Did she introduce you to the classics?
GOODE: No. Not unless you count Wind and the Willows at the local village theater.
RHYS: That is a fucking classic. How dare you! Let’s go back to fishing.
GOODE: I love fishing.
RHYS: When did you first start fishing?
GOODE: I will never forget it. I used to go to Wales for canal holidays. When I first started fishing, I was on the Brecon Canal in Wales. We pulled up in our canal boat and Dad got out these two maroon, telescopic fishing rods, and put a reel on.
RHYS: Was your father a fisherman?
GOODE: Yes, he loved it. In fact we used the tackle he used as a boy. It’s no longer with us. He put a couple of maggots on, cast it out, and handed it over to me. I would’ve been eight or nine. Then, about five second later I saw the thing just drift away and I had got one, and it was a beautiful roach—a perfect little roach, silver, about three-quarters of a pound.
RHYS: What is it about fishing?
GOODE: It’s quite exciting—it’s like acting, some bits are quite exciting and then there’s moments where you’re not doing anything or nothing is happening.
RHYS: Is it like what Winston Churchill said about trench warfare?
GOODE: Probably. What did he say?
RHYS: Something like—
GOODE: “It’s not very nice out here”?
RHYS: “Long periods of boredom punctuated by short bursts of blind terror.”
GOODE: Yes. I think if we were fishing for great white sharks it would have been quite terrifying.
RHYS: Would you call yourself an old-fashioned person or a traditionalist? Do you have old-fashioned qualities?
GOODE: Aren’t they the same thing?
GOODE: I think I’m quite an old-fashioned person. What are you?
RHYS: I’m more of a traditionalist than an old-fashioned person. [both laugh]
GOODE: I think we would have both preferred to live in the ‘40s and done the job as it was then.
RHYS: Yes. The army?
GOODE: The army first, and then gone into [acting].
RHYS: Would you have liked to join the army?
GOODE: I would’ve done. [laughs] I always say to Soph, “I would’ve been great in the army back in the day.” And she’s like, “You would have been absolutely terrible.”
RHYS: What qualities do you think would’ve made you good in the army?
GOODE: Loyalty, definitely.
RHYS: Sense of tradition.
GOODE: Always. Old-fashioned kind of person.
GOODE: I think I’ve got leadership skills.
RHYS: Do you follow orders well?
GOODE: I can if I love my…
GOODE: If I totally get the person who’s giving them. That’s what we do effectively for a job. If there’s some muppet who’s come in there who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow, then it’s very difficult to go, “Yeah, no problem. I’ll do what you want.”
RHYS: Have you ever punched a director?
RHYS: Another actor?
GOODE: Not on a job.
RHYS: Ooh. Do go on. Or not.
GOODE: No, I don’t think I will.
RHYS: Have you ever punched an actress?
RHYS: Did you punch Laurence Fox?
GOODE: No! I didn’t. I used to live with him. We get on like a house on fire. Me and Matthew Rhys are going to do a show about wine.
RHYS: Where we whine about being in show business: “It’s awful being an actor, try this Margaux.” Should it be called Whine Wine? Or Wine Not?
GOODE: Vin vin.
RHYS: And it will all take place in a van.
GOODE: I’m really excited about it.
RHYS: So am I.
GOODE: But I am a little worried about—
RHYS: Being released from Downton Abbey, which leads us perfectly onto Downton Abbey! How did that come about?
GOODE: Before we get there, I think some people are brilliant presenters. It’s an art form. And I don’t know how easily I will glide into it. I’m going to be leaning on you.
RHYS: I think solo presenting is different than if you’re doing something with a mate. We’ll just bounce of each other. What did you want to be growing up?
GOODE: I really wanted to be a train driver. But then I was upset that there weren’t trains that could talk to you. Then I wanted to be a sportsman.
RHYS: How big a part does sport play in your life?
GOODE: It used to play a phenomenal part in my life, because I used to play a lot of county sport, a lot of sport for my school. I love team sports. Talk about being with the boys. I love the camaraderie. That’s why I like acting.
RHYS: Is that why you would’ve wanted to be in the army?
GOODE: Yes. Similar. All fighting for one cause. The unfortunate thing about that is that acting is not all fighting for one cause, when it’s at its best it is. I can’t bear things like “he steals his scenes,” because it sets it up as being this competitive thing rather than serving the project. I really feel that I’m not an actor who is going to try to standout more than just to serve the project.
RHYS: Yeah, you are good at that. You’re always about the team.
GOODE: I’m a team player. I don’t like it when somebody acts up. I’ve only ever had one other actor, who I’ve never gotten on with, and it was just a very upsetting experience and we didn’t speak for, like, five weeks. I won’t mention who it was.
RHYS: Write his name down in crayon.
GOODE: I will not write their name down. I will actually, for you.
RHYS: Okay. [As if reading] Bill Nigh-y.
GOODE: [laughs] It’s not Bill Nighy!
RHYS: He’s just written it down on the table and I don’t even know who that is.
GOODE: There you go. Doesn’t matter now. Let me color it in—in blue, because that’s how they made me feel.
RHYS: Was it a play or a film?
GOODE: It was a film.
RHYS: And were they trying to steal scenes?
GOODE: They were just very poorly behaved and that is as much as needs to be mentioned.
RHYS: Oh, I do know who that is!
GOODE: Also, sometimes people fuck up. So, if I saw him again now, I’d like to go in and go, “How’s it going? Hope you’re well.” I wouldn’t necessarily want to work with them on a job again, but you’ve got to pony up. It’s just a job. It was a miserable job for me. It’s all done and dusted with and I’d have a drink with him again. If they’re still a dick, then—
RHYS: Punch them!
GOODE: Then you leap on them, in true Welsh style.
RHYS: Hugh Alexander. Was he known as a bit of a charming ladies man?
GOODE: No. I think he was known as very urbane and a very smart man. He loved doing the night shift; he worked more than anyone, I think, and he slept little. He loved cryptography. Actually after the war he continued to be the head of the cryptology division for another 18 years and I think it put him into an early grave. But he was a very nice man. He was married to a lovely woman called Edith. I felt slightly uncomfortable portraying him the way that I did, which is obviously to offset how Alan Turing is—to make Hugh seem more of an alpha male, more of a charmer. That’s how they wrote it, so that’s how I played it. But I felt slightly sorry. I hope the family don’t mind that he looks like a raging womanizing bastard.
RHYS: I don’t think he came off as that.
GOODE: No. Well, he certainly came across as a womanizer. But actually there was a lot of flirting going on because they didn’t know if they were going to live. Do a lot of people know that you’re real name is Matthew Evans?
RHYS: Yes. Downton Abbey. Very exciting.
GOODE: Why can’t we get some crisps? We should have lunch after this.
RHYS: Any fears about joining Downton?
GOODE: No. Well, I did have them. The main fear was Maggie Smith, who I still haven’t met yet. But I hear she’s absolutely wonderful, so hopefully she won’t terrify me.
RHYS: Do you hear often about how charming you are? Be honest.
GOODE: Not from my wife, who I spend most of my time with. Last I was having a phone conversation with someone, and she said, “You’re being so uncharming.” She felt a little bit like I was letting myself down.
RHYS: Because people are so accustomed to you being so charming? Because you are. You’re the word personified.
GOODE: So are you.
RHYS: Stop deflecting! This is your interview.
GOODE: I’m not deflecting; it has to be a two-way thing.
GOODE: I’ve done this before.
RHYS: With who?
RHYS: For what?
GOODE: For Match Point. I ended up doing this wonderful magazine Interview, and she interviewed me. All the photographs and stuff were I think of me, but it was a bit more back-and-forth.
RHYS: Well you would, wouldn’t you? With Scarlett Johansson.
GOODE: She’s very nice. She’s a very lovely girl. I haven’t seen her in a long time.
RHYS: She’s married now. With a kid.
THE IMITATION GAME IS CURRENTLY IN THEATERS ACROSS THE U.S. AND EUROPE. THE NEXT EPISODE OF THE GOOD WIFE AIRS ON JANUARY 4 ON CBS. MATTHEW RHYS IS AN ACTOR CURRENTLY STARRING IN THE AMERICANS, WHICH WILL RETURN FOR A THIRD SEASON NEXT YEAR. HIS OTHER CREDITS INCLUDE BROTHERS & SISTERS, DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY, AND THE EDGE OF LOVE.