Jim Broadbent received the script for "Le Week-End''-- written by Hanif Kureishi, with director Roger Michell committed to making it -- on a Friday, and agreed on Monday morning to star in the film. But then, how could he not?
"It says so much about relationships, marriage, our age," says Broadbent, who plays Nick Burrows, a philosophy professor whose career is fading fast.
Burrows is on a weekend jaunt to Paris with his wife, Meg (Lindsay Duncan), a secondary school teacher. It is the British couple's 30th anniversary. They've been to the City of Light before, but not in years, and the bickering begins immediately when the trip does, on the Eurostar train.
Friction, arguments, but also accommodation, affection, intimacy -- all the ups and downs of a lived-in relationship are played out against romantic Eiffel Tower and Montmartre backdrops in one of the most splendid cities on the planet.
"There's a line my character Nick says in the film: 'You can't not love and hate the same person -- usually within the space of five minutes,' " Broadbent says. "There was so much I recognized in the script, with Lindsay's character and my character. So much of it was familiar. I identified, I understood, sympathized and empathized. It resonated."
Broadbent, 64, is one of Britain's busiest character actors. He was Horace Slughorn in two "Harry Potter" installments. He played Denis Thatcher, the husband in the shadows, opposite Meryl Streep's fearsome prime minister in 2011's "The Iron Lady." He was the Gilbert half of the legendary light opera duo Gilbert and Sullivan in one of Mike Leigh's best films, 1999's "Topsy-Turvy."
Broadbent has played authors, gangsters, barristers, royals, but he rarely gets to take the lead -- which was another reason he was drawn to "Le Week-End." He and Duncan had played husband and wife before, in the 2006 HBO project "Longford," but their roles weren't the focus. That drama was the Golden Globe-winning, fact-based story of Labour Party MP Lord Langford, who led a long campaign for the release of a convicted murderer (played by Samantha Morton).
In "Le Week-End," it's pretty much just Broadbent and Duncan, joined for a lively interlude or two by Jeff Goldblum as a friend and fellow academic whom Nick and Meg run into on a Paris street.
"We shot the film largely in chronological order," Broadbent explains. "And Jeff turned up for the last week, really. That fitted in very nicely with the arc of the film, and the arc of the filming.
"He has a totally different energy to our British energy. It was a blessed relief, in a way," Broadbent says, laughing. "A third actor coming in with such a dynamic energy and excitement, with such joy, and he pitched it perfectly. He was wonderful."
Broadbent has been married almost as long as his Nick has -- to Anastasia Lewis, a stage designer. He says he and his wife have played out many of the same scenes, if not specifically, then in the same spirit.
The idea for "Le Week-End" had its origins in 2006, when screenwriter Kureishi and director Michell were in Paris, promoting their Peter O'Toole gem, "Venus." They bounced around the city, and kicked around the notion of a married couple on a second honeymoon.
"Le Week-End" has nods to French New Wave god Jean-Luc Godard, and a great moment with Broadbent, wearing earbuds and rocking to Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" in a fancy hotel room. ("They kept the camera going on that for quite a while," he says. "In a way, it was a tough scene.")
In a very funny bit, where Nick and Meg opt for dinner in a dauntingly pricey restaurant, they try to make a run for it when the check comes.
"Have I ever skipped out on a check? No, I don't think I have," Broadbent says. "I'm slightly embarrassed not to have done, really. I was irresponsible in other ways in my youth, but I never quite had the nerve to do a runner."