Matthew Beard Talks Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, and His Broadway Debut With Carey Mulligan

The actor will soon take up his usual place opposite Mulligan for the second, no…fourth time…in ”Skylight”.

"I just got off a flight to Chicago from San Francisco, where I spent about six hours," said a surprisingly energetic Matthew Beard during a recent interview with TheaterMania. "I'm spending about four hours here, and then I'm finally getting to go home to London for a few days. So I feel slightly confused. I mean it's snowing here."

The actor's disorienting schedule is the product of a wide-reaching promotional tour for The Imitation Game, the Oscar-nominated historical film about computer scientist Alan Turing that stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley (along with several other impressive names). In the film, Beard plays real-life mathematician Peter Hilton, who, as an undergrad, worked alongside many of the era's other great minds to help end World War II.

When Oscar season comes to an end, far from taking some downtime, Beard will be heading to New York to make his Broadway debut. Stephen Daldry's recent West End production of David Hare's Skylight, which stars Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan (and, of course, Beard) transfers to the John Golden Theatre with performances beginning March 13. For Beard, a television- and film-focused actor who had never even performed in a play before, it's one more in a series of too-great-to-pass-up opportunities.

Allen Leech, Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, and Matthew Goode in The Imitation Game.
Allen Leech, Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, and Matthew Goode in The Imitation Game.
(courtesy of The Imitation Game)

Is all the promotion for The Imitation Game a new level of crazy for you?
Yeah, but I'm so happy to talk about it because the sort of by-product of all this attention the film's receiving is that people are talking about Alan Turing, and that's why I and many of the other cast members signed on in the first place. We felt so moved after reading the script, and we wanted other people to feel moved — more than moved in fact: angry. I think anger is a really underrated emotion in cinema. To leave feeling angry and like you want to go and find out more about him and you want to know why this injustice was done, I think that's an amazing feeling to have at the end of the film.

What else attracted you to the film?
I liked the scenes my character had. I liked him. And I thought the parallels with me as an actor surrounded by that ensemble was quite interesting: him being young, in awe of his colleagues. And that was very much how I was feeling too, on set.

What was that dynamic like?
We had a good time. We were quite a small-budget film, really, and the consequence of that is you work very long hours. And the consequence of that is that you get really close. The scenes I worked on were with Matthew Goode's character, Allen Leech, Benedict, Keira. It was amazing to work with that team…You could tell that all these people were there because they cared about Alan Turing. We all just wanted to talk about him and just get his name out there. So it was really a nice atmosphere.

Matthew Beard in a scene from Skylight with Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy.
Matthew Beard in a scene from Skylight with Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy.
(© John Haynes)

It does seem like such a perfect team.
Yeah, [director] Morten [Tylden] talked about how all his first-choices said yes. And I think that's due to Morten and the material but also to Alan Turing. Benedict had been campaigning for a pretty long time. He said he'd do whatever he had to do to make that story because it's an important story. And he wanted to be the one who got to tell it.

How did the timing of Skylight fit into all this?
We shot The Imitation Game, and then I did Skylight, and then promotion for The Imitation Game and then going back to Skylight. I'm going to be very confused when I don't have to go back to The Imitation Game again after this run of Skylight [laughs].

You've worked with Carey Mulligan before.
This is actually our third time. We did An Education. We did a film called When Did You Last See Your Father? as well. I've known her for, I guess, eight years now, maybe a bit longer. So I've seen her meteoric rise in front of me, and it's been great to watch because she completely deserves every opportunity she's been given.

Why do you think you two keep ending up on the same projects?
I don't know! It's always happened by chance. Like with An Education, I went for an audition, and there was a mood board up in the casting room and her face was on it. So I sent her a message being like, "Guess what? Your face is on a mood board for this thing. You should try to audition for it because they're thinking about you." She's like, "Yeah, I'm doing it." And then Skylight, I auditioned for Stephen Daldry a few times, and he just came to me one day and was like, "Hey, you know Carey." It's so weird. So it's always happened by chance even though it looks very suspicious…that's just how my career's gonna pan out — I'm just going to pop up in Carey Mulligan projects — that's totally fine by me.

Why did you decide to do a play?
I'd always wanted to do a play. I'm not trained or anything, so I couldn't even get an audition for a play before Skylight. Understandably, because they don't know if I'm going to wet myself and cry when I'm onstage. And then finally I was given an opportunity. I've always loved theater. But if you're an actor who mainly works in film and TV, it can feel very distant. And thankfully, I got to sort of pull that veil to one side and see what it's like.

After Skylight, what's next for you?
I have no idea. Ask Carey.

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