Dan Stevens plays a cyborg trying to find love in the German movie (Picture: I’m Your Man, 2021)
There’s something mightily impressive about Dan Stevens’ new performance in I’m Your Man.
Maybe it’s because I stopped at GCSE level and can just about remember ‘Guten Tag’, but acting fluently in German… well, that can’t be easy.
‘To make anybody laugh in a foreign language is an absolute dream,’ the 38-year-old actor admits. ‘It really feels like a great achievement to be able to bridge that gap and find humour. So that’s been a real delight to discover.’
While one shouldn’t be that bowled over by an actor working in another language – let’s face it, non-English actors do it all the time – it’s another string to Stevens’s bow.
In his 17-year-career, he’s gone from performing Shakespeare on stage (As You Like It) to a fan-favourite role on TV’s Downton Abbey to blockbusters like Beauty And The Beast and cult genre flick Apostle. Variety is the spice of the actor’s life.
‘For me… that’s really all I ever set out to achieve,’ he tells me over Zoom, during the Berlin Film Festival, where I’m Your Man has just premiered (virtually, of course).
Dan proved his talent for accents in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, but this time he’s taking on a different language (Picture: Jonathan Olley/Netflix)
A slick German rom-com, its sees Stevens plays Tom, an artificially intelligent humanoid who has been designed for companionship.
Testing him out is Alma (Maren Eggert), a research scientist who has three weeks to put him through his robot paces. While the men in the film seem more than happy with artificial females who seek to please their every whim, the women are more complex. Alma certainly has no interest in finding love, especially of the synthetic kind.
Exploring the male/female divide was something Stevens was excited to do. ‘I used to have a postcard on my fridge that said, “The difference between men and women”. And with men, it was one switch. And then women, it was an entire board of knobs and dials and things like that! And there’s something interesting in the complexity of that algorithm.
Dan is famously known for starring in Downton Abbey (Picture: ITV)
‘But it’s one of the great things about the film – people come away asking these questions. Could they live with it [a humanoid]? Would they live with it?’
Stevens, who grew up near Wales and honed his German at school before heading off to Cambridge to read English literature, spent time studying
Hollywood legend Cary Grant to hone Tom’s mannerisms.
But how do you prepare to play a robot learning about human emotions?
‘I think it was about taking certain elements away from perhaps the usual preparation of a role or a character and just being very, very present,’ he says. ‘Trying not to come with too much emotional baggage, which Tom doesn’t really have.’
Dan stars in I’m Your Man with Maren Eggert (Picture: I’m Your Man, 2021)
Talking of emotional baggage, Stevens knows that in any conversation, Downton will always get raised. He simply smiles.
‘Very often as an actor, you have to tell people what you’ve been in and often they haven’t seen anything, and it can be a bit demoralising.’
Not so with the global hit Downton. His character Matthew Crawley’s sudden tragic death in the 2012 Christmas Day special may have caused national mourning, but he still loves the show.
‘There’s no way I would sort of wish to erase the memory of it.’
Living in Los Angeles with his wife, South African-born jazz singer Susie Hariet, and their three kids, he’s currently working on Gaslit, a glossy-looking drama with Julia Roberts and Sean Penn all set around the Watergate scandal. Playing former White House counsel John Dean in this political drama, it’s yet another gear shift in his varied career.
‘Sometimes I’ll look at [a script] and go, “Absolutely not!” For a variety of reasons. It might just be like, “I don’t think I can do that,”’ he says.
‘But if the challenge is right and if I’m feeling up for it, then anything is possible.”
I’m Your Man is in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday.