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Culture Swellness: 6 things I learned at the Grey Goose Cocktails & Conversations with The Current War’s Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon and Nicholas Hoult

Grey Goose Cocktails & Conversation with the cast of 'The Current War' at Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Canada - 10 September 2017

I don’t cover the entertainment beat, so for me TIFF usually involves just a few parties, maybe one or two screenings. This year I haven’t seen any movies yet, but I did get to meet Charlie Hunnam at his pre-premiere Grey Goose party for his movie Papillon at STK. I’m a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy so this was very exciting, so exciting that even though Charlie was pretty accessible, all I could utter was asking if we could take a photo. He was really gracious with everyone and took plenty of photos.

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Photo credit: @photagonist

I also was lucky enough to attend the Grey Goose Cocktails & Conversations panel held on the Lavelle rooftop with the screenwriter, director and cast of The Current War. It was a intimate group (maybe about 20 of us), and it was really interesting to see how the actors all handled the sometimes convoluted questions thrown at them, and fun to drink Bloody Marys “with” Cumberbatch (he downed his first one pretty quickly and was promptly served another). In any case, here are six things I learned at this brunch.

The Current War story sounds compelling and I’ll have to go watch it.

“”It’s about a rivalry to electrify the world, but to me it’s about legacy and importance of leaving the world a better place through creativity, innovation and spontaneity, and the wonderful traits these men have and bring to the world and do so fearlessly; that is why I wanted to tell the story,” says director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

Grey Goose Cocktails & Conversation with the cast of 'The Current War' at Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Canada - 10 September 2017

The stars knew little about this story before the script came along.

Benedict Cumberbatch: “I knew very little about Edison til this project came my way the interesting thing to me was the more I discovered, the stark contrast between this man who promoted himself as part of his product, his branding as well as inventing, researching, developing and manufacturing and who he was underneath that. How he journeyed from his beginnings to a point where he was seemingly a wizard. the king of it all.  And what happens when all that gets threatened how you can lose your integrity and become someone who acts reprehensibly at the time and forget the intention of that work of bettering mankind can be.”

Michael Shannon: “To me Westinghouse was just a name on products things in my house, but I’d never stopped to consider he was an actual person, it seemed like he wanted it that way, didn’t seem like he was ever trying to be glorify himself anyway. He worked hard and tried to make things that would help ppl, so I didn’t know much about him beforehand it was a real pleasure to get to put a face to the name.”

Nicholas Hoult: “I read a book Devil in the White City so I knew a little bit about the World’s Fair and the build up to that but not that much about Tesla so that was one of the great pleasures about doing this was learning about him , what foresight he had how incredible he was in terms of his inventions and imagination but also how selfless he was in terms of giving up to create a better world, but not being able take care of himself, to patent things properly or take care of his health.”

Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty funny.

The discussion had turned to the characters relationships in the movie, and Cumberbatch joked, “Edison was a player, he just couldn’t k– no (laughing). Chris,t I’m on a rooftop in 2017 in Toronto talking about a dead man’s relationship with his wife, I don’t think think that’s right on any level to cast dispersions, he does neglect his family, I feel so awful about doing this, I much prefer to talk about someone who is a good example of marital bliss. It cost him, and he tried to make amends.”

Grey Goose Cocktails & Conversation with the cast of 'The Current War' at Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Canada - 10 September 2017

The actual science is beyond the actors comprehension, but everyone seemed to agree Nicholas fared best at understanding it.

When asked by a physicist at the panel whether they’d prepared for their roles by delving into the science, Benedict replied,

“I have to confess not, as an actor I cannot begin to, I cannot lay claim to the complexities of your profession, your world, your expertise. It is a cipher for which the human interaction plays out, not to belittle it in the importance of the story. My understanding as a simple layman, it goes beyond my comprehension, I was really bad at physics in school, circuit boards used to just make me freak out and the only thing I liked doing was drawing them but I always made the switches in the wrong place and none of my LEDs would ever light up when I made a circuit in physics class, But I have a profound respect for the men and women in that field and the field we were portraying so I did try my best …to try to have a layman’s understanding of it. Did I understand why he’d hold onto DC when AC was clearly the better option? That to me seemed to be more of a human blunder than a scientific one, the power that can be applied; a human flaw more than a scientific one.”

As for Hoult, “I understood everything and I think that shines through in my performance,” he bragged, jokingly. “We had a science lesson this guy came in trying to teach us this stuff and that got me more into a tizzy than I was to begin with and I was trying to understand it but was, oh boy, but that just spiralled into more and more questions.”

Cumberbatch then gave him props, though. “You were pretty good though, you did kinda get what he was on about, I was lost at page one bit you stuck with it.”

For Hoult, he was very intrigued by Tesla. “The thing that was remarking about Tesla,he could create these things in his mind without building models, he could run them in his imagination and then fix problems through that as well, and you could see why people of the time we be like dude you’re insane, that’s not possible, it was so remarkable.”

The actors loved the costumes and were fine with being less than handsome for their roles.

“I loved being ugly in this film,” said Cumberbatch, referring to a scene where he’s fixing his hair in the movie. “Like you do when you’re 41 and going oh fuck what should I do with that bit of receding hair, should I just scrape it over, that’s very human like that I like that too, he doesn’t always shave, who does? I know what you mean it’s not about presenting a more perfect vision of yourself about trying to be who he was in the moment, he hated dressing up, Edison, in all honesty, jokes aside, he did hate the parade of fashionable dressing up, big money and occasions and panopoly of social mores, airs and graces and figures of authority.”

Cumberbatch feels there’s a long way to go for his industry to becoming more environmentally friendly (when asked a question about the energy crisis).

“And as far as energy goes, I feel deeply hypocritical…being flown here to talk to you on a lovely rooftop here in the sun’s heat that’s prop as hot as it is this time of year because of the fumes shooting out of the plane I was on, to put a finer point on it, but you know, it’s hard to talk about environmental concerns when in our industry, we have a great ways to go. But you need light to rellect through lens onto films or sensors these days, and light often isn’t available from nature at the time you need it and you need light for stories like this about electricity; and there’s a ways to go recycling on set, transporting people on sets, electric vehicles should be mandatory, to be a bit authoritarian about it, it gets you there, charge it when at work, don’t get why we don’t all do that on film sets, probably the cost of the hardware at the moment…and yeah and recycle, I don’t know what else to say,” he replied. “I try to wear clothes more than once!” he added in jest.

And with that, our brunch panel with The Current War cast ended, but not before I took a photo with Hoult.

Nicholas Hoult Sept 2017

The Current War hits theatres in November 24th.

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