Goode takes another look at beloved ‘Brideshead’ role

Matthew Goode knew he had a big job ahead of him when asked to play Charles Ryder in the new film of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.”

Although he was just a toddler when the popular miniseries version of the novel starring Jeremy Irons first appeared on British television in 1981, he has seen the definitive production of the story about a mild-mannered middle-class youth who gets involved in the machinations of a wealthy, deeply religious family in pre-World War II Britain.

“I was only 3 when that adaptation came out,” he said during a recent visit to San Francisco to promote the film, which opens Friday. “But it was given to me by my agent who said, ‘Watch it and learn from it.’”

Knowing that Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon signed on to appear in the movie — the first feature film of the classic book — and getting over his family’s initial reaction that “it’s been done before,” he took the part with some apprehension.

It took him awhile to “get” Charles, he admits: “He’s tricky, he’s a catalyst, he only occasionally front foot,” says Goode, who also didn’t have the advantage of revealing the character with voiceover narration as Irons did.

But he found Charles’ core, he says, in the young man’s loneliness. While the story has many themes, such as love, class, religion and ambition, for Goode, it’s also about “how your parents [mess] up” and finding friends to fill an emotional void.

Goode is best known to American audiences for his appearances as an ex-convict in “The Lookout” (in which people discovered in he “could do something other than be English”), Woody Allen’s “Match Point” (an experience he found “a total pleasure once he knew he wasn’t going to get fired in the next two weeks”) and the admittedly tepid romantic comedy “Chasing Liberty” co-starring Mandy Moore (“It was a great experience; I wouldn’t be sitting here without it”).

Next up is “Watchmen” in 2009, based on the famed graphic novel series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and directed by Zack Snyder, who had great success with “300.” Against co-stars Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson, Goode plays an arch villain.

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