|Shao'ri Morris and Paul Eryk Atlas in a scene from Wuthering Heights|
Though he may apparently look quite the brooding Romantic hero, he shares very little with the protagonist of Wuthering Heights. He is no Heathcliff at all. Paul Eryk Atlas loves smiling, is the least vengeful creature in the world and has such a joyful disposition that he had fun even answering my teacher-mode questions and made this interview such fun to read!
I can't wait to see Paul on screen when the new Wuthering Heights will be out in 2018 to celebrate Emily Bronte 200th birthday anniversary!
First of all welcome to FLY HIGH! I’m really glad to introduce you to our readers. Before we start discussing your role in Wuthering Heights 2016, could you tell us something about yourself, Paul?
Hello and thank you for the warm welcome! Okay, wow this feels like a singles’ column! I’ll try to be concise!
I’m Paul Eryk Atlas, edging over the other side of 25 ( by 760 days, but who’s counting?..) I grew up in a small suburb near to Blackpool in the North West of England. I had an amazing childhood, in a very loving and nurturing family. I did the usual thing, school, college A-Levels etcetera , then I moved away to Scotland for uni where I trained for three years in Musical Theatre. Now I am floating around the UK working in all things creative.
Had you read the novel by Emily Bronte before you were cast? Or did you read once you were cast? Could you tell us what your first impressions were?
Ah here’s where I embarrass myself. I am not the best reader. I find it difficult to concentrate on books as I am so SO easily distracted. I hadn’t read the book of Wuthering Heights before getting the role of Heathcliff, but I was very familiar with the story; I had seen two of the film adaptations. Actually, in a weird coincidence, I was watching the 1992 version with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes just days before receiving the invitation to audition for the part of Heathcliff. I remember thinking “Wow, it would be so cool to play that part..” And lo, the audition came through and I was so shocked.
Heathcliff is one of the most controversial romantic heroes. Which is the characteristic of his personality you’ve found most difficult to relate to?
He is controversial in his physical characteristics and general behaviour , especially when you think of the time this story was written. He was a Romani gypsy adopted into a hard-working northern English family where he fell in love with his would-be sister, Cathy, and then, after being rejected by her, he makes it his life’s work to destroy the family of his love’s new husband. Here we touch on such themes as incest, adultery and murder, quite daring for mid 1800s novel.
For me, I do not consider myself a vengeful person at all, so understanding the level of hatred Heathcliff has to commit himself to a life of absolute destruction was something that took a lot of discussion and preparation for me as an actor.
Which is the feature, instead, that you’ve most loved in him?
I admire his honesty and also his passion for life, although ultimately he ends up sending himself insane through bitterness and grief. Everything he feels, he feels on an unearthly level.
Have you got a favourite line/scene in Wuthering Heights?
One scene that has always stuck out for me is the scene where Cathy catches Heathcliff seducing her Sister-in-Law Isabella. Cathy is of course furious and Heathcliff plays it so cool and collected. Things go slightly awry when Edgar interrupts to throw Heathcliff out of the house, yet Cathy sides with Heathcliff, saying that Edgar must fight him, as it’s only fair. There are so many major dynamic shifts in that scene it was amazing to read and even more amazing to be a part of. The atmosphere was electric. My favourite line is also from that scene.
“The tyrant grinds his slaves but they do not turn against him, they crush those beneath him. Having crushed my palace to not erect a hovel and complacently admire your own charity in giving me that for a home. If I thought you really wished me to marry Isabella, I’d cut my throat.”
What special lesson have you learnt becoming Heathcliff?
HAHA I can tell you a lesson that I’d like to teach Heathcliff myself! It would be: Try smiling, because sometimes it can fool one’s body into thinking one is actually happy!
I think I can count the number of times I smiled in this film on one hand; he is a miserable and sour fellow.
All joking aside, becoming Heathcliff and living his story through my own eyes, have learned that there are some things that you can control in life and other things that you just can’t, no matter how much you try to convince yourself you can. My advice to him would be to let the cards fall as they may, and concentrate on the things you actually have the power to change, such as your own outlook and attitude.
On a more literal interpretation of the question, with regards to the practicalities of playing Heathcliff, I did learn to ride a horse to be in this film, which was rather exciting (also terrifying.) I didn’t realise they were so big. Big lesson for me.
If you could, what would you change in his behaviour /decisions?
If there’s one thing I know for certain, it would be that no one could change Heathcliff. He is unmoving.
Cathy admits early on in the book ”My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath, a source of little visible delight, but necessary.” I think this so aptly describes both her love for him and his character.
Besides, why would I change anything about him? If I did, he wouldn’t be Heathcliff anymore. Would we love him the same if he decided just to marry Isabella and make the best of it? Have kids, move away and be in a lacklustre marriage? We as an audience love that he creates these intricate and long drawn out plans for overall revenge on all who had done him wrong. We love and are in awe that he is so passionate about Cathy that he digs her up from her grave just to see her again. (however, if we found out that a neighbour did this, we would probably consider moving house..) He is such a marvellous mixture of extremes. I wouldn’t change him even if I could.
What is it that Heathcliff particularly loves in Cathy? What makes them soulmates?
For one thing the connection with Cathy starts at a young age. When Heathcliff joins the Earnshaw family, she, unlike her older brother Hindley, shows him kindness and this kindness he latches onto with a vice-like grip. They bicker, they fight, they play rough. Cathy is wayward and wild, with the same affinity to nature that Heathcliff has. They are curious about myth, folklore and magic and this primitive bond between them empowers them to feel like the King and Queen of their own little world. I believe that if Cathy hadn’t met Edgar and hadn’t allowed her materialistic nature sway her decision to marry him instead of Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights would be a very different story indeed. Their love for each other supersedes any man-made law of matrimony or fear of being damned to hell for eternity, because their idea of hell is a life without one another. That surely qualifies as a soulmate.
Thank you very much indeed, Paul! It's been a real pleasure to have you as my guest and special thanks for taking the time to answer my questions in such an amusing as well as thorough way. I wish you the best of luck in your life and your acting career.