Robert Sheehan plays Clary’s adorable sidekick Simon Lewis in The Mortal Instruments. Sheehan talks about playing a well loved character and his favorite scene in this interview we conducted with him during our set visit.
What have been the biggest challenges playing Simon? Did you reference the book as a tool to build your character?
I was being surrounded by the hotshot action movie stars out there and they being very cool and very active amongst the action. And me having to kind of, remain somewhat passive, that for some reason, is almost as exhausting as you were, you know, I’m not just saying that, not trying to big myself up but it’s an exhausting thing.
What was your favorite scene that you’ve shot so far?
Umm, I really liked the conversational stuff that I share with Lily’s character Clary because you know this film is beautiful and epic and magical and big but there still exists in the film an arc of a relationship breaking down and then rebuilding essentially between Clary and Simon. And we shot a scene basically where Simon declares his love for someone. But yea we have a lovely scene where I kind of catch Clary and Jace in missionary, right there in the corridor no. But I catch them and it kind of crystallized what hasn’t been said between the three of us since we got together. So then I kind of, in a round-about way declare my love to her and then I storm out. It was a beautifully written scene and essentially it was an argument between two people. Despite the fact they’re surrounded by this magical world it’s about these kind of unspoken feelings and it felt really real and quite dramatic and I think movies like these need those kind of scenes in order to feel real you know?
How much of a leap was it for you to step into this crazy world after being a part of Misfits and does anything supernatural surprise you anymore?
Well Misfits was like the only, Wait no, I’m trying to think. I’ve done a couple Sci-fi things. Misfits was about 3 years ago and since then I’ve done, well not any sci-fi stuff you know but it feels like a long time ago but I also know that here. It’s kind of just coming out or becoming popular which is great but yea. Everything Sci-fi, to be honest everything normal surprises me. You know, sometimes I look up at the sky and go god that’s weird. Something doesn’t have to be in the sci-fi genre in order to inspire or shock me. I suppose having that experience in sci-fi with Misfits, Misfits wasn’t sci-fi, Misfits was the odd brain child of a great strange man called Howard Overman who thought of the weirdest stuff you could possibly think and put it in a T.V. show and that’s what Misfits became. It was important to him and the show as well but that show always worked without the powers just about some people having a dysfunctional life and the powers almost became the manifestation of insecurities.
What was your first impression of Simon either when you read the book or when you read the script?
I read an earlier draft of the script; Simon represented what was normal in Clary’s life. It seems like he’s the representation of the life she gets taken away from by discovering her magical abilities. I read the script several months ago, and in one draft Simon doesn’t get taken along for the ride, which is in God’s hands, and it’s great for me because I don’t get taken along for the ride. But she returns back to some resemblance of a normal life, back to her home. It felt like Simon was very much the foundation of her normality because he’s been her best friend all these years and yea he just developed in the script to a little bit of a rock for her and all the while harboring these feelings of love. I think he’s the only normal perspective in a world full of magical people, including Clary, everyone is magical in some way and he is essentially the only normal guy in the script and I think that’s very important in the script because you go off the deep end quite quickly and magically and it’s nice to have a normal guy perspective on everything. Trying to digest what he’s seeing happen so quickly and that’s really what he represented in the script for me.
What do you have most in common with Simon’s character?
I think Simon is a pioneer of counter culture, he’s very much like a bohemian guy and that’s very much what I am. In that sense I’m drawn to things that define themselves by being on the fringe; culturally, musically, theatrically all that stuff. I think that’s how young people find each other a lot of times by what kind of culture they are interested in, what they have in common. He feels very much like a New York kid who is constantly discovering things. New York being a hotbed of creativity. The fact that he’s in bands, and he’s just kind of reaching out creatively all the time and I’m drawn to people like that. And I’d like to think I am one of those.
So what do you love most about The Mortal Instruments?
This is because of Classandra Clare first and foremost, but there’s a real sense of tangential adventure about the series in the sense that it feels like a character falling down the rabbit hole. Much in the wonderful inhibited sense of adventure and unpredictability about the books and about the script. I read the scripts first and that’s what I really felt was quite amazing and fantastic and filming that kind of stuff as an actor, it’s the absolute best. Every single day there’s a new color and a new bit of the tapestry. I like the general gist of the adventures in the script and obviously the series.
Is it hard to bring a character to life that people love so much and are invested in to the big screen?
Yea, I was thinking about this the other day when I got asked this and you can only really have one interpretation of the character and put that out there and the thing about books and the thing about adaptations being a disappointment to people is that every single person has a different image of what Simon is and how they see him. You can only do your best to please the people who love the book and do it from where you think is the best place. If I got caught up in trying to interpret how the fans might like the character the best I think I’d go crazy so I’m just kind of taking my interpretation and hoping for the best really.
I know that all the fans that I’ve talked to absolutely love you for this role and so what is the best part in playing this character?
There are so many, you know I’m not just saying that, but it might be the fact that this story is already loved, and it’s already out there and it’s quite exciting, and quite weird to even sign Cassandra’s book because it feels like she’s put a beautiful book together and a beautiful story and here we are kind of clumsily signing it, “yea yea, thanks for reading.” But it’s nice that there’s this kind of mass of people that love this story already. And it does feel like your entering into that harem just by playing the character and being accepted and it’s certainly feels like I’ve been accepted already by the feedback that I got and the films not even out yet. I could have made absolute balls of it. But no, it feels very welcoming I think playing this character and I’ve never gone into something which has had such prior knowledge before. I’ve done character in books but not any book to this epic scale. And that’s quite pleasing, quite comforting.
The book is good for teens and its good for adults, and I think that Simon is an integral relation to that. From your perspective, how will this movie appeal to teens and adults?
I think in the script they wanted to mature the characters I think in age and also the fact that they are having these relationships. So I think the relationship, certainly the triangle of love if you will call it is quite a complex one and one that will appeal to people because it’s very well written and its quite a classic love triangle in the sense that there’s the younger quieter character and then there’s the blossoming love and so on. It’s written in such a way that it’s not in my opinion Twilighty. It’s actually very real and it just happens in some little conversations between friends and I think the relationship side of this between brother and sister or Alec and Jace they’re written quite maturely and that I liked a lot about the script and I think that’s why it will appeal or certainly please adults because they won’t feel like they’re being patronized and then teenagers also same thing because teenagers are adults in my opinion, they’re just people that are younger you know, it’s the exact same for me adults and teens alike. I always knew when I was a teenager when I was being patronized or spoken down to and I think a lot of movies do that because they think their demographic is stupider than them you know? Like they think people from 12-18 can’t grasp certain concepts when in fact of course they can. So umm, I think the movie will appeal to adults and teens absolutely the same. Maybe teens possibly more because they’re more absorbent and more influenced by the things they like so you never know.