The 'Legion' actor talks with ET about why Charles Dickens is a rock star and why actors are always unsatisfied.
Dan Stevens loves Christmas. Not in the way that everybody who Christmases loves Christmas, no, he is a Christmas tree up, hang the lights after Halloween kind of Christmas guy. "We enjoy it very much in our house. I have three kids now, so that's three times the fun," he says of daughters Willow, 7, and Eden, 1, and son Aubrey, 5, with his wife, jazz singer Susie Hariet. "It's a lot of board games, classic movies. We always screen The Muppet Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve. For us, it's a special time of year."
Their Christmas Eve screening may soon become a double feature, as the actor's new movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, out Nov. 22, makes a fitting follow-up to Kermit the Frog's starring role as Bob Cratchit, with The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens. In it, Stevens plays Dickens as he sets out to write a Christmas book on a six-week deadline and dreams up his unexpectedly timeless tale, A Christmas Carol. "The idea of a time-traveling supernatural morality tale at Christmas, that was not something that anybody had ever attempted before," Stevens notes. Fortunately, his family already approves of his film. "My wife and my eldest daughter have seen it and they both really enjoyed it," he reports. "I was pleasantly surprised by how much my 7-year-old got out of it."
In a sense, Stevens has been preparing his whole life to play Dickens. "In England, Dickens is really baked into the fabric of our culture and especially A Christmas Carol," the actor, who was born in London and raised in Wales, tells me. He remembers the 1951 film starring Alastair Sim -- which would air on TV around the holidays -- and his school's dramatic readings as his earliest memories of the text. He recalls, "I probably played Scrooge at some point."
There's also the fact that The Man Who Invented Christmas is yet another period piece on Stevens' impressive resume, having cut his teeth on PBS's Sense & Sensibility mini-series and, of course, Downton Abbey. "I'd never done anything set in that particular time period," he says of the 1840s trappings. "But in Britain, we do make a lot of costume dramas." But it was the work he'd done since arriving in Hollywood -- like the indie dramedy Colossal and Night at the Museum: Secrets of the Tomb -- that inspired him to adopt a new attitude on set, to play "a little fast and loose" this time.
"Because I've always found Dickens to be very fun and I think too often he's remembered as this sort of bearded old man," Stevens says, likening the author to a rock star. "He gets confined to this dusty shelf of 'great authors' -- with capital letters -- and they become unapproachable. I don't want to see that happen to one of my favorite authors."
Which isn't to negate Dickens' darker tendencies, "this quite depressive, bleak side," Stevens calls it. The movie delves deeply into his creative process, bringing to life the playful banter he would imagine with his character (the great Christopher Plummer plays Ebenezer Scrooge), as well as recognizing his tendency to neglect his family in pursuit of his muse. "I hope my family doesn't suffer as much as Dickens' did from his creative process," Stevens laughs. And in fact, he was joined by his brood while shooting the movie in Dublin last Christmas and New Year. "I think it's always funny seeing daddy in a silly wig."
Unlike Dickens, who fought to revive his career with A Christmas Carol after publishing a run of "flops," Stevens' recent work has only been a success. He is lauded for FX's X-Men series, Legion -- not that he reads his reviews. "But my dad is very active on Google and will send me good and bad reviews," he says. "I don't know why. I think to keep my feet on the ground. Thanks, dad." And Beauty and the Beast, in which he plays the Beast to Emma Watson's beauty, made roughly a gajillion dollars earlier this year.
(To briefly sidebar, on whether there have been talks of a Beauty and the Beast sequel, he only says, "People often ask if that's in the cards. That's not really a question I can answer. That's one for studio execs, I guess. I don't know what form that would take? But I'd be interested to hear if anybody has got any pitches.")
Still, Stevens concludes, "There's something quite universal about the artistic and creative struggle and process in this film...It's for other people to judge whether it's a hit or a flop, but a lot of artists I know are just generally unsatisfied with everything they do and always want to achieve something better or try something again in a different way." He adds with a wink, "I'm delighted by this film, but I always think I can do better."