Matthew Rhys plays Daniel Ellsberg in Oscar-nominated film The Post, directed by Stephen Spielberg. Rhys sat down with uInterview to talk about his role in the film and the overall message of The Post.  Rhys was excited to have met with the real Ellsberg, an activist who was charged with espionage after he released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, before the shooting began.

“I was fortunate enough to spend a day with Daniel Ellsberg, which was an incredible insight and a treat and an aid, as an actor to play a real-life person who you’re presented with,”Rhys told uInterview in an exclusive video. “You can very intricately ask them a number of questions – how they were feeling, what they were doing, what they were thinking, what they were even wearing at any given moment – and more often than not he had a very beautiful answer, which informed the way I played him. That was a first for me, so that was the real guiding light for me for the performance.”

All charges against Ellsberg were dropped in 1973, but if he had been convicted, Ellsberg could have spent up to 115 years in prison. “My assumption was, given what’d I’d researched about him in the script, that he was possibly facing espionage or treason charges and a lifetime in prison. My ignorant assumption was that he might be quite scared,” Rhys said, “and when I asked him that, he said no, the clarity of his own conviction was quite calming or reassuring, knowing why he was doing these things was to end a war and save lives, there’s no greater motivator. He was happy to go to prison in order to do that.”

As for working with world-renowned director Spielberg, Rhys said it was a dream. “It’s sort of equal part exhilarating and terrifying. You’re presented with your hero and icon and you’re asked to act in front him, so the nerves were at an all-time high,” said The Americans star. “As a filmmaker, you have a very strong idea as to why [Spielberg] is who he is, but when you see him work, personally, you understand that every cell in his body is put on this Earth to make films.”

On set, Rhys mostly interacted with Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul‘s Bob Odenkirk. “[It’s] kind of all you need really,” Rhys joked. “The two of us shared some great moments, and I think we were both like giddy school boys, pinching each other and going, ‘We’re working with Spielberg.’ It was good to have someone who had the same incredulity as myself about working with him.”

Rhys thinks there are many messages to the film, including keeping the press free and the equality of women. “I think there’s several messages, which is also incredible about this script. Not just the echoes of press censorship in these slightly disturbing days, but also it was the emancipation of a woman and her accepting of her power, which obviously struck incredibly relevant chords,” he said. “And everything else. There’s sort of the value of the press and indeed the privileged that position this country has… the freedom of the press should be revered and treasured.”

The Post received two Oscar nods when the Academy made its nominations announcement on Jan. 23 – Best Picture and Best Lead Actress for Meryl Streep.

Full interview transcript below:

Matthew Rhys

Q: How did you prepare for this role?

A: Well I was fortunate enough to spend a day with Daniel Ellsberg, which was an incredible
insight and a treat, an aid as an actor to play a real-life person you are presented with. You can
very intricately ask them a number of questions. How they were feeling? What were they
doing? What were they were thinking? What they were in wearing? At any given moment.
More often than not he had a very beautiful answer, which informed the way I played him, and
that was a first for me, so that was the real guiding light for me for the performance.

Q: What surprised you about Daniel Ellsberg?

A: My assumption was, given what I researched about him in the script, that he was possibly
facing espionage treason charges and a lifetime in prison. My ignorant assumption was that he
might be quite scared, and when I asked him that he said, “no,” the clarity of his own conviction
was quite calming or reassuring, knowing why he was doing these things, to kind of end a war
and save lives, there’s no greater motivator. He was happy to go to prison in order to do that.

Q: What was it like working with Steven Spielberg?

A: It’s sort of equal part exhilarating and terrifying. You’re presented with your hero and icon,
and then you’re asked to try and act in front of him, so the nerves were at an all-time high. As a
filmmaker, I finally understood, not finally understood, you have a very strong idea to why he is
who he is. But when you see him work personally, you understand that every cell in his body is
put on this earth to make films.

Q: What’s the message of this film?

A: I think there are several messages, which is always so incredible about this script. Not just
the echoes of press censorship in these slightly disturbing days, but also it was the kind of
emancipation of a woman and her accepting of her power, which obviously struck incredibly
relevant chords. And everything else, there’s sort of the value of the press, and indeed the
privilege position this country has where although band-aided around a little freely, the
freedom of the press should be revealed and treasured.

Q: What was it like working with the cast?

A: To be honest I only worked with Bob Odenkirk, which is kind of all you need really. The two
of us shared some great moments, and I think, more so, we were giddy school boys that we
kept pinching each other and saying, “we’re working with Spielberg.” It was good to have
someone who had the same incredulity as myself about working with him.