Rafe's Finding It Scruff at the Top; Rafe Spall Went Back to School to Play a Troubled Maths Teacher in His Latest Film - and Jeananne Craig Discovers Why It All Added Up

Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), March 12, 2015 | Go to article overview

Rafe's Finding It Scruff at the Top; Rafe Spall Went Back to School to Play a Troubled Maths Teacher in His Latest Film - and Jeananne Craig Discovers Why It All Added Up


Rafe Spall's dishevelled, scruybearded character in new lm X+Y wasn't intended to be a gure of desire, but try telling that to his other half.

e Black Mirror star's actress wife Elize Du Toit found his depiction of troubled but good-hearted maths teacher Mr Humphreys "much more attractive" than his toned and clean-cut alter ego in the 2013 romcom I Give It A Year. "I've done parts before where everybody involved is willing you to be as handsome as you possibly can, but that's not the case in [X+Y], which was kind of a relief," the actor says with a laugh.

"[Humphreys] is lovely, messed up and pained, but kind. I think that's what people respond to, his kindness."

" Spall, 31, was also happy growing a beard for the role. "I was actually quite trendy in my scr"ness. You need a beard now, if you're going to drink expensive coee and wear utility clothes, so I enjoyed it..."

e moving, and at times heart-rending, feature lm debut of documentary-maker Morgan Matthews, follows Nathan (Asa Buttereld), a teenage maths prodigy who is on the autistic spectrum and struggles to form bonds with others, including his widowed mother Julie (Oscar-nominated actress Sally Hawkins).

He's taken under the wing of Mr Humphreys, who recognises Nathan's gift for numbers and helps him land a place on the UK team at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO).

We see Nathan build relationships and get confronted by unexpected challenges, as he travels with the team to a training camp in Taiwan, and then returns to England for the contest.

Mr Humphreys has his own struggles too, having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis [MS].

"Where we nd [Humphreys] in the lm, his life has not gone to plan," says Spall, who researched MS in detail and met people with the condition.

"He had huge promise as a mathematician, but when we nd him, he is a lonely bloke who has now got multiple sclerosis, which is a mysterious disease, and he has not achieved all that he should have done in his maths career."

As his condition gets worse and worse, the teacher "self-medicates" with alcohol and marijuana, but his work with Nathan and his growing closeness with Julie provide some respite.

"Julie is extremely grateful to Mr Humphreys because she is trapped in a world where she looks after her son, and that is all-consuming," the actor notes. "People are always dened by how they deal with adverse situations and when you get two people dealing with di"cult things, it can make for a lovely relationship. …

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