Claridge’s Hotel in London is the kind of place you might expect a secret agent to call home. An unassuming entranceway leads into an opulent lobby with lots of quiet corners perfect for clandestine meetings. It’s the kind of place where Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin could do highly classified business over a martini, shaken or stirred. So, it’s appropriate I’m meeting Henry Cavill and Army Hammer here. They’re the stars of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot and the latest actors, after Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, to play super spies Solo and Kuriatkin.
The TV show, which was equal parts camp and classic action, ran from 1964 to 68, made stars of its leads and established high-flying spy cool for a generation of television watchers. Cavill, who plays the suave Solo, however, says he has never seen the show.
“I prefer to operate as a blank canvas,” says Cavill, who will next be seen as the Man of Steel in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. “If you’re trying to make something your own you’re concentrating on the wrong thing. You should be concentrating on the story and evolving the story with your fellow actors and or director. That’s what we did.”
His co-star Hammer referred to the show to partially to craft his portrayal of the hothead KGB spy Kuryakin and partially “out of motivation of fear.”
“If I do this movie and someone asked me about the show I wanted to have an answer to give them,” he says. “I basically spent the weekend binge watching the whole show.”
He says the new movie incorporates elements of the original show, “so people who grew up with that will love and appreciate it but it is also a completely fresh take on it. That’s what we were going for, to make everybody happy.”
Like many spies (and actors who have played spies) before them, both utilized accents and costumes to disguise themselves and disappear into their roles.
Cavill, notes that the bespoke Saville Road suits he wore were the “final pieces of the puzzle” in creating the character. “The accent informs the way you physically interact with everybody and the suit the contains that.”
Hammer learned his accent listening to “old recordings of native Russian speakers trying to speak English, or barely speaking English and picking up little bits of both. At a certain point with the accent, I’d say after a week or two, it feels natural. You’re not spending your time making sure your words sound laboured. It starts to flow out as an accent.”