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Tom Wilkinson

Supporting Actor: 'Michael Clayton'

Arthur Edens, the veteran attorney played by Tom Wilkinson who goes bonkers at a particularly sensitive time and must be wrangled by George Clooney’s corporate fixer in “Michael Clayton,” is someone with eccentricities too numerous to explain in one breath.

But the decision to play the part was absurdly simple, says Wilkinson.

“I was in Montreal doing something and got a message that this fellow Tony Gilroy was coming and would I read his script,” Wilkinson explains. “We had supper, and I thought he was very charming. It’s usually very flattering to be offered a job. I thought this (script) was just fantastic — every aspect of it I liked — including the job I had to do.”

And when it came time to shoot with the helmer — Gilroy had already established an impeccable reputation as a writer on the “Bourne” series and other projects, but this was his first directing gig — Wilkinson says the production was as smooth and easy as “Michael Clayton” is dark and serpentine.

“Tony was fantastically relaxed,” he says. “I think he had a lot of faith in what he had written. He shot it exactly as he had written it. He felt he had done what he needed to do.”

On preparing for the role, Wilkinson explains how he got into Edens’ skin.

“What I didn’t do was go see people who suffer from this disorder. The script was enough,” he says. “It gave me enough clues to play the individual scenes. I didn’t think I needed to do anything else.”

The film opens with a spirited voiceover by Wilkinson’s character that immediately propels the tale in motion.

“I actually learned it before we did the movie,” says Wilkinson, who is set to have an incredibly busy 2008, with projects including HBO’s miniseries “John Adams,” in which he plays Benjamin Franklin; “Recount,” the cabler’s look back at the 2000 presidential election; and the Tom Cruise starrer “Valkyrie.” “Somehow in the process of learning that monologue, I inadvertently got the whole character, his rhythms, changes, focus. The manicness of it all.”

“Michael Clayton” has been hailed by critics as one of the year’s most intelligent and unique drama-thrillers, with much of the credit going to Wilkinson for not turning Edens into a cartoonish character. Wilkinson, in turn, gives credit to Gilroy, whose vision, he says, was clear and therefore made everyone else’s job easier.

“There wasn’t any need for give and take,” Wilkinson says. “He gave and I took. There was never a difference of opinion. There is a certain sort of writing that has an integrity to it. Tony Gilroy is an expert writer. And he had written this script expertly.”

FAST FACTS

Favorite film: “The Wild Bunch”

Young actor you admire: “There are a lot of them. I think Scarlett Johansson has a massive amount of talent, and I hope she makes the best of it.”

What you want in a director: “A kind of sympathetic intelligence. Tony Gilroy has it. I’m working with a guy at the moment, Jay Roach, who has it. He’s wonderfully bright. ”

Vice: “I like a drink, that’s for sure. I’m too old for vice these days. Maybe sloth. That’s probably more of a sin, but it technically could be a vice. I’m incredibly lazy.”

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