'Freud's Last Session' star on playing CS Lewis opposite Anthony Hopkins, 'beauty' of famed apologist's writing

Hopkins and Goode star in 'Freud's Last Session'
Hopkins and Goode star in "Freud's Last Session" | Sony Pictures

When studying to bring C.S. Lewis to the big screen in the film adaptation of “Freud’s Last Session,” actor Matthew Goode found the famed apologist’s books to be a key resource in understanding his emotional and intellectual depth.

“I read the stuff that he'd written up until 1939; there were only four books, one of which was Pilgrim's Regress,” the British actor told The Christian Post. “I dipped into Screwtape Letters because I just found it really quite amusing, but the book that gave me the most, in a way, was his 1955 book, which was Surprised by Joy.

“Most of us are built in childhood; a lot of the stuff that happens then has bigger ramifications," Goode continued. "And so, there's a lot of detail in that about what his childhood was like, which was pretty traumatic in many areas, and what schooling was like. … Once the research is inside you, then you can react. It's a difficult thing to explain. I really tried to get his humanity onto the screen."

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Goode stars opposite Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins in the film, adapted by Matt Brown and Mark St. Germain from the latter’s 2009 play, "Freud’s Last Session," which in turn is based on Armand Nicholi’s book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.

The film, releasing Dec. 22, follows an imagined conversation between two of history’s greatest minds: Freud, an atheist and the father of psychoanalysis, and Lewis (Matthew Goode), a famed Oxford scholar and Christian author, in the former’s London home office. Set on the brink of World War II, the conversation takes place just weeks before Freud's death.

The reason for Freud's invitation is not entirely clear at first, but it soon becomes evident that Freud, who is battling mouth cancer, wishes to understand Lewis' conversion from atheism to Christianity. Throughout the film, the duo engages in an intense dialogue about the existence of God, the meaning of life, love, the nature of human suffering and the question of what happens after death. 

Interestingly, Hopkins, now 85, played Lewis over three decades ago in “Shadowlands,” a movie about the author’s relationship with Joy Davidman. Lewis, who died in 1963, is behind some of today's most well-known books on Christian apologetics as well as the fantasy Narnia series.

Goode admitted he was initially “scared” to play opposite Hopkins: “He’s one of my favorite actors of all time and one of my favorite performances is ‘Shadowlands,” the actor said. 

“But sometimes, you should meet your heroes, because he is so generous and wonderful and kind and surprising. Every take is different, and he's done so much research as well … we were in a very safe space to make some mistakes.”

Brown, whose background includes a family history in psychiatry, told CP he was drawn to the project not by this personal connection but by the thematic richness of the story.

“As much as I was interested in both of these great minds, I was also interested in the themes that this presented,” the director said. “Right now, I think society kind of frowns upon an open dialogue and an open dialogue with respect, and I wish there was more of that. So this seemed like a really good opportunity to have this conversation, which seems like the question of our time, which is religion and science and what their relationship is.”

Though the film is largely set in Freud’s flat, there are a series of flashbacks, including trench warfare scenes from Lewis’ military service, and an introduction to Freud’s daughter, Anna (Liv Lisa Fries), who is struggling with her sexuality and has a co-dependent relationship with her father. 

Brown emphasized the film's balanced portrayal of both characters' viewpoints and complicated backgrounds. "I didn't want to pick a side or have an agenda," he said.

The film shows a young Lewis' faith being challenged by an older Freud's skepticism; a process Brown believes is crucial for personal growth. 

“Lewis had an inner strength, and he's struggling with his faith,” Brown said. “My wife's brother is a pastor, and he saw the film and he really enjoyed it. I was slightly nervous about showing it to him because C.S. Lewis is so important to him. But he said, ‘As a Christian, you’re going to be challenged and your faith is going to be challenged.’ This is a case where Lewis’ faith is challenged in the room with Freud, and he goes through this process with an openness and an inner strength that he relies on.”

“I hope,” he added, “Christian audiences can embrace the idea that you have to look at yourself and look at your relationship with God, and that's what Lewis is going through.”

In contrast, Freud describes himself as a “passionate disbeliever who is obsessed with belief and worship.” The film's production design, closely aligned with the Freud Museum, sought to reflect this irony, presenting Freud's intellectual curiosity and his grappling with mortality.

“Freud was a man who was coming to terms with himself having to face death, and none of us know until we die what happens, exactly,” Brown said. “We can all think we do, but he’s questioning, he's intellectually curious, and he wants to hear the other side of an argument with this. I think it is ironic that he would be so interested in all these different religions. But that's who he was. He was an intellectually curious person.”

Through the film, the director said he hopes viewers realize “science and religion don’t have to be enemies,” adding: “I hope there can be conversation, we don't have to be so extreme on both sides. There can be some middle ground that might be to the benefit of humanity.”

Discussing Lewis' enduring appeal decades after his death, Goode attributed it to the clarity, depth and beauty of his writing that enabled him to reach even the most skeptical with the truth of the Gospel.

“He writes with a great sort of depth and beauty and this and simplicity … it gives me little chills sometimes,” he said. “Why is Shakespeare still performed? Because he manages to get into our heads with commonalities that are still the same now. So, if you do have faith, or if you are questioning your faith, Lewis is going to be relevant.”

Sony Pictures Classic will release “Freud’s Last Session” on Dec. 22.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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