The Crew: Stephen Graham interview
Stephen Graham is having a great year. Not only is the Snatch and This is England star’s pet project The Crew – a British crime thriller set in Stephen’s home town of Liverpool – released on DVD on 12th January, but he’s also appearing in two of 2009’s most highly anticipated films: Michael Mann’s period gangster epic Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, and screenwriter Peter Morgan's (Frost/Nixon) latest, The Damned United, which follows Leeds United manager Brian Clough’s turbulent 44 days at the club. We caught up with Stephen to chat about all three.
LOVEFiLM: How did you join The Crew?
Stephen Graham: A great friend of mine, Scot Williams, got offered the lead role. Me and Scot have been wanting to work together for years and he just phoned me up and said, “I’ve found this script. I’ve met the people and all that. Would you be up for having a look at the part of Franner?”, which was a great character. So I had a little look at it, called him back and said, “Yeah, I’d be well up for it”.
LF: Franner’s the top dog in the film. Did you enjoy playing the boss?
SH: Yeah. I mean, what I really like doing is playing these kind of characters who are not straight forward, run of the mill. I’m hardly ever going to play Mr Darcy and stuff like that. I’m interested in these characters that you can make a lot of. So, it’s just trying to make them three dimensional, and I based a lot of these characters on people that I’ve seen when I was young. I love just sitting back and watching people walk around in train stations and all that. I nick people’s walks and imagine what they’d be like.
LF: You’ve got a few of these British crime movies under your belt now. Is it like stepping back into a comfortable old pair of shoes?
SG: I never believe in being comfortable. I think once you become comfortable as an actor, then you should pack it in because the challenge has gone.
Having said that, I just love playing them kind of characters. I’m just really interested in the mindset of them kind of men. I mean, I’d love to play myself one day, a happily married father of two kids, but I’m a bit boring. I’ve realised I’m really boring because me and the wife were going shopping this morning and I was sitting there just getting the kids dressed and I should be saying “Can we buy this and can we buy that?”, but I was saying “Can we buy some new pots and pans and knives and forks?”
LF: Were there any stand out moments filming The Crew?
SG: I remember we were filming in the middle of these woods. It was a nightmare because it was summer time, but it was raining a little bit and the mosquitoes just attacked everyone! Everybody got bit. We were doing a scene and we just kept stopping and scratching and stuff. That was quite funny really. And the poor kid that was chained to the tree! There’s a kid tied to a tree and he’s caked in fake blood. For some reason it’s very sweet that fake blood.
LF: Sugar syrup.
SG: Yeah, it’s the sugar syrup, isn’t it? So that poor fella had like wasps flying and his head an all that. I had to keep swiping the wasps away from him.
LF: What can you tell us about Public Enemies?
SG: Public Enemies was a crazy, crazy thing actually. Me and Hannah [Stephen’s wife] were in the house and I got asked to put myself on tape to play Baby Face Nelson, so I got out me little plastic golf club and Hannah just read a couple of lines off. I had to pretend to rob a bank, and I turned round to her and was like, “Are you sure this is working?” and she said, “Yeah, it looks great.” I said, “I feel ridiculous!” I’ve got a plastic golf club and I’m telling people to sit down and put their hands up. There’s no one there. There’s just me and thin air. We sent it off and never heard nothing for about three weeks, and then all of a sudden me manager in the States phoned me up and said, “Are you sitting down?” I said, “Why?” and he said, “You’ve got the part. They want you to fly out in a couple of weeks.”
And it was great to work with Michael Mann. Such an enthusiastic… You know, it’s kind of like he’s 15, he’s such a little livewire bopping round the set. He’s got some great ideas and you feel like you’re really collaborating with him. And what a lovely cast to work with. Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Two fantastic actors of our generation.
LF And you’ve also got The Damned United…
SG: The Damned United was another brilliant experience. That was like 16 lads all playing football, living together in Leeds in a hotel, just having such a laugh - and getting paid for it! That never happens, does it? That’s the kind of stuff you dreamed of as a kid. And Michael Sheen’s such an amazing actor. I think his performance is unbelievable as Brian Clough.
LF: Did you have any idea when you were making it how much interest it would generate?
SG: No, not really. I mean, I loved, the book. I thought the book was great and the script was fantastic. And just being in the scenes watching Michael… The performance he pulled out the bag was just amazing. You feel like you was back in that time, that generation, you know what I mean? And Timothy Spall as well, and big uncle Jim – Jim Broadbent. It was just amazing to work with them kind of calibre of actors really. It was an honour.
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