Paul Popplewell Interviewed: "Steve Coogan Is A Genius..."

British cinema's new wonderkid talks about starring in Tyrannosaur, meeting Happy Mondays and his love for Manchester United...
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British cinema's new wonderkid talks about starring in Tyrannosaur, meeting Happy Mondays and his love for Manchester United...

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Who were the early influences on your career? Did being related to Sir Tom Courtenay have an influence on you catching the acting bug?

Being related to Tom didn’t have anything to do with me getting into acting; I got into it by accident. I was a huge fan of the film Bugsy Malone as a kid - I watched it over and over again, and when I was about 10 my primary school did a production and I got the part of Bugsy. The following year a local theatre company were staging a production and advertised open auditions in the paper. I was encouraged by family and family fiends to go for it and again I landed the part of Bugsy. I joined the company and took part in youth theatre classes at weekends and it just kind of rolled on from there really. I also did a lot of sport as a kid, playing rugby for school, Sunday league and county level, as well as football. Bit by bit acting took over.  When you’re turning up for ‘Smike’ rehearsals having come straight from A&E with your knee stitched up from a morning rugby match something has to give [laughs].

By the time I was 16, I had landed a lead role in BBC TV film called Criminal and I was off and running. I didn’t know Tom Courtenay when I was growing up and it wasn’t until I was in my mid-teens that I stared taking an interest in his career, watching films like The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner and Billy Liar. He certainly did inspire me to think it was possible. He’s a wonderful actor and I’d love to work with him. I also liked watching actors such as Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Albert Finney, James Woods, Robert DeNiro and too many others to mention.

What are your favourite films and TV shows? And which, if any, have any influenced your acting career?

There have been so many brilliant TV series over the last 10 years or so, with so many respected actors and I’ve seen so many great films, so it’s a tough question for me to be specific as to my favourites ones, ones that I think are the best or ones that have influenced me because as I name one I think of another, the list goes on…That said, I remember seeing Once Upon A Time In Americawhen I was about 18 and that blew me away.  I’ve not seen it since but I remember it having an effect on me. I’ve probably watched Withnail and I more times than any another film - its superb, though I’m not sure how much it’s influenced me other than not to end up like Withnail…

I enjoy watching actors like the ones I’ve already mentioned, but also the likes of Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Joe Pesci, Ed Norton, Brad Pitt, William H Macy, Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Christian Bale, Daniel Day Lewis. And Peter Mullan and Eddie Marsan, who are in Tyrannosaur, are incredible in everything.

If you could go back in time and play a role in any film, which would it be?

Jimmy in Quadrophenia springs to mind! I LOVE that film and what a role for a young guy to land - Phil Daniels was great in it. It’s another film I have seen many times and have often thought I’d loved to have played that part. Or Harry Potter…he’s minted.

I’d loved to have played Jimmy in Quadrophenia. Or Harry Potter…he’s minted.

You star in Paddy Considine’s directorial debut, Tyrannosaur (my favourite film of 2011). Congratulations on a great performance as Bod - how did you find the experience?

Glad you liked it. It was an incredible experience, a total pleasure and a film I’m extremely proud of! Working on Tyrannosaur was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my career. We shot it with a small crew on a small budget, and there was a real feeling by everybody on the set that we were making something very special. When you are working with such a talented guy like Paddy, and you’ve got scenes with Peter Mullan, you’re going to be in for a good time!

As you mention, in Tyrannosaur you shared scenes with Peter Mullan, one of British cinema’s criminally underrated actors, did you learn much from acting with him?

Less is often more. What is great about Peter is he’s very relaxed on set, very generous and very welcoming. He’s all about what’s best for the scene, not what’s best for him as the lead actor. He doesn’t walk around set being moody ‘in character’ and he’ll be chatting with you, often telling one of his many and brilliant anecdotes…then the 1st AD or Paddy would shout “turn over/action” and he’d just get to work. I’d love to work with him again, he’s a genius.

Working on Tyrannosaur was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my career. We shot it with a small crew on a small budget, and there was a real feeling that we were making something very special.

Young Samuel Bottomley impressed in Tyrannosaur - do you think he will continue to act?

Samuel was brilliant in the film wasn’t he?! He’s a lovely lad and a credit to his Mum and Dad. He’s already gone on to act in other stuff. He’s with the same agent as me, and recently completed filming Private Peaceful, a movie version of Michael Morpurgo’s book.

You appeared as Paul Ryder in the Michael Winterbottom film 24 Hour Party People - did you get to meet the Happy Mondays, and how far did your ‘research’ into the role go?

Yeah, its 10 years next spring since its UK release. Doesn’t time fly? That film was a lot of fun to work on and there was a lot of partying on and around the set. In fact, it was a party that lasted several years including a trip to New York and couple of trips to Cannes Film Festival in ’01 and ‘02.

All of the lads playing the Mondays could play their instruments except me so I got to grips with Paul’s bass lines and we played live in the film for the most part, and also did gigs as the Happy Mondays at the wrap party, the London premier at The Astoria and the Cannes premier. Rowetta, who played herself in the film, gigged with us.

We were all talking a few months back about getting together for the 10th anniversary of shooting the film and doing some gigs for a fun at festivals or a few clubs. It didn’t happen this year but who knows what might happen next year for the 10th anniversary of its release. It could be a laugh…maybe screen the film at festivals in the film tent and we’ll play after it. [laughs].

I did meet a few of the real Happy Mondays, although not Shaun, and became good friends with Rowetta and Paul Ryder who I’m still in touch with. I made friends for life on that job, and I’m still in touch with a lot of the cast and crew. It was a great bunch of people.

In 2008, you had a stint on Emmerdale - some actors say soaps are hard work with long hours etc, but how did you find it, and would you appear in a soap again?

I had a good time, and the cast and crew were all friendly. I didn’t find it too much like hard work but I only did about 13 episodes in a period of 3 months, so my work load was relatively light compared to many of the other actors who might be in as many as 40, 50 or even 60 episodes in that time.  I would work in a soap again, yes.

You have appeared many times with Steve Coogan and I feel that, despite such a strong body of work, his acting ability still does not get the credit it deserves. Why do you think that is?

I don’t know why that is, as he’s a genius at what he does. I was a fan of his before we became friends. I saw him in a good film back in January at the Sundance Film Festival called My Idiot Brother - I don’t know when it’s out in the cinema or DVD, but check it out. It also stars Paul Rudd, it’s really funny.

You appeared as Collier in The League of Gentleman back in 2000 - what was it like being on set with them? Are they as mad as their TV series might indicate?

I was only on set for one day or two and they were all perfectly good to me. They’re a talented, clever bunch of fellas aren’t they!  I bump into them from time to time and they’re always nice to me (isn’t nice a shit word). They’re always polite and chat. In fact I saw Reece at the Premier of Tyrannosaur the other week.

You tweet quite a lot about X Factor - who do you think will win?

Couldn’t care less really, though I hope it is someone with talent. I don’t know why I watch it, but you know I’ll no doubt be tuned in again this weekend. I usually tweet how pants it is…it’s akin to sitting inside Old Trafford during a game protesting against the Glazers. They and Simon Cowell are the ones laughing their cocks off as they have your money!

What is the weirdest thing that anyone has tweeted to you?

I don’t know. There are some top people on twitter and thankfully most of my followers are polite.

As a big Manchester United fan, who is your favourite ever player and how do you think your team will fare this season?

Of my generation, it’s probably Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes - both incredible players and magnificent servants to the club. I think United will be in the top two this season. I’d love to think we’ll win the league again but it’s going to be tough…

Tyrannosaur is still screening in cinemas across the country - go and see it! Check at your local cinema or visit the Tyrannosaur facebook page.

You can follow Paul at Twitterandon Facebook

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