How did you get into this character? You couldn’t really create a backstory, could you?
You need a good script and that’s what we had. Most of the character and most of his traits are on the page. And then I just wanted to instill this sort of sense of mystery about him and make sure that we’re not… You know, you can’t get too close to him. But actually what I liked, what really attracted me to the movie, is that you get closer to him because of, to put it bluntly, the s**t he gets into (laughing).
Had you read the book before reading the script?
I read the script and then I read the book.
How do the two compare?
They’re quite close. The script, obviously because it’s a film, has to be sort of pared down. Quite a few of the characters become one character, and situations obviously had to get cut because it would be difficult to film the whole book. But actually it adheres quite closely to the book.
Was there anything in the book that wasn’t in the script that helped you with the character?
There might have been but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember now because once you stop filming it it sort of goes out the window (laughing).
Did you do any research on drug dealers or the drug culture?
No. All I wanted to do was make a character that you would pass on the streets and not notice. I think that’s closer to reality than having someone drive past in a car with spinning wheels and having someone wear gold chains and things. I think that these people are, as I say, businessman and they like to keep a low profile. JJ Connolly who wrote the book, although he says he hasn’t had contact with that world, seems to know an awful lot about it.
Did you use Connolly as a resource when getting into character?
Oh yeah, definitely.
Did he give you any specific input on playing this guy?
I think he was happy with the way I was going with the character. He was just very good for stories and he was very insightful as far as me asking, “Do you think this is a good behavior at this particular moment?,” and that sort of thing. He always had very good advice for me.
What will sell “Layer Cake” to an American audience? How would you describe it to get people interesting in checking it out?
Go in expecting something. If you’ve seen “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” go along because you won’t be disappointed on so many levels. It’s a very classy British movie and if you’re into British movies at all, I think you’re going to get a thrill out of it. If you’re not and it’s the first time, the first time you’ve been to see a British movie, you’re going to be entertained. I think this movie entertains on lots of levels but it also sort of makes you think. I think it’s quite a feel-good movie because a lot goes on. It will stimulate your brain (laughing).
Working with a producer who takes on director duties is different than working with a first time director who has either been an actor or a screenwriter. Did you find it a challenge?
Well you think there’d be a problem but Matthew’s experience in movies is quite large so he did all the right things - most of the time. He’s sitting in front of me so I have to be careful (laughing). He planned the movie incredibly well. He storyboarded the movie shot for shot and we basically did that. We shot the script and we shot his ideas. And he had a very, very, very clear vision about what he wanted to do which, thankfully, I agreed with.
He employed a great [director of photography] in Ben Davis so visually that was all very clear as far as how as he wanted to make London look, and how he wanted to make the movie look. I mean, I can’t say enough about it really. He did it brilliantly.
Does working with a first-time director make you more aware of what’s going on behind the camera?
I’m thinking about everything all the time. You have to, that’s part of the job. You can’t not think about it. For me it’s very important because of the whole process. The whole creative process is about making movies and making movies is part technical, part artistic, part emotion, part communication. You have to have an eye on all of these things when you’re making it. And hopefully when you come to do a scene, that’s just about the scene. A scene rarely goes longer than three, four, five minutes at the most, unless you’re shooting very, very long shots. It’s all part of the job.
Everyone else seems to be doing it. Do you have any desire to direct?
No! I’d rather stick needles in my eye.
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