The Movie: Still Life

I, the actor.

I never really thought of myself that way, but it turns out that that is another part of the me that is. And the me that is, is now in a film.

Let me tell you a story. Just over a month ago, back when I was young, a mere stripling of 36, I was sent a Sunday email, “would you like to go to a film casting tomorrow” (on a whim, I’d chucked my details onto a casting website a year or so ago and not given it any further thought since). What the hell, I thought, why not. So, I trundled down to an industrial estate behind a bunch of rundown buildings off a nondescript Peckham street.

Before I go any further, it is worth pointing out that, at the time I was a complete naif. I am still relatively naive, the industry of film making and acting not really having been on my agenda since I started doing comedy; more an afterthought and an awareness while my main focus remained and remains committed to my stand up. But sometimes you roll the dice and they come up 6 just when 6s would be quite useful. So back to 8.45am Monday morning.

It was a nice business park. Well, that was what it was called, although I confess that it looked a little drab to me, and some of the letters of “Nice Business Park” had disappeared, leaving their ghostly shadows on the wall as a sooty echo of better times. The vast expanse of the empty tarmac courtyard, with its huge security gates and solitary cars dotted randomly on it, was crossed and I found the entrance.

The weather, having been very British in its nature that morning, meant that I’d chosen to change upon arrival, although the small cubicles of the unisex loos meant I ran the more open gauntlet of being caught as I rapidly bared and re-covered flesh in the pursuit of less unsuitable attire for the role of a priest that I was going for. Because this was the first ever film casting I’d gone for. I’ve done a number of advert castings, but none have been suitable for me. No, that’s the wrong way round, I’ve never been suitable for them. Damnit. Ha, I didn’t want them anyway! But it turns out that they were not bad training because it meant that, rather than worrying too much about getting the role, I just tried to look the part and be me.

I walked into the office, and Joe Hornsey, the assistant director, an efficient and friendly guy with a quick smile, took me back downstairs and handed me a couple of sheets of paper to read through. They didn’t make a huge amount of sense, but evidently the scene was a funeral, and the lines were few. Sitting there I began to wonder whether I was supposed to go back upstairs when I’d read through this; decisions decisions. The land where I’m all at sea. Which is therefore the opposite of land.

I was taken in to see the director, a sprightly Italian guy in his 50s, with a firm handshake and a youthful glint of amusement in his eye. “So, why are you interested in our little project?” he asked. This confused me, I must say. Not knowing the project, anyone involved, or anything really other than that I was on an industrial estate in Peckham, I smiled as he went on, “So tell me, what acting have you done before?”. Ah, thinks I. Not much. Um. I don’t really consider myself to be an actor, I am a comedian!

Putting on a bold front, I stride straight in, “well, I’m a stand up comedian, I perform 4 or 5 nights a week, and I also do long form improv, where we practice for 4 hours a week and perform fortnightly shows, improvising a 20-30 minute play from one word suggestion from the audience. Comedy, obviously…”

His eyes light up, “perfect” he says, and again he asks “so why have you come down to join our little project?”. Not knowing what to say to this, but starting to question that myself, all I can think of to say is “well, it seemed like fun”. Sat there at the desk and going through a few roles with Joe, Uberto starts to assess which ones are available for me to do. Apparently I had been due to do a different priest role, but he is looking at whether I can do something different, have a bigger part. Nice. In the end, it is clear that all the other parts are already allocated, so he offers me a different priest part (I’d not really idea what the first part would have entailed anyway, but hey) saying that this other part “will give you more of a chance to do some real acting”.

I was thrilled, this was totally unexpected, after all, on all previous castings, albeit that they were for commercials, I’d sat in the waiting room surrounded by millions of other bodies who all looked way more the part than I did. As Joe walked me out, he enthuses “well, he must have liked you, he made all the others do half an hour’s worth of role play…”

Wow! So he made the actors, the actors, do role play! I couldn’t believe my luck, and was thinking, this is probably just a 10 minute student short, however this is my first ever film role! From my first ever casting!

I contacted Johnny Lynch, who’d put me forward for the role and let him know, only to find out that, no, this was not some short film, this was the real deal a full length feature film. Not just that, the lead actor in it is Eddie Marsan. For the non film buffs reading this, he is one of Britain’s leading actors, you’d recognise him if you saw him. He’s been in several dozen cinema released films (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Marsan ) and is regarded as a truly brilliant character actor (films not being my sphere, I hadn’t known this. Like I said, I was very naive). Oh, yes, and the director, that lovely bloke with the handshake, who’d given me the impression that this was a tiny project, was Uberto Pasolini. Yup, the guy who’d produced the Full Monty. Nice!

This was all over a month ago and, as of Monday, I have now finished the filming. In my next posts I will tell you how that went. Everyone I met there was lovely, all this talk of actor arrogance that one hears about may well be true elsewhere, but everyone I met on set, from the runners and caterers to Eddie, Uberto and Joe, were lovely, friendly people. What an experience.

Still Life – The first day of shooting

My final day on the film set… Still Life: Al the Pro

Uberto Pasolini’s Wikipedia page

Still Life on IMDb

Recent interview of Eddie in The Scotsman

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