Words: Justin Quirk
You have a reputation for being a bit… intense. Do you actually enjoy acting?
I’ve got a love-hate relationship with acting. I don’t disrespect it, although I can be quite cynical about the whole thing.
Are all actors like that?
No. When I did Hot Fuzz and was watching Simon [Pegg] and Edgar [Wright] work, there was no desperation at all – they just loved what they were doing, loved all the movie references. I part envied it and part absolutely loved that they were getting such a buzz from what they were doing. That’s infectious to be around.
And now you’re in Channel 4’s new series of crime films, Red Riding. What’s that about?
I’m in the second one, 1980, and I play Peter Hunter. He’s an educated fella from the Manchester police force who’s brought in by the Home Office to review the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry because it’d become an embarrassment to the police in Leeds. They’ve spent a lot of money trying to catch this guy and it’s all come to no good, so my character’s bought in to review the case and see where things are going wrong. But while he’s there he uncovers quite a few things that maybe he shouldn’t.
It’s another dark film then?
Some people find the books quite dark and gruesome to read, but I thought it was brilliant. Really poetic. And when I heard they were making films out of them and there was some interest in me playing Hunter, I immediately wanted to do it. That was two years ago.
What are you working on next?
I wrote my own film last year, Tyrannosaur, and we’re raising the finance at the moment. We’re getting some great responses, so I’m hoping that next year or early 2010 I can direct my first feature. But I’ve got no films planned, no acting. I haven’t got a job – I’m unemployed!
Are we likely to see you down at the Job Centre, then?
I never know when the next job is. I can be on a job and there are people around me who can have three lined up. I’m not that guy; and contrary to what you might think I don’t get millions of scripts put under my nose.
Is it because you’re too fussy?
I do have certain criteria when I’m looking for a job, which I understand I have to live by. And that’s not going to make me a very rich man, but I have to do the roles which really resonate with me. Otherwise I’m just asking for trouble.
Is the credit crunch hitting the film industry hard?
Massively. So many films folded last year. My film is with a couple of production companies and we’re waiting to hear if their budgets have been halved, and it really affects it, you know? Luckily my film isn’t going to cost a lot of money. But now, more than ever, people want something for their investment. They want Full Monty, that kind of thing. So my little film – a little character study – is a hard one to put in there because it’s not, off the bat, something that’s going to make a whole lot of money. But people need to ask themselves if they want to be making cans of pop or a piece of art.
Are you more comfortable with being famous now?
I understand that if you don’t like it you should get another job. But I don’t want to be a celebrity and I’m not a massive lover of celebrity occasions.
Why not? Falling over with Rhys Ifans, getting your photo in Metro… Looks alright to us.
They’re desperate some of these things – you see the same faces at all of them and you think, “Haven’t you got kids or something? What are you doing out every night?” I’ve just never been able to play that game, I’m not that driven by it.
So what does drive you then?
It’s a bag of contradictions. There’s obviously a part of you that’s a show-off, because otherwise why would you do it? But the next thing is that you do some characters, and when you inhabit them it’s quite exhausting. So I feel like I need this creative outlet and I’m driven to do it, but then I want to switch it off.
According to internet rumour, you were in the running to play Rorschach in Watchmen. Surely that would have been the ultimate ‘nutter role’?
Yeah, there was something in that. Years ago, when Paul Greengrass had the Watchmen, he wanted me to play Rorshach off the back of Dead Man’s Shoes, and Matt Damon was going to play Night Owl. That just happened after The Bourne Ultimatum [directed by Greengrass]. Then Zack Snyder came along off the back of 300 and Watchmen fell to him. I met Zack and he was a really great guy. I more or less said, “I love the role, I like the comic book… but I know I’m a sort of hangover from Paul Greengrass’ ideas.”
Were you disappointed?
The tragedy of it isn’t that I didn’t get the part – I’m not a dweller. And I thought that Jackie Earle Haley was a brilliant casting for the role. But my disappointment was that I did a really crappy audition on tape at the Soho Hotel, trying to play this fucking derelict guy in a room with flowery wallpaper. I didn’t get a chance to give a good account of myself. I never do to be honest. I hate auditions.
What’s going on with you and Shane Meadows’ Arctic Monkeys mockumentary, Le Donk?
We shot it last summer. Five-day thing, just improvising. The clip of me on YouTube breakdancing is something we did nearly ten years ago with the same character; he’s been floating around and we haven’t known what to do with him. It’s a bit of an in-joke with me and Shane, but people seem to like the character’s company. I think he’s a total shithead.
And you’re dancing again (he danced in Moloko’s video for Familiar Feeling)…
I like a dance, and I’d have liked a bit more time with that video but I only had two little lessons. I love watching people dancing to northern soul, but I can’t even go there. Ha ha!
You’re famous for close relationships with directors. Have you got a list of dream directors you’d like to work with?
We all want to work with the Coen Brothers, we all want to work with Paul Thomas Anderson, the list goes on. But I tell you what, in my heart of hearts, I would love to work with Steven Spielberg. I’m going through all his films again with my son, going through Indiana Jones and I’m thinking, “I want to work with this guy.” I’d do Indy 5 if they made one.
Hey! People were snobby about Indy 4, but I don’t care. Sometimes you just want to be at a big party. It’s not always about the fucking art house.
Red Riding is on Channel 4 in March