Did you go straight into theatre after leaving Central?
No I didn't work for 3 years, I couldn't get arrested! I'd given up really and was working for my brother on a building site and working on the crew at the Royal Exchange Theatre, building sets and changing the scenery. Then Thillyda Lloyd, a theatre director, got me an Equity card, this was in the days when you needed one to work. It was crazy really because I got a tiny part in a play, auditioned for another one and got that as well. Not only that, the first finished on the Saturday and the other started on the Monday which is like an actor's dream! Alex Cox came to see that and he cast me as Derek Bentley in Let Him Have It. So, I went being unemployed for 3 years to being the lead in a British feature in the days when we only made 2 a year, 1990, it was ridiculous really.
Would you attribute that to Thillyda Lloyd?
Yeah and I'll never, ever forget it. The person who gives you your first job is so important in any industry. She remembered me in drama school from 1986 and in 1989 she made me a professional actor.
Are you still in touch?
Yeah, I've worked with her since and I'd like to again. If she hadn't given me that I wouldn't have any of this, you know, croissants in Freud's! (much laughter)
What was David Cronenberg like to work with?
Fantastic. I love his films, I love Dead Ringers and I love everything he stands for in the industry. He has the scale, visual imagination and the vision to give the studios anything they want but he treats the audience as his intellectual equals, credits them in a way so they want to go there to be stimulated in ways other than crash, bang, wallop. He was just a fantastic man to work with. A democratic set, the work was taken seriously although he doesn't take himself seriously and he's got a great sense of humour, it was fantastic! And I got to work with Ian Holm. Cronenberg's very open and I think he just presumes that you're an intelligent person who's read the script and you know what he's on about. You do as well. It was funny, he'd sit by the monitor and push his thick trademark glasses onto his forehead so it looked like he had 4 pairs of eyes and read a motor magazine. Then they'd say, "Right, Dave we're ready." the glasses would drop back down and off we'd go. Fantastic! I only had a small part and was there for a short time but I'm sure Jude Law loved it. Cronenberg's one of the greats.
Going back a bit, did you think Shallow Grave would be as big as it became?
I didn't, no. I thought it was a cracking script and I remember the talk among the actors auditioning for it that it was a great script. No, I had no idea but I've never been up with the times, always been slightly out of step. (laughs)
Did you have any hesitations about working with first time writer, director etc.?
Oh no, I was lucky to get the job and I've been a first timer, which is part of the reason for judging this competition, you've gotta give people a chance. When I was growing up I always thought the arts and acting a bit mysterious and inaccessible, if there is any way of demystifying it - that's fine with me.
What did your parents think about your decision to act?
Fantastic. They always knew I was hopeless at everything else, I was fortunate in that I was backed all the way. I came to it late and only because I thought there'd be loads of women and drinking! It wasn't a great calling. I came out of school in '79 when unemployment was really starting to bite, went back and redid my O-levels, there was a play going on and I was corralled into it. I had bags of energy as a kid.
What was the play?
Lock Up Your Daughters by Henry Fielding and I was bloody awful in it.
Was your Northern accent a disadvantage when you left Central?
Never been a disadvantage mate! (laughter) In Elizabeth I did RP, I can do accents. I did an American film where I played a Brooklyn Jew, I played an American in Existenz. They're not a problem for me but I love my accent, I thought it was useful in Gone In 60 Seconds because the standard villain is upper class or Cockney. On a perverse level, my Northern accent would be an odd clash opposite Nic Cage, they probably think I'm Australian, I say 'mate' which makes me Australian. With accents it was people like Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Peter O'Toole from Leeds, Richard Harris, they kicked the door down but its been voguish. When I was growing up it was Bernard Hill and all the Bleasedale people,
Saturday Night Sunday Morning was pivotal in that, culturally we've always felt it important to express the life of the country and working class comes into that. We are coming a bit stylistic now with lots of little middle class people running around pretending to be Cockney and that.
How did you become involved in Our Friends In The North?
It was Danny Boyle if I remember. At some shindig for Shallow Grave he said he'd read these scripts that I'd love so I got my agent to get hold of them and he was right, I though they were fantastic. Sometimes you're hot and sometimes you're not, Hearts and Minds was coming out, Shallow Grave was out and they thought, 'we'll have him, he's the coming boy.' that's the way it happens, a year later and I'm average again.
As it was originally a play, was there a long rehearsal period?
It was written in 1983 and Michael Waring had hold of it for about 15 years and it was a published play. I think we had a couple of weeks before we shot the first episode and then had a few days before the start of a new block, we did it as you always do it - we rehearsed on set.
Are you interested in directing or producing yourself?
I want to direct but I think I'd be bloody awful and I don't want to produce but I think I'd be a very good producer because if I believed in something I'd really be able to protect it. But directing, joking aside, I know what I need as an actor and I trust my instincts about scripts but I'd be seriously lacking technically, I'd need to find a DOP willing to be patient with me. I could make up a lot through homework, storyboarding etc. but 12 years on sets watching directors I've taken a bit from everybody and rejected a lot. So, yeah I would like to have a go. We're youngsters demystifying things.
If you had to make a choice between TV, Film & Theatre, would you be able to?
I think theatre is by far the most rewarding experience for an actor. You get 4 weeks to rehearse your character and then at 7:30pm you start acting and nobody stops you, acting with your entire soul. Its why I became an actor because its as close to football as you can get, its a thrilling, physical experience. Financially there's nowt to it but I care more about telly because it made me an actor and there's a much more immediate response to TV and you can address the political or cultural fabric of your country. It still like the idea that the nation will tune in and it becomes part of their lives, I love that.
Do you think you'll work with Jimmy McGovern again?
I hope so, he's probably sick of my ranting and raving for the time being, but I hope so.
What's next for you?
I've got a film coming out called The Invisible Circus with Cameron Diaz and I'm off to shoot a film in Spain called The Others with Alejandro Amanabar, I play Nicole Kidman's husband in that. After that I work with Terry Gilliam on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and that's also in Spain.
That's a Tony Grisoni script isn't it?
Yeah and its fantastic. You read it with the pre-knowledge of Gilliam's films. I'm really excited and I'm fortunate to be working with real quality.
What can we expect to see?
Well, its faithful to the essence of Quixote, the power of the imagination and the triumph. I've gotta be careful not to give anything away er... no I can't say too much. Gilliam's the only one who can do it because he's got this extraordinary visual ambition but he seems to understand that in order to make the audience to make those links you've got to give them an idea. There's always a strong narrative and ideas underpinning the flights of fantasy, I think he makes films that he'd want to see, credits the audience with the same intelligence that he has which is moving, like the way McGovern writes.
Who do you play?
I play 3 different people in different timescales and guises. Johnny Depp's in it as an Advertising Exec, and Jean Rochefort's playing Don Quixote.
Grisoni taught us screenwriting at university and we were with him when he got the call that Quixote was greenlit
Really! I'm going to see him today, I've got a costume fitting at 4pm. Write your names down and I'll ask him about you. I get it now, Johnny Depp's character's called Toby Grosini!