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netribution > features > interview with christopher ecclestone > page one

Danny Boyle's two (DV) TV features, Strumpet and Vaccuuming Completely Nude in Paradise are a return to friendly roots after the stresses and general Hollywoodness of the much-chastised Leo vehicle, The Beach. It worked. He must have enjoyed himself for the director which set screens alight with his first two, local, movies surrounded himself with real British talent from his part of town, Bolton. Talent like the superb playwright Jim Cartwright who wrote both scripts and the lead in Strumpet, Christopher Ecclestone.
Ecclestone was born just to the south in Salford and I was fortunate enough to grab twenty minutes and a pint with one of our finest actors after the Edinburgh press conference.

He plays Strayman, a lost soul with immense clarity of vision stuck in end-of-the-trainline council block myopia - it's a raw and thoroughly liberating role, a man who lives on, in and with the filth of a score of mutts because they are all he can trust. A chance encounter with a young runaway musician (Jenna G in her debut) gives voice to his poetry and a type of love develops, Ecclestone's is one of the finest performances you are likely to see. Oh, and there are at least ten (yes…stray) dogs in every scene.
Just bloody great…especially if you like dogs!
If you recall, we last spoke to him a year ago, just as he was preparing for the Gilliam tragedy, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
| by tom fogg & nicola wilding |
| photos courtesy of BBC |
| in edinburgh |

Did you work in Spain on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote?
No I hadn't gone out. It's tragic really for Terry Gilliam that the film didn't go ahead. I was looking for work and this came up, so I started work on this one.

Didn't you work with Danny Boyle before?
Yeah I did Shallow Grave with Danny Boyle about… how long was it 6,7,8,9,10,20 years ago.

A long time ago then? - and I understand you are a great admirer of Jim Cartwright, especially Road?
That's always what makes me choose a part or what attracts me to a job is the script, because that's all the actor's got really. In a way, the director has lots of other things to make himself feel comfortable with: choices about design and light, camera movement, cast & costume, but all an actor has is the basic relationship to the script, so its always about choosing the script.

Is that what made you take it?
I felt I could play that part yeah, and I felt that, what Jim was trying to say, I wanted to be a part of.

It's a free and raw part isn't it?
Raw as arseholes as they say in the piece, absolutely…

Was it as liberating as it looked and when was the last time you had something that you could just do from the gut?
Well I always try and find stuff that you can do from the gut because I think that the things that come from the gut are the most interesting to watch. I've worked with Jimmy McGovern a lot and I always feel he writes with his heart and his soul, and I think Jim does and I think Rita Flannery does. I think that's what we should always aim at, whatever we do, painting, music, acting.

I think we all have the ability to write from the heart about our own experiences and I think if you shape a script or a performance and try to be as pure as you possible can about what you want to say, regardless of where you're from, it'll translate and people will respond to it. I think to a certain extent the north of Britain is passed over and ignored as a film location, as a living experience, and as Danny was saying you know, things do become a little London-centric, and I don't think that's a good thing.

Were you actually in The Road and why was it such an important piece of work?
No, I was never in Road, I just saw it. I think that play spoke to anybody from a working class background, the East End of London, you know. There was a really successful production of that in Glasgow. That's the thing actually, if you speak from your heart, it becomes universal, and Road would probably work in Argentina or anywhere because it's a pure sort of expression.

What was it like working with all those dogs - do you like dogs?
Yeah I like dogs more than I like cats. In a way it was a problem we had to deal with, and it was such an extraordinary thing to have twenty dogs in almost every scene, that it unified the problem. We all had the stink and we all had to deal with their unpredictability so it just fed into the piece.

A couple of times, you actually become one.

How did that fit in, it's not and easy thing to do is it?
That was Danny.

I mean anyone can bark, but It came across well and was shot well.
Yeah I suppose I wanted Stray man to be a little bit like he'd almost become dog-like, but that was because I think what Jim was thinking and I thought that was a very original thing to try to express - and it's great fun from and actor's point of view. And you can't help but absorb the way dogs behave when you're with them for six days a week for six weeks.

Yeah I was always embarrassed doing the animal thing, but I can see the value of it. De Nero said that he based Travis Bickle on a crab, but you'll have to talk to him about that! I don't think it matters whether the viewers can see it, it's just a trick, or a point of reference that an actor might use and it will bleed into the performance.

Have you shot on DV before?
Never, no.

We were saying earlier that you put it into the background and that it didn't seem to impose on the performances.
Yeah in a funny way it's in the foreground because you know you are working with new technology and it can become quite organic in a way because the cameras can move the way another actor can move.

The scenes in the room with the writing on the wall with Jenna Gee and yourself. How many cameras were in a room at a time?
You know I can't remember there were so many bloody cameras at differing times, but I think there were at least a couple, and at one point I had a camera strapped to me and my responsibility was to shoot myself but also get Jenna in the background. It was interesting because obviously I was concerned about my own performance, but Danny and Anthony gave me another job, which was get Jenna framed. I kind of liked that. I liked that responsibility and it made me feel more involved in the whole process.

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