Article/ In Conversation with Eddie Marsan

We interview actor Eddie Marsan star of Happy-Go-Lucky, Heartless and more recently Tyrannosaur, ahead of the release of his latest feature Junkhearts.

Cornerhouse: Tells us about what attracted you to Junkhearts?

Eddie Marsan: The script was good. Because I’m usually a character actor when someone phones me up and says they’re interested in me leading a film I always have a look because I think it might be something I can get my teeth into. I had a look and I liked the script, but the thing that really sold it to me really was Tinge’s work. I saw Tinge’s short film that won the BAFTA, and some other films that she had shot and I really liked how talented she was. I had a chat with Dave Morrissey and he advised me to do it because he said you should work with talented people. That was his advice and I thought it was very good advice actually. It’s the best way to decide what to do. 

Cornerhouse: Your role in the film, Frank, is a former soldier. Did you speak to any ex-soldiers as part of your research?

Eddie Marsan:  No I didn’t, because Tinge had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, so all my research came through her and she’d already done a load of work before. Tinge developed  post-traumatic stress disorder after she went to help survivors of the tsunami in Thailand.

Cornerhouse: What was it like working with Candese Reid?

Eddie Marsan: It was lovely. The relationship that you see on screen between Frank and Lynette is very similar to the relationship I have with Candese. I think she has great talent and was a great find. What was interesting was that she had been studying drama since the age of 9, so she actually knows what she is doing and is very competent at what she does.

Cornerhouse: She picked up the Best British Newscomer award at the London Film Festival recently. How important do you think it is that we have awards like this to showcase emerging British talent?

Eddie Marsan: I think it’s a good thing, but awards are not a very good barometer of things for me. Funnily enough the most accurate awards I find, are the Critics’ Awards because the critics have to see all the films and sometimes awards like the BAFTAS and the Oscars are not a true representation because not everybody can see all the films. And you’ve got to be careful that awards are not used as a means by which you are just marking somebody. The industry can very easily give someone an award because they want them to be the next big thing because they can invest money in them. I think it was good that Candese won at the London Film Festival because she is a really talented young girl. Because of this there will be a lot of people now interested in her. But she was talented before she won the award so they should have noticed her then.

Cornerhouse: Do you think the film industry in general is quite tough in that way?

Eddie Marsan: I think everybody is trying to edge their bets, and if an actor wins an award it changes everybody’s mind about them. I knew Candese was talented when I was working with her, so I’m very dubious when anybody becomes fashionable because then they can become unfashionable and it’s not fair. Candese is a very talented young woman and I think she deserves a long and full-filling career.

Cornerhouse: Moving onto other roles you’ve played. Your characters often seem a little terrifying, for instance the driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky, the kidnapper in The Disappearance of Alice Creed and the devil’s PA in Heartless. Have you ever used the ability to appear terrifiying outside of acting to scare someone off in real life?

Eddie Marsan: No – I’m a big pussycat in real life! But that’s just a few of my characters – the guy in Vera Drake wasn’t terrifying at all. In Pierrepoint the guy wasn’t either, and in Junkhearts I don’t think my character is frightening at all really, he is very vulnerable. I think these roles stand out because they are quite dynamic and dramatic, but really I think my career has a much broader spectrum than those roles.

Cornerhouse: That’s a fair point. With hard-hitting roles like ‘Vic’ in The Disappearance of Alice Creed, what’s your process of ‘shaking’ that role off at the end of the day? What do you do to unwind when you get home after filming?

Eddie Marsan: Like anybody, I come home, put the kids to bed and sit down and watch Eastenders! Sometimes fall asleep on the couch. That’s what I do – read the kids a story and they go to bed, then my wife and I have something to eat and we put the telly on.

Cornerhouse: If you had to choose one, which of the characters you’ve played would you choose to be in real life?

Eddie Marsan: That’s interesting. I think John Houseman was very good in Me and Orson Wells because he was a very talented man and a great facilitator – a great producer. The best producer I ever worked for was Simon Channing Williams, Mike Leigh’s producer. I worked with him a couple of years ago and I never really knew what the art of producing was like until I saw him do it and then realised just how good he was. So if I could be anybody I think I would have been John Houseman.

Cornerhouse: You recently worked with Paddy Considine on Tyrannosaur. This was his directorial debut so how did Paddy’s experience as an actor shape the directing experience for you? Did it make things easier?

Eddie Marsan: Much easier – I thought he was a great director and I’m a great supporter of actors becoming directors. I’m not sure if it suits theatre but I think it suits film. I think what an actor does when he gets a script he creates a through-line for the character, he creates ark for the character. In film, that’s what the director does with the protagonist’s story, he creates an ark and makes it so clear and so seductive that the audience join the character on that ark and become the protagonist in a sense. And that’s what film does, and what an actor who has become a director can do very well. I think that’s why Paddy did very well with Tyrannosaur. The two central characters, Olivia and Peter’s characters, you were with them all the way and I think a great director does that and that’s what an actor can do. And the second thing is, Paddy understood the environment that an actor needs in order to be creative and to be free and he gave us that. Some directors often have no appreciation of that, they don’t know what an actor needs in order to perform – but Paddy did.

Cornerhouse: Can you tell us about any other exciting things you’ve got coming up?

Eddie Marsan: I have Sherlock Holmes 2 coming out at Christmas, then War Horse in January. Next year I have two films coming out, Snow White and the Huntsmen with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron – I play one of the seven dwarves – and then a Bryan Singer film called Jack and the Giant Killer, both out in summer. And then Mike Leigh has a new film, A Running Jump, for the Cultural Olympiad which we made last summer and will be released nationwide. It will be very funny – this is my third film with Mike and I’m really excited about it.

Cornerhouse: How was working with Steven Spielberg on War Horse?

Eddie Marsan: It was great and I loved it. Steven is full of enthusiasm, he is like a 20 year-old making a film and comes up with ideas. His choreography with the camera is fantastic, so as an actor you already feel like you are giving a great performance because of where he is placing the camera. And you can understand the aesthetic and the context of what Steven is doing, he is very inspiring.

Cornerhouse: Do you ever get nervous when you meet big film stars or directors?

Eddie Marsan: Not really, because it’s a job – I know how they do what they do. I get nervous if I meet sports people, I’m a big Spurs fan and if met Glenn Hoddle or Sol Campbell I’d be nervous. If I’m with actors, within a day you should be able to ask them to get a coffee while they’re getting one. If you can’t then either you’re not dealing with the situation or they’re not dealing with the situation.

Cornerhouse: What do you consider the highlight of you career to date?

Eddie Marsan: The highlight of my career is being surprised by the fact that people know of me, if I’m honest. I’m just a working actor – I still consider myself to be a jobbing actor going from one job to another, I don’t consider myself to be a film star. So when people like yourself phone me up and you want my opinion on things, or if I say something and its quoted in the newspapers I always find that a bit of a surprise because I’ve been acting for 20 years but for the first 10 years nobody knew who I was. And I’m still in that kind of mindset – I think it’s a healthy mindset to be in actually.

Junkhearts shows at Cornerhouse as part of New British Cinema Quarterly on Tue 22 November, plus post-screening Q&A with director Tinge Krishnan.