INTERVIEW - STEPHEN GRAHAM
Stephen Graham is a short man (5' 5½"), but he can bust out a nutcase face that makes bigger men cower and flee. This wouldn't-hesistate-to -bite-your-nose-off sneer was flashed in Snatch and Gangs of New York. He scared the Arctic Monkeys so much that they picked him to play "Scummy Man" in the video for that song, and cast him again for their new release. We talked to the Liverpudlian actor about the Monkeys, being buddies with Leo DiCaprio, and his terrifying performance in the new movie This Is England.
This Is England trailer
Are you in danger of being a bit typecast as a thug?
I'm a father of two and a really nice lad. Once you get to know me, I'm lovely. Me mam loves me. I don't know... I'll never play Mr D'arcy, know what I mean? I suppose you just go with the roles that you have a kin to. I like to play a character that I can get my teeth into.
You've got a really intimidating rage-face. Do you practice it in the mirror?
No, not at all. I'm not like an angry young man or nothing. Maybe it's just that time when you can exercise a different part of yourself.
What was your role in the new Arctic Monkeys video?
Just finished it. Not sure that I can tell you what the single is but the video is really great. It's about two boys growing up. I play a clown in it. A very violent clown... Another violent role!
Arctic Monkeys video for "Scummy Man"
I read somewhere that you were expelled from a posh acting school for being a "misogynistic, homophobic, racist, drug dealer." Is that true?
Racist? My grandmother's Jamaican so I can't be racist. There were only 5 black lads at the college and I considered myself one of them. Misogynist? I love women. I was raised by my mother on her own for ten years, so not sure where that came from. Homophobic? My uncle is gay and I love him to bits, and I've got lots of gay friends. So again, that's not true. Drug dealer? I've never sold drugs. I've taken 'em but I've never sold 'em.
So what really happened?
It was basically a grudge with the principal at the time. He didn't like me. I wouldn't conform. They couldn't put me in a certain kind of box. I wasn't prepared to become one of those actors that they just churn out of drama schools, so I left. I got that reputation because I'm true to myself and I don't sell out in any way. If you remain yourself you can really attack them scenes.
So you're pretty good friends with Leo DiCaprio? He must be the best wingman in the world?
Ha. It's not like Entourage. L.A. is really quite boring. You can hardly get a drink past midnight. Leo is from a working class background, so we share that kindred spirit.
Let's talk about This Is England. What are your memories of growing up in the 1980s?
I remember seeing National Front signs on walls. There were no jobs and lots people turned to crime or heroin. We were into car robbing. We'd nick Porsches and bring 'em back to the estate. We'd go into hospitals that were closing down and just smash the fuck out of 'em. In a pile of shit, kids will still find a way to amuse themselves. I was dead into Steel Pulse and Desmond Decker. But then I got into breakdancing - Grandmaster Flash and spinning around on the floor and that. That was me.
The final scene is so brutal that it's hard to watch. It must've been hard to act.
That scene took three days to film. I'm not being wanky or arty or nowt, but I've never experienced anything like that on film set or in a play. When we finished that scene the whole crew were crying - big, burly men were crying. I knew we were part of something special...
The night before we began shooting, me, Shane Meadows (the director) and Jimmy (who plays the black kid in the skinhead gang) went round to Jimmy's Ma's house for dinner. I asked if we could go. She's a proper Jamaican woman and she cooked us a proper dinner of rice'n'peas and all that good stuff. I wanted to sort of remind myself of that and take that into the scene. Also it was like my way of saying, "Look mate, I'm having dinner with you, yeah, but I'm going to batter you tomorrow."
* This Is England is released nationwide on Friday April 27
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