It's been a while since I did a blog, which can only be a good thing as I haven't quite had the time, but I have a few blogs to do now, from the Frightfest Premiere last weekend and impending future festival screenings of 'The Inside', to the first block of filming this August past on my epic new feature drama 'Cold' with Tom Hopper, Jack Reynor and Rebecca Night, to some more short stories of the comedy genre, but for now I'm going to finally put up my interview with Liam Cunningham with appropriate timing as Merlin is approaching the end of it's filming for this series and aiming to air late September....I think.....
This interview was for Phoenix magazine a few months back, a pretty wicked fashion and lifestyle mag run by Hannah Kane and the effervescent photographer Leigh Keily, who also did some photos for me to accompany the article, which I've included below. This is the full transcript for the interview, with the actual published, and slightly shorter version below.
Liam was an absolute gentleman to chat to, he had to be to put up with the questions I was asking him, but we met in Hogan's pub, had a drink and apart from the initial awkwardness when I had to stop him mid flow to turn on the tape recorder, which felt a bit weird for me to do it as it's usually the other way around, (and bizarrely it did feel very empowering I have to say), we just chatted and it was very chilled out. Bloody cool bloke, if I can be like Liam when I grow up I'll be very happy!
Anyways, hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed chatting to him and that it comes across as he was incredibly candid and forthcoming, and just the way you want to have a honest chat without all the bullshit. Planning to start doing more in the future with various people, but gimme time.....such a stupid commodity, but sadly true....
** By the way if there are typos.....just don't tell me....no seriously....**
LIAM CUNNIGHAM INTERVIEW: HOGANS: APRIL 2012:
Asking Liam Cunningham to take part in a interview initially seemed like a daunting prospect, for despite being one of Ireland's greatest actors, he shuns the spotlight and prefers to let his work do the talking. He is one of those great actors that you undoubtedly know and admire without even realising how well you know them because he immerses himself in each character to such an extent that you just see the character, not the man, the way acting should be. After a bit of cajoling Liam finally granted me the interview and over a beer in Hogans pub on Camden street I asked him about the craft of acting, directing, his current projects which include Game of Thrones as Davos Seaworth, the upcoming John Cusack film The Numbers Station, and of course about a recent poll which considered him one of the five most important Irish actors currently working. His response epitomised the man who is at turns engaging, quick witted and with his thick Dublin drawl, deceptively eloquent and opinionated. "Important? Actors aren't important, it's interesting and it can be artistically fruitful, but you can't say actors are important, cardio thoracic surgeons are important, but actors, I pretend to be other people you know". This refreshingly candid response sets the tone.
Liam is one of those people who doesn't hold back, giving his honest opinion immediately, which makes you warm to the man. He recently won a Bafta alongside his long time collaborator Micheal Fassbender for their black and white short film 'Pitch Black Heist'. "I didn't win at the IFTAs on the Saturday (for the Guard), so I didn't go to the Baftas on the Sunday and we won! It was like when we won with Hunger and I was putting bullets in Micheal Caine on the Sunday and Micheal had to collect it for me, so don't take horse tips off me'. With this in mind I had decided to begin my interview with asking him about working with Micheal, as I personally consider it important and a pleasure to work with actors who you can trust and they seem to work together a lot, on things like Hunger and Neil Marshall's epic Roman film Centurion. "Micheal's great, we trust each others instincts, we're both grafters who are sticklers to get it right, relatively speaking, so we have more plans for the future, but Micheal now, his career has gone like that". He points to the sky which is a fair reflection of Fassbenders career, and having been lucky enough to share some scenes with him I can attest to him being an actors actor. "He was struggling you know, working in a pub, going a long time without work, and then when Hunger came along he was just let loose, he it all out". You're not doing so badly yourself I venture, for those that don't know, Liam was, in my eyes, the best thing and one of the few redeeming features in Spielberg's War Horse, appears in Safe House, and plays the lead in Titanic: Blood and Steel, as well as everything else we have mentioned. "Well people think I'm a multi millionaire cos I'm in these things but they forget I'm not carrying theses things, they assume once you're in a movie, they associate it with you being very comfortable, I mean I can put shoes on my kids so I'm not complaining". He is quite animated on this subject, which continues onto the luck in his career.
"You can't be dealing in jealousy co there's always somebody better career wise, is more visible, or gets a better choice of script, but we all know actors who are enormously successful and aren't very good, and another actor who may be the best actor on the planet can't get a job. I respect any actor who's working, and you'd hope that they're at the very least competent, but you wanna see people working, and it's a good thing. I've been lucky, and I just seem to have been in the right place at the right time on a number of occasions". I worry about what my next job is going to be I say, how when I first began it seemed to have a end point, it never occurred to me it would last and he smiles that rogueish grin of his. "I'm sorry to depress ya here but I've been doing this for 20 years and it takes about two weeks after I stop working for me to wonder what's the next job I'm gonna get, so it doesn't stop.". Oh. I had hoped it would get easier. He laughs at my naivety then. "Look, I despise the idea of being an actor, I love acting, but not the baggage that goes with it, it's nice when people at a bar say they like what you did, and it's good to be appreciated but it's the rough with the smooth". As an explanation he mentions the young man who ran up to him outside the bar as Liam had a cigarette in preparation for the grilling I was gonna give him. I had watched as Liam had politely smiled and nodded. What did he say I ask. "'There's your man off the telly' he said to me, it can be awkward but you know..". He trails off, public recognition isn't something that he much cares for, which explains his general reluctance for interviews. "I try and avoid them, the reason being, the people that I admire, or they do interesting work, like David Straithairn, from Good Night and Good Luck, fantastic actor, I did Whistleblower with him, I know nothing about him, Ed Harris". I interject by saying that when I had asked some actor friends of mine about Micheal Shannon recently they had looked at me blankly. "Yeah, there was an article about him recently being the greatest actor hat nobody has ever heard of it, it's great!".
Liam it turns out is an incredibly engaging subject with a passion for everything he does and when he gets going he is a brilliant conversationalist, who just keeps going. I want to move on to the Game of Thrones question, that John Cusack movie and his take on directing so I asked about his character Davos Seaworth, my favourite from the novels for being less agenda driven than the rest, much more black and white than the grey characters which keep switching allegiances. "I really like him to be honest, he doesn't have that paranoia, he's very straightforward. There's a certain blindness to those who want to be on the throne, but Davos is a great man to have on your side and his loyalty to Stannis is unquestionable, but Stannis is right, as things stand he should be on the throne". Davos is actually the person who you would most want on the throne though, for his honesty. "It's always the way, it's away the way with anything, the people who should be in charge are never in charge, and the people who are in charge, well,I've always said that anybody who has an ambition to become a politician should automatically be banned from becoming one". That's what Game of Thrones is about, we agree, about how absolute power corrupts, but you can still see why each character does what they do, Cercei for example. Shouldn't all television shows have this level of depth for their characters though, this level of analysis as to their motives. "Look, a good friend of mine said to me, Liam we all want to do the Godfather, but the reason we do what we do is because we can't be Elvis. HBO are remarkable at the moment, and people wonder by they're so successful but it's because they treat their audience with a level of intelligence and don't patronise their audience. There's a lot of executives who treat their audiences as muppets, but people get bored and switch off their tellys because they get bored of seeing the same old stuff, and in fact what it is, it's the audience losing faith with the commissioners because they're idiots". It's this kinda of forthright no holds barred opinion that means he won't be doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger move into politics anytime soon. He shakes his head and this brings us on to the John Cusack film The Numbers Station.
Having read the script I can say that there is an interesting politic undertone to this one which I hope they don't flatten out. According to Liam this won't be the case. "It's there if you wanna see it, it's a thriller and there's intrigue and I'm very interested in seeing it. Theres an essay from some idiot, an American military idiot, justifying murder, so we kind played it that it's these guys that operate in this world that is in a sense incredibly self serving, and we're kinda the sheepdogs protecting the sheep from the wolves". John is big twitter user apparently, much like Liam and myself, although I tweet irrational irrelevance, something Liam tells me he's going to have stop following me for. "Yeah, John, he's a big twitter boy, very political, he's got something like 900,000 followers, but I don't follow him or any of those Americans". He laughs with that infectious deep chuckle and continues, clearly a fan of Cusack. "I liked working with John, he's got a bit of freedom about him, I kinda liked that, he's done some remarkable stuff. This film, I went out on a limb with it, I'll either drag the project down and be blamed for it, or it's a big success somebody else will pick up the aplomb. I played John's boss, and I played him with a big thick Dublin accent, I've played American before, but they wanted him British but I said this reads well to me so I threw it at them and they said yeah for it we love it, and so John and Caspar (the director), they said push out the bar so I went a bit bananas on it. We'll see, it's an action movie but without the 100million budget so they have to do something different with it."
We move on to directing. "Any actor worth his salt, he likes telling stories, I'm very script driven, when you're working on a set, it doesn't matter what capacity, you're all in a sense directing the movie, the lines are quite rightly blurred, I don't have a great deal of time for the actors or directors who are dogmatic about it -, like, this is the story I wanna tell and you're a mannequin - cos it leads to shite movies, cos then theres no togetherness, no imagination fired up, no excitement as to who to has the best idea in the room, and that's the joy for me, when you throw out and idea and someone says that's shite, and they say this works better, and you agree, and so you get rid of the bad ideas and run with the good ones, and that's the joy for me, I love being on a set, I genuinely love it". When he gets going Liam speaks in one stream of consciousness, thoroughly engaged on the subject. There are no airs and graces, just his honestly passionate opinion and I feel privileged to have such an open conversation. We move onto the idea of making films, "Indie film is basically in a coma right now, it's impossible. I could raise 85% of a budget but it's getting that final 15% and I'm fucked if I'm gonna put all my energies into making something and then watch it fall apart". It's tough for all filmmakers, with television maybe proving a more substantial way into the industry, especially with the rise in good series, so is cinema going to suffer then, and just be gobbled up by the big hitters in Hollywood? "People thought when tv came along that cinema would be destroyed, but the only thing at will destroy cinema is the price of popcorn, people like sitting the dark just watching a film, you get peace and quiet". Remaining on the subject of independent film Liam talks about how he has been involved in many great films that didn't get the push they deserved so faded into the ether, but he still thinks you should just go out and make films. "Just go out and get a 5-D and shoot it". At the same time he wants to be able make films that have a chance of being successful. "I'm not doing a film to get noticed, to show that I know what I'm doing, I know what I'm doing, I wanna make a film that has a chance and gets out and gets seems and has the capability of making money. That's not the bottom line, but the idea is if you build it they will come and if people go and see it then it will make its money back and that's one of the ways in a sense that success is measured, it's not called show business for nothing, the business we are in is telling stories and we try and do it as honourably as we can and entertain people as best that you possibly can without patronising them and appealing to the lowest common denominator to keep their retina busy".
I don't want to stop him when he gets into a flow and I have to wait to see if he's finished before I can continue with asking a burning question which Mike Figgis recently brought to my attention on his own twitter account. He apparently discovered that male actors, such as Mickey Rourke, see acting as a feminine craft. Maybe I shouldn't have broached this when his back was up on the subject of independent film making as the question immediately riles Liam, and I have to assure him I don't feel that way, in fact I just wanted to see his opinion on it with him being considered a 'proper man, a real actor in my eyes, and so after a pause he elaborates. "It's not that it's not masculine, it's unusual. Talk to any bloke who plays rugby and downs ten pints, if he lives alone at some stage he's gonna cry his eyes out, there's just no camera there to to record it, and the thing with drama is, drama is life with the boring bits taken out. So, I wouldn't hold to that theory, it's like a purge, it's expressing yourself, to be in a position of an excess of emotion that gets away from the mundanity of living, which is why we do it. Perhaps it's a confidence thing, but I can't see the feminine side of it". The fact is that this answer just came from a man who did a two part show, Hostile Environments, for Irish station RTE, about private military security where he followed an ex soldier to Liberia and Monrovia, so if this man says its okay to cry then you better be listen. "I've always had a macabre interest in people like Backwater who changed their name to XXE, that company has the fourth largest standing army in the world, and it's a private company with shareholders, and they answer to nobody, they answer to no government, and that's incredibly dangerous". So RTE made this show, "I'd never presented before and they were a tad concerned so I had to prove myself and we kinda did it as we went along", he continues, " Each show was a stand alone, and we followed guys who were ex military intelligence, running the department of justice in the Sychelles, the training of special forces, cos there's a lot of Somali pirates in that area". The more I talk to Liam the more I respect him and realise not just how intelligent he is, and driven to make projects, to learn and to create, but that at the same time there is no bullshit with this man, and he clearly doesn't suffer fools gladly. "I know actors who don't even own a television, I mean whats the point, it's like being a painter and not even owning a paint brush, there's people, actors, but they have no interest in the process, or seeing what other people are doing, they've no interest in trends, I mean you're just going, how can you be any good at what you're doing". They just treat it as a job I venture. "Get out of the job then, if you're not passionate about it, there's a 100,000 people who are passionate, so stop taking their job". It's be hard to argue with him, not that I'd want to.
I feel we are approaching the end of our chat as an actual interview and I bring up the of idea of fame again, which he scoffs at. "The idea of being a star, and having to do junkets, and wear a certain suit, and sell perfume". He shakes his head. You'd be great at selling perfume, I'd buy it. "Yeah I would yeah, on the side of the road, out of a suitcase before the cops come along". He could be like the guy from Lost in the Davidoff adverts coming out of the sea topless. He chuckles. "I'd be the guy with the snipers rifle, shooting them in the surf, no I just think, I'm not you know.. I'm an actor, my job is to do a creative job....and I want people to see me in a film, and see me as the character and enjoy the character I've played, not see Liam Cunningham in the film, and say lets go see that Liam Cunningham movie and watch Liam, no, I want them to watch the character, and appreciate who that is". So being a real actor as opposed to being a movie star, the way acting should be. "Actors as movie stars, you say an actor is macho, being a movie star is feminine". Right, you're playing a character so people forget about you, not thinking about about who's playing the character. He takes a breath....I've got him started again and his passion for telling me about acting kicks in again as another stream of thought just flows out. "Well that's the point, cos otherwise it's ego driven, and a lot of actors do it for various reasons, some to get away from themselves, some to explore aspects of their psyche, some like to be involved in the telling of a story, and sometimes you're all of I've things, in different projects, and thats what the joy of it is, the joy is in the exploration and the delivery of something, that's what I find interesting about, and hopefully it coincides with something the public will appreciate or be horrified by, or you know make them laugh or cry, etc. I think that's what our job as storytellers is, although the problem is getting the opportunity to do that, but you know I'm in a position, luckily enough, that every year or two something kinda goes big, or gets noticed. I've been very lucky, and I appreciate the luck, but at the same time, if you're given the opportunity you have to deliver". He pauses for a breath, leaning back in his chair and he fixes me with that hard stare of his that just dares you to look away. "I like the dark art of acting, it's interesting, it messes with my head, and it also focuses your mind and let's you forget about everything else". It can be cathartic I hear myself say, as you can express things that you can't express in real life? "Yeah it's great it's great, you get to do stuff that real life doesn't afford you that luxury or that would be dangerous or psychologically invasive and you're in a safe environment. I mean I love the gig, I don't feel any less excited or less nervous going onto a set than in the first gig I ever did, every job I walk onto, I'm still nervous, incredibly nervous, I'm always asking myself the question, what the fuck did they hire me for, I genuinely feel". I interrupt him with incredulity, I don't believe he still gets nervous, not after all the people he has worked with. We won't make a list but it's sizeable, so how can he still get that. "Always, always, and if it stops I'll stop acting, not only that; the nervousness comes from an expectation from whatever reputation precedes you, so you gotta deliver when you come in, so there's a bit of higher pressure, but that can be used, the nervousness can be used. If you're on the right gig it can be a fantastic experience."
He finally takes a breath, and I stop the recorder. He finishes his beer and rolls a cigarette to go outside while I roll some film into my camera. It turns out he has an avid interest in photography and he shows me some of his work which is, I must admit, really really good. I tell him he should have a gallery show and he shrugs, not particularly bothered. So, rolling my Olympus OM 2 around in his hands with reverence he comments that it's the same camera that David Bailey used. Thats usually what I tell people and they never know, but he's telling me. Liam Cunningham, quite the character, and definitely somebody you want want at your table, just don't say hi to him on the street.