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Beyond The Pole - Rhys Thomas interview

Beyond The Pole, Rhys Thomas

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RHYS Thomas talks about the making of British mockumentary Beyond The Pole, in which he plays one of two clueless adventurers (alongside Stephen Mangan) who bid to become the first carbon neutral, vegetarian and 0rganic expedition ever to attempt the North Pole.

He also talks about the Alex Skarsgard effect, combining entertainment with message-making and why there’s a petition to try and save Bellamy’s People.

Q. Congratulations on getting Beyond The Pole made! I enjoyed it very much. But I gather it was almost as difficult to get made, and as touch and go, as the expedition it depicts itself? How long were you on board?
Rhys Thomas: I was on board from the beginning, late 2006. Myself and Stephen were cast and we were hoping to go out before the ice started melting. In the end David, the director, basically told the investors who were undecided, in early 2007, we have to go now or there is no ice and no film. That forced them to pay up and off we went.

Q. What appealed to you about the character of Brian and how would you describe him?
Rhys Thomas: Brian is a bit naive, vulnerable but loving and ultimately brave when faced with disaster. What appealed to me was that he went through a journey that any actor, or actor who has never been in a serious film before (like me), would love to do. I suppose it wasn’t just Brian that appealed to me – it was the whole film. The whole message, the humour and the drama.

Q. How was filming in Greenland? It looks spectacular… but how cold was it?
Rhys Thomas: Freezing. We rarely felt our fingers or toes. We had long days on the ice, when the sun was blazing it was actually lovely – but as night came in, the temperature dropped below -30. That was tough.

Q. Did you have to undergo any physical training to cope with the conditions? I’d imagine you’d have to be fit to get out there?
Rhys Thomas: Sadly, no physical training apart from growing a beard and buying some thermals. In a way, the characters had no real training, they just did it. They weren’t supposed to be experts, or physical marvels – I am neither so it suited me fine.

Q. How much research did you do beforehand into Arctic conditions/survival?
Rhys Thomas: None! Absolutely none. Terrible. We literally had a phone call about three days before we left telling us we had the money and we were off. We’d been waiting for months, we thought it had all fallen through and suddenly we were there. Again, my character wasn’t supposed to be clued up, so I didn’t do any research – that’s my excuse anyway!

Q. What was the most difficult/challenging scene to perform?
Rhys Thomas: The scene where I talk to my unborn baby knowing that I am going to die [SPOILERS]. I genuinely had to break down and act serious for once rather than falling over. It wasn’t difficult to perform as such, but difficult to convince the audience/director that it was for real. That’s the hardest part , we can all pretend to cry, play dead, pain etc – the hard part is making the viewer believe it’s real. At the time I hadn’t had any children, now I have two so I may have broken down even more now I know what it’s really like.

Q. Did you begin to feel like your character at any point and want to come home?
Rhys Thomas: All the time. We were all cut off from home, no phone signals or internet, no TV or radio. I was getting married and I missed my girlfriend so much. Every morning was hell because I knew it was another long day of hard work – we were both in every scene, in every shot.

Q. How many times did you have to spit into Stephen’s mouth? And how did he take it?
Rhys Thomas: Twice I think and he took it badly. Rightly so. I was kind to him and only guzzed up spittle rather than a full on phlegm fantango.

Q. And how was working with Stephen in general? You seem to share an easy camaraderie… Does that ability to bond become easier when faced with such extreme conditions?
Rhys Thomas: It was brilliant. We got on well. He had an older brother quality about him – he reminded me of my brothers in many ways. We were lucky we did get on otherwise it would have been hell. Luckily, I’m not a cock, and neither is he. But yes, the bond does come easier [in extreme conditions], but we got on from early rehearsals so knew we’d be ok.

Q. How much room was there for improvisation?
Rhys Thomas: There was plenty of room to add a few lines or rephrase and freedom to improvise, yes. Though we didn’t really need to, as it was so well written. The only scene that was really improvised was the scene with the biscuits. That was a simple scene which we expanded and mucked about with. It’s my favourite scene in the film where it all comes together.

Q. Environmental issues continue to be very much in the news, especially in light of the BP situation… why was it important to get a comedy/mockumentary made with such a strong green message?
Rhys Thomas: I think it is important to send messages without forcing it down the audiences’ throats. If you do that, you put them off and make them feel as if they are being lectured. This is film is primarily there to entertain, to make you laugh, cry, or whatever. Everything else is a bi-product really. A good bi-product. If you watch Beyond The Pole and come back with a greener attitude toward the planet, good.

Q. Are you personally involved in any green groups/charities?
Rhys Thomas: I do support Brian May’s Save Me Campaign to prevent the lifting of the fox hunting ban.

Q. Much has been made of the Alex Skarsgard effect on the film and his fans’ reaction and support for … how was he to work with?
Rhys Thomas: Funny, a bit mad. I didn’t know who he was. On the last night we got drunk and did a topless Queen dance, I was strutting like Mercury, he was trying to pull my trousers down and bite my arse. It’s on the DVD extras I think.

Q. Overall, how did you enjoy your first feature film experience? And have you caught the bug for movie-making?
Rhys Thomas: I loved it and I have definitely caught the bug, but no c**t as asked me to be in any others.

Q. Have you got any more films lined up?
Rhys Thomas: I have no films lined up, apart from my own which I am writing now. I’ll stick myself in that instead. It’s loosely based on my family and it’s a comedy about three brothers who fly to Thailand to find their dad who has gone missing out there. It shows that not all men who go to Thailand are perverts and not all women are after their money. The other side of the coin really.

Q. What’s the state of play with Bellamy’s People? Will there be another series?
Rhys Thomas: No more series. No. We are all very disappointed as everyone I know loved it, the critics liked it but we simply didn’t get enough viewers for BBC Two. Usually a second series fixes that but we haven’t been given the chance. We have filmed at least half of series two which will probably be on DVD at some point. Or maybe BBC Four. There is a petition to bring it back. Visit the petition now

The Manic Street Preachers and Brian May have signed it, why don’t you!

Q. How is working with Paul Whitehouse?
Rhys Thomas: We’ve worked together since I was 16, so to me it’s like working with a friend. But every now and again, or most days, I still have to pinch myself and say: “You are working with Paul Whitehouse!” I was obsessed with the Harry Enfield Television Programme when I was younger and one of the best comedies of all time is Smashy and Nicey: The End of An Era. I have just written a character for Paul in the new series of Harry and Paul called Mike Noughts. A proud moment for me.

Q. Finally, what’s the most pleasing/surprising reaction you’ve had to Beyond The Pole?
Rhys Thomas: I think most people who went to see it had low hopes to be honest – here we go, another bad British comedy film. But everyone I know has come out laughing, they have come out moved – they have come out happy! They liked it. It really is a very good film and a million times better than Lesbian Vampire Killers.

After seeing the film, my mum and dad have finally stopped saying: “You need to think of something else to fall back on.” Also my dad shed a tear. He’s a passionate Welshman who only cries in films and when Wales win the rugby, not in real life. This got him going, which made me proud.

Beyond The Pole is released on DVD on Monday, July 5, 2010.