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Snow White & The Huntsman - Johnny Harris interview (exclusive)

Johnn Harris

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOHNNY Harris talks about playing Quert, the dwarf, in Snow White & The Huntsman and what it was like to work with Bob Hoskins on what proved to be his final film.

He also talks about his career to date, forthcoming roles in Welcome To The Punch and Last Days on Mars and working with Kristen Stewart. Snow White & The Huntsman is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, October 1, 2012.

Q. I enjoyed Snow White & The Huntsman
Johnny Harris: Thank you. It’s been lovely to do because the response to it has been beautiful. A big movie like this can sometimes forgo storytelling in favour of effects. But people seem to have really gone for it. All the actors on it have come through realism in their performances… people like Ray Winstone and Bob Hoskins. We all wanted to make it as honest and real and engaging as we could, so it’s been gratifying to see that people have responded to that in what they’ve been saying about the film.

Q. I’d imagine the cast was one of the biggest appeals of playing Quert, as well as the chance to play a softer character than you’re more usually known for?
Johnny Harris: Yeah, I couldn’t really believe it when I got the phone call telling me I was on board. When they first put it forward, it was a pretty strange phone call with my agent. When they said they wanted me for Snow White the first thing I thought was that they wanted me to do pantomime. I thought I’d reached that stage in my career. And I’ve been to the panto for the last two years with my nephew, so I’d actually love to do it because it’s a wonderful thing to make kids laugh in that way. But t hey said: “No, it’s the movie.” And then they started to reel off the list…

Actually, first they said I would be playing a dwarf. Now, I love my character work but I thought this may be a stretch [laughs]! But then they started reeling off this list of other actors and, at that point, it already included Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins. So, that was it for me. I think with regards to Ray and Bob, I probably wouldn’t be an actor if it wasn’t for those guys. And people like Gary Oldman, who grew up a couple of streets away from where I lived. So, growing up, you’re reading about them and you start to think it might be possible. It’s only when you look back in hindsight and realise how difficult it actually is and you think you may be slightly mad. But equally, that’s when you realise how important they are… sometimes without you knowing, they give you permission to try.

Q. Talking of Bob Hoskins and hindsight, working alongside him on this must feel particularly poignant given that it was to prove his final role before retiring due to Parkinson’s?
Johnny Harris: Not many people know this and I think I’m right in saying this – I’m not sure if Bob had to do re-shoots – but the last scene we shot together was the coronation scene in the grand hall. You’re talking about a scene with 500 to 600, so a huge crowd in this massive hall, which had this lovely echoey effect, and Bob’s final scene involved him taking a bow in front of this huge cheering crowd. It was really poignant because you don’t usually get that in film. As a stage actor, you get applause, but as a film actor they call ‘cut’ and you trudge off home to look at the next day’s scene. We get our premieres, I suppose, so it’s swings and roundabouts. But it was so nice and fitting that his final scene on film is Bob taking a bow.

Q. How was working with Bob throughout? You play his son, don’t you?
Johnny Harris: It was lovely. We kind of went through the whole process together. The dwarves sort of come into the film late in the day so we had to find a life within them and make them attractive and watchable because they’re actually quite unattractive characters at the point at which we meet them, with what they do in their lives and where they’re at when Snow White reaches them. So, there was a lot to work on as well as the physicality of it. And Bob’s character is blind and older than the rest of us, so we had to find ways of getting around. We were constantly asking: “How does he get around?” And: “How does he run when we’re under attack?”

So, Bob and I had to work together closely on that. Again, that was quite poignant when you look back on that time. I’ve worked with some big names throughout my career but it’s the process you go through that you pinch yourself about. I remember one moment, while we were trying to figure out Bob’s movement that was particularly special. I mean, we had some of the world’s best guys and props. At one point, they gave us these long sticks to sort of guide Bob around… like an old medieval walking stick. There was also a long stick attached to the two of us. But then one day, there was this beautiful little moment in rehearsal when I just held his hand and we started laughing and said: “That’s it!” These men are tactile. They’re a different breed to us, and they live in a different time, so wouldn’t it be nice if they were just very tactile and not ashamed of it? They can be these brutal, nihilistic men as well.

So, from that moment on Bob and I just held hands… like a dad and his lad holding hands. He jumps on my back at one point and we run. It was a beautiful, simple moment. And yet we’d been trying out all these complex ideas. So, moments like that are the ones you look back on. It’s one of the joys of the job.

Q. Wasn’t it also technically difficult to pull off given that each of you had a little person double who you had to match in terms of movement all the way through your performance?
Johnny Harris: It was very hard, yes. Gary Oldman did a film that I looked up for reference. But I think it’s fair to say that this kind of thing is really difficult and I’m not sure anyone’s quite pulled it off before… to really convince people. And some great people have tried. You need that little bit of luck and magic to kick in and with this, it was such a lovely group of guys and such a great team that there was always this good feeling on the set. From the first rehearsal onwards, so again I’m glad that people have responded to what we were able to do so positively. And it always helps when you get on with the people you work with. An actor of my standing, I’m prepared to go into work and meet some big egos, if you know what I mean. But I made a lot of friends on this and everyone got along. We all had trailers we could go to if we wanted some time alone but none of us ever used them. We were happy to hang out and talk. And we were really willing it to be good.

Snow White & The Huntsman

Q. How was seeing your face on your little person double once the prosthetic masks had been applied?
Johnny Harris: It’s dream-like and surreal… very, very surreal. You go home and there was a point where you just gave up trying to describe your working day to your loved one. I mean, how do you describe a strange dream? It means the world to you but they’re just not able to take it all in and you’re not able to describe what you’ve been doing every day. Imagine trying to describe that there was a little you sitting next to you. And just when you get your head around that you look around and see a little 3ft tall Ray [Winstone] or Eddie [Marsan]. And Eddie and I are very close. His son is my godson, so to see a little Eddie pottering around… it was surreal on every level. I’m still trying to get my head around if, if I’m honest. Every time you achieve that with one little facet, the next thing you know you’re out having dinner with Ray or he’s ringing you up for a little chat! Or you could be walking up the road and suddenly you’re on the side of a bus. That’s never happened to me before.

I’ve done big things, such as This Is England, but because of the kind of characters I’ve played in films, they’ve kept me hidden in the publicity. Mick [in This Is England] needed to have a big impact when he hit the screen, so he didn’t have any publicity and I wasn’t really used in the pre-publicity. I was used in post. So, I wasn’t used in any of that. So, all that has been a first time for me and it’s still quite surreal – but in a lovely way.

Q. You must be getting used to bigger roles though now? Your next film is Welcome To The Punch, which has a similarly starry cast…
Johnny Harris: Yeah, I’ve got a prominent role in that… Dean Warns. He’s a great character. I’ve also done another film, Last Days on Mars, which has a very similar set up in the sense that it’s a small cast, in that film’s case eight strong, but every one of them is a winner. Last Days on Mars has Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams and Elias Koteas, who is one of my all time favourites. And it was the same with Welcome To The Punch… James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Peter Mullan, who I just think is terrific, and Andrea Riseborough, who I’d heard a lot about and have since seen a lot of her work. You go through different stages as an actor.

Sometimes, when you’re young… I’ve done huge movies where I’m not even in them in the end just because of the cast list. And I’ve done pop videos and a lot of short films. In fact, I try and work with student directors as much as I can because I think it’s a healthy thing to do. I won’t lie to you, I’ve taken jobs because they’ve had a great cast even though I haven’t believed in my part. But since getting the BAFTA nomination [for This Is England] a few more doors have opened. Welcome To The Punch was the first script that came through where I read out the cast list and then looked at the character and thought ‘wow, this is great’. And it’s also the first time where I was able to go in for one part and said: “I’d rather go in for this part.” I knew he [Dean Warns] was the part I wanted to play and luckily I got it.

Q. Is he another bad guy?
Johnny Harris: He’s a bad dude, yeah [laughs]. I guess that’s why playing Quert in Snow White was such a refreshing change for me. When [director] Rupert [Sanders] said I would be playing the softie of the bunch I kind of laughed. He did also say they were a tough little bunch. But I also got to sing as well. If you’d told me I’d be singing in a Universal pictures movies a couple of years ago I’d have laughed because I’m not a singer. But by sheer luck, none of the other guys were singers either! We all gave it a go and Rupert went through the list before eventually, against will, pushing me forward. He said they would be able to dub it if it was really bad. But it’s me and now I’m officially on an album.

It comes in handy with regards to scoring points with my little cousins. Prior to being in Snow White I never got so much as a second glance from them but as soon as I was in a film with Kristen Stewart, all of a sudden I was getting calls. I got married last week and all my cousins are around the 12-13 mark and you could see how I’ve changed in their eyes. Now, all of a sudden they’re asking me about my work and asking if I can get Kristen’s autograph!

Snow Whte & The Huntsman

Q. You’ve mentioned how helpful Kristen was on the set, even appearing in scenes with you when she wasn’t required?
Johnny Harris: Yeah, the scene in particular was the funeral scene when I had to sing. And it only got confirmed on the morning that I’d be singing on my own because of the technicality of getting us all to do it. In moments like that, when the camera is focused on you, you tend to find other actors disappear but they remained standing in. It kind of tells you a lot about the feeling in general on the set. So, when I looked around Kristen was there, and Chris [Hemsworth], and Ray and Bob were stood either side of me. I’ll never forget that moment. It was an emotional moment in the film, we were all crying a bit, and when I looked up Kristen was also crying and the camera was not even on her. So, I was tremendously grateful to her for that.

Q. Will there be a sequel?
Johnny Harris: I have absolutely no clue. We’re all just hired hands really… you hear all sorts of rumours and there’s a good chance. But I don’t know is the honest answer. It’s really healthy for an actor just to keep things in the moment. And I’m really lucky to be busy. I’m writing at the moment too. So, if it [the sequel] was to happen I’ll hear about it when I’m meant to. The good thing is that you get plenty of notice with films like that, so there’s no need to worry. I think only the producers know at this stage what’s happening.

Snow White & The Huntsman is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, October 1, 2012.