Blitz - Aidan Gillen interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
AIDAN Gillen talks about playing a psychotic cop killer alongside Jason Statham in gritty British crime thriller Blitz and why he feels drawn to edgy characters and challenging material.
He also reflects on his career to date, being part of The Wire and working with Man on Wire’s James Marsh on a star-studded political thriller next.
Q. Blitz is a thriller that’s as tough as they come – is that what you liked about it? The fact that almost everyone seems to inhabit a shade of grey, if not black… I mean, even the cops aren’t really that good…
Aidan Gillen: Yes, I liked the trashy, violent nature of the screenplay – and I mean trashy in a good way – and the vibrancy of this Barry Weiss part. And cops aren’t always good, are they, or at least they don’t always play by the rules. One of the all-time great screen cops, Harry Callahan of Dirty Harry fame, is also an all-time great rule breaker. It’s something of a staple in cops and robbers films… Ken Bruen’s novels (Blitz being one of them) present you with a really acrid, vibrant, soulful, sleazy south London where everything’s got the twinge of booze and smoke and melancholia and that’s what makes them stand out.
Q. How did you go about getting into the psychology of Barry Weiss? What appealed to you about playing a character like him?
Aidan Gillen: Well, I liked the thought of going up against a rock like Brant [Jason Statham]. Despite being a gutter rat Weiss is unstoppable… he just doesn’t care what happens. He’s totally reckless and totally confident. I really liked the way he looked so alive to me. I got straight into the mindset by going out and buying a hammer, then moving into my character’s flat. No furniture… lived on Sugar Puffs.
Q. You’re no stranger to challenging material, so what draws you as an actor to darker characters sometimes? Do you find them more interesting?
Aidan Gillen: I’ve always thought darker characters were more fun to play. They’re probably not any more complex or interesting than their good, law-abiding cousins, and I’d always tend to see things from their point of view. Like any good psycho, they’ll usually not see anything wrong or objectionable about their mindset. But someone has to play these parts and get their side of the story across… and everyone knows what happens in the end to these characters in films like this!
Q. How physically demanding was Blitz? I’m thinking more of the chase sequence involving you and Jason Statham… How long did that take to film? He likes to do his own stunts, so do you? And does an actor’s willingness to do as much as they can prompt everyone on-set to raise their game and match them?
Aidan Gillen: All that running around was physically demanding but probably more so on the poor guys pulling the dolly at full tilt than on myself. I just ran as fast as I can and eventually you have to fold up in half on the street for a few minutes, dying and dry retching, and then you’re off again. I thought the idea of a foot chase was fantastic and very Barry, who is essentially a kid and would have quite a background in running away and street chases… running away from store detectives and handbag snatches, getting chased by dogs, etc, etc. I was running on adrenaline for that whole shoot anyway – that and Sugar Puffs.
We probably took three or four days to shoot that. I think actors would do a lot more of their own stunts if they were allowed. I’d be game for anything, but within reason – there was one injury on the shoot that I knew of… the guy doubling me on some wall jumps did his ankle in what looked like an easy drop from a wall, so you never know. I like to bring a few ideas along, or at least let it be known that I’m up for pushing it physically. On my first day of the production, I punched a stuntman right in the face, so maybe it was good to get that out of the way then. I’ve actually fought against Jackie Chan [Shanghai Knights] and John Cena [12 Rounds] in previous films so I knew the score. And I’d say I’m not, as far as my physical make-up goes, a person you’d pick out of a line-up as someone who’s going to go head to head with either of those two, or Statham! But I do know that once you think you’re the cheese, even if you’re deluded, it gives you power.
Q. How much do you enjoy getting to share scenes with the likes of Paddy Considine and Mark Rylance?
Aidan Gillen: A lot because they’re actors I admire very much. Mark doesn’t do loads of screen acting when he does… just watch The Grass Arena, Love Lies Bleeding, The Government Inspector if you need convincing of his talent as a screen actor. He’s brilliant! And everyone knows how good Paddy is. My favourites of his are My Summer of Love and The Last Resort. I only had a couple of scenes each with both of them but it was cool – and Paddy likes good music too!
Q. I liked the way Blitz was shot – the style was more Hollywood than what we associate with British at times. Is that something director Elliott Lester was aiming for?
Aidan Gillen: I’m not sure what the mandate was. The DoP was Rob Hardy, who’d shot some of Red Riding and that looked great but different from Blitz. Elliott Lester had been working in LA so maybe that was a look they were after, but I really don’t know. I never really see anything until it’s finished… unless I have to, so I wasn’t even aware of how it was looking.
Q. Similarly, did you find that you had a short-hand with David Morrissey from working with him on Thorne? And will you be doing more Thorne dramas in the future?
Aidan Gillen: I’m not sure about doing anymore Thorne but, again, it was good to get alongside people like David and Eddie Marsan. Some people you can have shorthand with even if you don’t know them, if you know what I mean. It depends on their personality or technique or lack of technique or whatever. A couple of my first screen roles were with Ian Hart, an old friend of David Morrissey’s, and there was almost no introduction required – maybe it’s a Liverpool-Irish thing.
Q. Talking of TV, I’m also enjoying you on Game of Thrones… another complex character. How would you describe Peter Baelish?
Aidan Gillen: I would describe Peter Baelish, aka Littlefinger, as a shadowy game-player, full of wit and charm and harbouring resentment towards all those who mocked him once upon a time… someone who has been bruised socially and romantically and will never, ever allow that to happen again. A schemer but still a dreamer.
Q. You’ve been blessed with some great parts on TV especially, going back to The Wire and earlier than that on Queer as Folk. But how did The Wire change things for you?
Aidan Gillen: Even before that there was Antonio Bird’s film, Safe, for the BBC, which was actually the one that changed things for me, personally. I don’t know how many people saw it but that’s the one which made me realise that this was what I was going to be doing for some time – the one that dared me to go a good bit further than I’d gone before. I did have a brilliant time doing The Wire. I don’t know how or if it changed things for me, career-wise. A lot of industry people saw it, I suppose, as well as everybody else and it’s unquestionably brilliant TV. It taught me to be more confident in playing a long game, not showing your hand too quickly. But I still put on a tracksuit top, combed my hair a funny way and went down and read for Blitz because it was a part I really wanted to play. I try not to play on past successes or any of that. I don’t want to be recognised. I want to stay an outsider.
Q. So, how do you divide time between your passions: TV, film and theatre? Does it get harder the more in-demand you become?
Aidan Gillen: Well, I try to do that about equally time-wise but it’s not been easy to do theatre in the last couple of years because of where I’ve been geographically, where my kids are, being under contract to HBO, etc. I’m really happy that the last year I did theatre, which was from 2007 into 2008, I got to do two Mamet plays – playing Teach in American Buffalo and Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross. Theatre’s when you really feel you’re working. But it all tends to come around nicely, at the right time.
Q. Finally, what can we expect from your next film, Shadow Dancer? And how is working with director James Marsh, whose Man on Wire was so brilliant?
Aidan Gillen: I’ll start on that in a couple of weeks. Shadow Dancer is a lean political thriller set in Belfast and London in the ‘90s, just pre-Ceasefire. There’s a great cast – Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Andrea Riseborough, David Wilmott, Richard Dormer and others. It’s a kind of family drama, too, and it concerns what happens when an IRA operative from a Republican family (Riseborough) becomes an informant… and the tensions within the Republican movement of that time, when the leadership declared they were going to move forward in a non-violent manner. James is best known for Man on Wire but don’t forget he also did (among other things) the 1980 segment of Red Riding, so he knows what he’s doing with drama.