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Harrigan - Arthur McKenzie interview (exclusive)


Interview by Rob Carnevale

FORMER Newcastle copper turned writer Arthur McKenzie talks about penning the semi-autobiographical screenplay to Harrigan, the new police thriller starring Stephen Tompkinson.

He also reflects on his own career, both as a writer and a policeman, as well as why Harrigan draws on a lot of classic Western elements.

Q. What made you want to write Harrigan?
Arthur McKenzie: Geraint Morris, a producer I was working with 17 years ago, was looking for a cop TV series. He asked me to come up with an idea and Harrigan was born… unfortunately, he died before we could develop it together, but the seed grew into the film and I have dedicated it to dear old Geraint.

Q. How was it revisiting experiences from your own life in the form of a film?
Arthur McKenzie: Real life was better.

Q. Many of the incidents we witness in Harrigan are based on true stories? Do they stay strictly to the truth or has artistic licence been taken?
Arthur McKenzie: A couple of them are basically as they occurred, but obviously I have used dramatic elastic… however, in some instances I couldn’t write the real truth as no one would believe them. Most cops know what I am talking about as by and large they are the keeper of the keys for society’s ills.

Q. Apparently, the fire-bombing of a police station really did happen? What was that like to be involved in? And how did the resolution of the real-life incident differ from the film?
Arthur McKenzie: The section station wasn’t fire bombed – an anemic petrol bomb was thrown at the door and easily extinguished by natural means. It was a statement of intent from some headcase… but dealt with!! And it never happened again. The film is a riot… in real life it was a damp squib, but that doesn’t make for good drama!

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing the screenplay for Harrigan?
Arthur McKenzie: Probably the most challenging part was getting up at 5 in the morning to face a blank screen. The story was comparatively easy, but having good scenes chopped on financial grounds was hard to take. There’s whole story lines on the cutting room floor. Convincing many that there had to be plenty of humour was also sometimes difficult as gallows humour is the glue which keeps body and soul together in such a difficult and demanding job.

Q. What do you think Stephen Tompkinson brings to the role of Harrigan?
Arthur McKenzie: One word, ‘brilliant’, and a pleasure to work with.

Q. How much time did he spend with you researching the role and getting into character? Maybe even drawing from you?
Arthur McKenzie: I don’t know how much time he spent, but his research, approach and professionalism were meticulous.

Q. How was working with director Vince Woods? What does he bring to Harrigan? And how collaborative was he throughout the process?
Arthur McKenzie: Vincent was great to work with his energy and ideas were boundless. And he displayed a resolve second to none to get the film on.

Q. You were cited on two separate occasions for saving lives. Can you tell us about that?
Arthur McKenzie: Cops get to deal with such things as part of their duties. It was before health and safety.

Q. And what do you consider to be your greatest achievement as a policeman?
Arthur McKenzie: To survive 30 years and still remain reasonably sane.

Q. Why did you leave the police force?
Arthur McKenzie: Retired time served.

Q. How has Newcastle changed since the time you walked the beat? And do the trouble areas still exist? Or have they improved?
Arthur McKenzie: Like every other city Newcastle has changed physically, but the people and spirit are still the same. Tell me where there isn’t trouble, but compared to Syria we’re not flapping. I don’t know if it’s improved.

Q. Harrigan draws on a lot of film influences, whether it’s Westerns such as Shane or gritty crime thriller such as Get Carter. Did you also have those films in mind when writing?
Arthur McKenzie: It’s a cowboy film with hope as a theme. No, I wasn’t influenced by Get Carter and didn’t have other films in mind. I left that to Vincent. Get Carter is some act to try and emulate – all I have done is create Harrigan for good or ill.

Q. What’s next for you? Will more of your personal experiences be used to form the basis for screenplays?
Arthur McKenzie: A stage play entitled The Now because that is what we are all living in like it or not… and there’s not a cop in sight. Yes, I always draw upon my own life and experiences – to ignore them and move into brain surgery would be extremely foolish.

Harrigan is released in UK cinemas on Friday, September 20, 2013

Read our interview with Stephen Tompkinson