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I Give It A Year – Rafe Spall interview

I Give It A Year

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RAFE Spall talks about making his debut as a leading man in a feature film in I Give It A Year and why he felt he needed to get into shape for some of the more compromising scenes.

He also talks about some of his career choices, why comedy is his favourite medium, and what it was like to work with directors of the calibre of Ridley Scott and Ang Lee in the same year.

Q. Working Title essentially made Hugh Grant who he is today. Did you look at your role in this as being somewhat anti Hugh Grant, in that it’s very much an anti rom-com?
Rafe Spall: No, I wouldn’t say anti Hugh Grant. I think he’s a really amazing actor and a hero because I think people underestimate what he does and how difficult what he does is. I sort of discovered that making this film. To be able to bring whatever makes you interesting and original and attractive in real life onto the screen is no mean feat. And he does that beautifully. I suppose, that was what I was trying to do… bring a version of myself, albeit a Dan Mazer version of me. But I think he’s brilliant and I’m a massive fan of romantic comedy and comedy and Working Title romantic comedy. So, it was a lovely thing to be able to work with this company because they do it so well and look after you so well. But aside from that, the first time I met Dan he always made it clear that he wanted me to be in the film, although I had yet to be convinced that I could play someone who Rose Byrne would find attractive. He always knew that she would find me attractive and stuck by me. So, it was always great to have that support.

Q. When you were doing Prometheus and building up to this movie you said you were nervous, not just because this was your first lead role, but because it required nudity…
Rafe Spall: Yeah, I was nervous [blushes slightly]. I was nervous about playing a lead part in a Working Title romantic comedy and I was also nervous about the fact that I not only had to take my clothes off, but get my willy out. There’s certain things you can do to make yourself look better, but there’s nothing you can do about your willy. Your willy is your willy and no amount of working out is going to make your willy look any different. You get what you’re given. But I wanted to look my best and to whip myself into any semblance of handsomeness. And that was hard going. It doesn’t come naturally, my handsomeness [laughs].

Q. The script is packed with a lot of really mortifying in-law experiences. How did you magnify those experiences but still make them plausible?
Rafe Spall: I think in any kind of comic scene you’re going to perhaps push the boundaries of plausibility but as long as there is some semblance of logic I think as an audience you’ll buy it and as an actor, when it comes to playing things like that, it gives you something to delve into. When I don’t buy into a comic scene is the type of scenario where you’d just go: “Well, that would never happen.” But I think every scene in this film, albeit rather awkward, you could imagine then happening. It sounds a little bit cheesy but you have to start from a place of truth, even in comedy… perhaps even more so. And Dan writes extremely funny but true scenes.

Q. Can you improvise within that?
Rafe Spall: Dan positively encouraged improvisation, which was great, especially as he was the writer as well. Some people can be really precious about that. But he gave us free rein really.

Q. When you improvise on set, do you log it and hope that it’s going to be used?
Rafe Spall: You do stuff that gets a reaction and you think ‘that’s a winner’ and then it never sees the light of day. But the thing with improvisation is that 90% of what you come up with won’t be used and for good reason. But you keep going for the occasional gem that you might come up with. And that’s another thing… you do a scene and a lot of the time, Dan would keep it running. We wouldn’t cut. So, you come up with something that might be funny and then you go, ‘alright, what else’? So, you kind of throw stuff against the wall and see what happens. But you’ve got to be prepared to make a fool of yourself. You feel a certain pressure to make the crew laugh, in a way.

You can’t help it as an actor, if you’ve got a room of people that you feel like you’re playing to, when actually the focus fella is trying to keep you in focus and the sound guy is trying not to get his boom in. But it is kind of a badge of honour if you can make the focus guy laugh. Basically, you do the rehearsal with Rose and Dan, then you do it where you show the crew and that’s almost like doing a little play – you’re doing a little show for the crew and invariably you get nothing from them [laughs] because they’re looking at the things they need to do, or they’ve seen it over and over again. They’re not looking for that. So, it is weird. But that’s why I try and make Dan laugh and I try and make Rose laugh and I know what Rose Byrne’s ‘I’m trying not to laugh’ face looks like now. So, when I watched Bridesmaids again recently, she’s doing it all the way through!

I Give It A Year

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you did get into shape physically?
Rafe Spall: I watched what I ate for a bit and did a bit of exercise. I wanted to look alright because I knew I had to take my clothes off and I knew I was starring alongside some extremely attractive women! I think it was Humphrey Bogart who said that the only reason people found him attractive was because of the attractive women he played opposite. So, as audience member you go: “Well, if she would find him attractive, then surely I must too!” Playing opposite beautiful actress of the calibre of Rose Byrne and Anna Faris is amazing – it does a lot of the work for you. But I also went to the gym a few times!

Q. We never know what we’re going to see you in next. Is it the case that you’re always looking to do things different or is it what comes along?
Rafe Spall: I don’t plan it. I do whatever comes my way that I believe in and that I care about and that I think I can offer something to. I love doing comedy, I really do. It was perhaps my first love. And I think, as an actor, you’re young and you do school plays and the reason you go ‘I might do more of this’ is because you make people laugh in a school play. You don’t go and do Hamlet when you’re nine and go: “I feel people were really moved out there!” You do a silly voice and everyone laughs and you go: “Ooh, that feels quite nice. I might make a life out of this!”

So, that’s where the seed is sewn and that’s what I love doing more than anything. But I just do whatever comes my way that I care about really. I was given a chance in this film to be a lead part in a Working Title comedy, which is an honour. Not many people have been given that opportunity and those that have, have done very well at it. So, as long as people want to keep employing me, I’m not choosy about what they’re asking me to do so long as I care about it.

Q. Is there a little bit of your Pete Versus Life character in this role? And will we ever see you play Pete Versus Life again?
Rafe Spall: Sure, the thing with the similarity between Pete and Josh is that it’s my face and I look the same as him [laughs]. But the thing is, that’s quite difficult because if you look the same as someone and you’re using your own accent and you’re doing a bit of comedy, everyone is going to go: “Well, that’s the same as the last comedy he did.” But I think while there may well be some parallels in that they’re both a bit silly and a bit idiotic and inexplicably do really well with women… welcome to my world [laughs]. I don’t mind if people draw parallels because I’m so proud of them both.

I Give It A Year

Q. You mentioned being nervous about stepping up and doing your first leading role in a film, so what was the experience of actually doing it like? And how much did you take away from the experience of working with people like Ang Lee and Ridley Scott last year?
Rafe Spall: Um, so the first part was… I was nervous. I’m nervous in every part I do, whether it’s a supporting part or a lead in something. This is the first leading part in a feature film I’ve done but I’ve done leading parts on TV. And this was certainly the biggest part in a romantic comedy that I’ve ever done. And there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with that, especially when your predecessors are people like Hugh Grant. So, that was a worry. But honestly, Dan always made me feel confident and that I could do it. He was incredibly encouraging. And Rose Byrne, who I do a lot of my stuff with, is a really…. not only a funny, brilliant actress but a funny, brilliant girl and she made me feel like I could do it as well. I had a brilliant time. I had a really brilliant time. We had a laugh. It’s supposed to be fun making films and they’re not always. But this one was. So, that was what I took away from it really – it was just a great laugh.

In terms of working with Ridley and Ang and Dan Mazer all in one year… that’s the holy trinity! No, they’re both different, Ang and Ridley. But it’s slightly amazing, just the thought of being in a Ridley Scott film and an Ang Lee film. I watch the films and I don’t know why I’m in them, but I’m in them and I shall take things away forever – things that I’ll keep to myself. But you get a note from Ang Lee, and you listen to it, and he walks away and you go: “Ang Lee just spoke to me!” First of all, I’m a fan of films. I love movies. And I love Ang and Ridley’s films. So, to be able to be a part of them… bloody hell.

Q. Did you ever get over that?
Rafe Spall: You do get over it. All actors, or most actors, operate from a place of fear… fear of getting sacked and people telling you ‘it’s not working out’ – the dreaded tap on the shoulder. So, you just want to do your best, especially with people like Ang and Ridley. I was being flip when I put Dan in there. But I honestly do trust his taste as well and I want to make him like what I was doing. And that’s what kind of links all the great directors together, whether it’s Ang Lee or Ridley Scott or Dan Mazer – you want to please them.

View photos from I Give It A Year