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Sugarhouse - Ashley Walters interview

Ashley Walters in Sugarhouse

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ASHLEY Walters talks about playing a crack addict in Sugarhouse, avoiding stereotype and being left to beg near Stratford Station as part of his research for the character…

Q: Did you use a method approach to flesh out D and how did you research crack addiction?
Ashley Walters: With help from Gary [Love, director]; he pointed me in the right direction. We read a lot, we watched some documentaries, we met some addicts which was pretty surreal. I mean for me, I’ve personally never been around anyone like D, so it was really hard to get there and it meant going out and putting myself in situations to see what would happen. We spent some time doing research; hours and hours on end talking about what D was about and what he would do, how he would walk, what he would look like. Just very detailed. But I must say D’s energy is crazy – it’s very up and down all the way through the film and it was really hard to keep it up there, but with Gary being so demanding I got there in the end!

Q: I believe you had help in finding D’s walk?
Ashley Walters: Yes, I stuck a stone in my shoe to get a funny walk, so I had to walk with that for about a month. It actually got to the point where I had an indentation in the bottom of my foot, because the stone had actually sunk into it. After that it didn’t work anymore and we had to keep changing it.

Q: And is it true that you were also just driven somewhere and left you to your own devices in character as D as part of the research?
Ashley Walters: [Laughs] Yes, they took me to Stratford Station and I jumped out of the car and I started begging basically. But it was a good test for me, I needed to do that because I explained to Gary I didn’t know how I felt about playing D in front of everyone. It was about confidence and about crossing the boundary because I was out there begging in front of people who knew about Asher D and Ashley Walters from other projects, so they actually believed it had all come to an end!

Q. How much did you make?
Ashley Walters: I made about £3.50.

Q: Because of the power and intensity of the film how difficult was it to switch off and go for a beer at the end of the day?
Ashley Walters: For me, to be fair I wanted to come out of character but Gary and the rest of them wouldn’t let me. Some days they didn’t even feed me, I’m not kidding! I was put on a diet before the film that was basically steamed fish once a day. Gary doesn’t know this but I cheated a few times. But it was a gruelling schedule and it was really hot.

The pace at which we were shooting meant that it was really hard to get any time to relax. I stayed in my clothes all the time and they weren’t washed, so they did actually smell by the end! The concentration of getting the movie done and staying in character was very high.

Q: How would you respond to someone saying D is yet another stereotypical, black drugster?
Ashley Walters: I’d say that’s ridiculous because D was made up of loads of different crack heads and none of them were black! I think there’s a lot more to a drug addict than a lot of people understand. I mean on the exterior there’s a lot of itching going on, but D’s depth and where he’s coming from and what he’s been through and the place where we find him is what I was trying to find.

I think there’s a point you get to as an addict where you understand you have to stop doing what you’re doing but you’ve gone beyond that point and there’s no going back. You’re constantly fighting yourself because everything you do is about the next fix, and yet at the same time you’d like to walk away from it. That’s the conflict I was trying to find and that’s what I think comes through with D, so by the end of the film you can have some sympathy for him and feel sorry for him. I think that’s the real essence of him – the scratching and everything is surface. I’m sure there are a lot of crack heads who don’t scratch or don’t have bad teeth – or teeth as bad as D. But I think we need to see that to know this is a crack head but the depth comes from his emotion and what he’s about.

Read our review

Read our interview with Steven Mackintosh