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The Firm - Calum MacNab, Paul Anderson and Daniel Mays interview

The Firm

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PAUL Anderson (pictured), Daniel Mays and Calum MacNab talk about remaking The Firm for director Nick Love, why it differs from most other films about football violence – including Alan Clarke’s original – and what it was like for Paul and Calum to headline a film for the first time…

Q. How does The Firm differ from other films about football violence and, indeed, from the original?
Paul Anderson: I think it’s completely different from anything else that’s been made about the subject.

Calum MacNab: I think the twist that this has got on it is that it’s not actually about someone who’s a particularly violent person. It’s not seen through Bex’s eyes [like the original]. It’s seen through Dom’s point of view, so has a completely different spin. It’s showing a completely different character. His journey is showing someone that’s not violent but who gets involved in it and how he reacts to the violent people that are around him. I would say it’s a bigger journey.

Q. And Daniel?
Daniel Mays: Not to compare it to other films, but out film is very character-led. This guy finds himself in over his head with a lot of these dangerous characters. The original focused more on the Bex character, played by Gary Oldman in the original… Dominic was very much a peripheral character then. So, the great thing about our version is that it’s really character-led and that drives the drama on. On top of that, I also think that the football violence is secondary to this story. There’s a lot more with Dom’s family and everything else. There’s also a fantastic soundtrack along with it, and the fashions are fantastic. There’s also a lot of banter and comedy, which saves it going down that dark route. It has a lot of jokes and a lot of heart, which I think you’ll be surprised by.

Q. What kind of research did you do? Did you speak to gang members or ex-hooligans?
Calum MacNab: We had a research day. We went to go and see Millwall Vs Leeds, so we spent the day together watching the football. We also spoke to a few people. But we’ve all been around football and been fans of football all our loves. So, it wasn’t a huge leap.

Paul Anderson: The world wasn’t a million miles away from what we have grown up around… football and its characters. We’ve encountered – and I’m sure you have – flamboyant characters, or bullying characters. So, the story is quite universal in that sense. There’s something for a lot of different people to relate to.

Q. Have any of you witnessed any real-life violence?
Daniel Mays: I have in the past… I didn’t start it, but I have witnessed it.

Q. How was shooting the actual scenes of violence?
Daniel Mays: We had a lot of rehearsal days where we had fight co-ordinators. Believe it or not, they [the scenes] were incredibly well rehearsed and choreographed. It was imperative that no one got injured and no one did during the course of the film. Also, the way that the scenes were filmed… in a very documentary style meant that punches aren’t necessarily landed – it’s maybe a suggestion of damage. It was a very loose way of filming it. Personally for me, especially during the middle fight in the film, you really felt like you were in the midst of a riot really. It’s a really exhilarating watch.

Paul Anderson: Nick Love and his stunt co-ordinator Lee were obsessive about those scenes. They really wanted them to look right. They didn’t want gangs of men in lines, all equally as strong as one another. They wanted it how it really looks and was. A lot of people have this mythical vision of football violence. They think it is like 20 against 20 and like a boxing match. It ‘aint. A lot of times they never got to fight in those times, or have any sort of contact. It was more about the posturing, it was more about the camaraderie, and about the fact that we played so and so away, but we stood there. No one got there, but we just went there, we were at the train station, we walked up the road and it was a great day. Getting that across was really important and I think it’s safe to say that no other film of this genre has done that.

Calum MacNab: It’s a film about belonging to a group. Fundamentally, that’s the questions the film is asking. Why is it that these groups of men feel they need to hang around together like this?

Paul Anderson: The lovely thing is that Dom doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He wants to run with The Firm and be next to Bex. Just going to football with Bex is enough. And yet, if there is anything that happens he has a story to tell his mates. But nine times out of 10 it wouldn’t. It’s just the fact that he went that was enough for him.

Q. For Calum and Paul in particular, this was your first feature film. Do you feel any sense of pressure?
Calum MacNab: I think we felt quite a lot of pressure going into it but we were very fortunate that everything was on the page. We knew that it would be a very good film. So, as much as it was nerve-wracking to have these big parts for Paul and myself, it was also very exciting for both of us to embody a character and take that character on a journey. We worked closely together in doing that and with Nick.

Paul Anderson: It was just a great pleasure. It was exciting that this was our first film. It still is now – but now the anxiety and nerves have started to creep in. Originally, when we got offered the parts, I was just thrilled. We took a deep breath. I remember we had a phone conversation that night where we asked each other: “Are you ready?” And he said: “Yeah, I’m ready.” And that attitude was carried with us throughout. There was no time to be nervous. We just thought: “Let’s do it.”

Q. How fun was getting to dress up in some of the ’80s fashions?
Paul Anderson: It was great fun. Funny enough, when you put one of those blue or red tracksuits out in front of you, you sort of look at it in your dressing room and think to yourself: “Have I got to wear that?” Once you put it on, it’s completely different. It’s like a period sort of thing. It adds to the character and, more importantly, it was the look and fashion of that time. And it was good fashion too, so just wearing that stuff just carried us and helped a lot.

Read our review of The Firm