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The Sweeney - Ben Drew interview

The Sweeney

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BEN Drew – aka Plan B – talks about some of the challenges of playing George Carter in Nick Love’s update of The Sweeney, including having to raise his game as an actor.

He also talks about performing alongside Ray Winstone, getting the hang of big action sequences and why he’s happy to continue juggling his film and music careers even though he’s currently feeling burnt out. He was speaking at the UK press conference for the film.

Q. What was your memory of The Sweeney?
Ben Drew: I was obviously aware of Dennis [Waterman] and John [Thaw] as actors but I think I had a prejudice towards black and white films when I was growing up and stuff that was really dated… that looked like it was from the ‘70s. If I saw it on TV, I’d put something else on. When I had the opportunity of being in the remake with Ray and Nick [Love] I watched the original pilot but I still felt it was dated. I felt that if we were going to do a version of it now then I’m up for it because it gives us the freedom to reinvent it. Crime and language, slang and everything, has changed and we have to move with the times and I feel that that’s what we tried to achieve with this remake.

Q. Did you gain anything from working with Ray and if so, what was it?
Ben Drew: I learned a lot as an actor. I’ve been getting by on my own talent for my whole career. Even when I started as a musician I taught myself how to play guitar and the songs I wrote I came up with in my bedroom based on the natural ability I had and being inspired by certain artists. It was the same with acting. It was something that I just did. I didn’t have any kind of training and I didn’t look at it as a science. But as much as it is about emotion and raw talent, there is a science to it as well… a psychology to it. And I learned a lot about myself and my strengths as an actor by being in this film. I was way out of my comfort zone.

There were times where I think I wasn’t as strong as I could have been and Nick and Ray pulled me up on it… not to pull me up on it and tell me I was doing it wrong. But Ray was always there to offer me another way of looking at it, thinking about it and doing it. In this game, you’ve got to think fast because time is money and I tried to think on my feet as fast as I could and it seemed to work. So, I learned a lot from him and I hope that going forward I can learn a lot more.

Q. How was being involved in the big Trafalgar Square action sequence?
Ben Drew: Well, I wasn’t in that sequence! I had to chase another geezer in a different direction. But it’s one thing that I’ve never had to do, a big action sequence. It’s all very choreographed. Another of the scenes I had was in the cab office and they had a stunt double ready for me but I was surprised at how well I picked it up and then felt this envy towards the body double. I didn’t want him to do any of my stuff, apart from smashing though the glass door [laughs]! But the whole thing felt exciting to be a part of because I knew this was going to be a big film. It was great to be a part of, even though I wasn’t actually in the Trafalgar Square sequence itself.

Q. You’re an actor, writer, director and musician. How do you find juggling all of those?
Ben Drew: I found it very difficult because I was offered everything at the same time. I was ready to make Ill Manors years ago but obviously I was unproven as a filmmaker and it took the success of Strickland Banks for all those other things to happen. So, I said ‘yes’ to everything and that was, I guess, my naivety because I thought I’d be able to do all these things to the highest standard that I like to do things and have a personal life as well, which is obviously not realistic. And that’s the thing that suffered. You know, I sacrificed time with my friends and my family and just time on my own to get my head together. I had to sacrifice that in order to do all these things.

So, I’m going to be very careful about what I choose next. I don’t think it’s the case that there will ever be one I’d rather do more than the other. I love them all and they’ve all allowed me to express my talent or ideas in different ways and I feel very privileged to be someone who doesn’t have to rely solely on the acting to pay the bills, or rely just on the music. I haven’t had to do roles in films by taking parts in Casualty or The Bill and stuff like that… stuff I wouldn’t want to do because I had the music and that was going well. So, it’s allowed me to really pick and choose what I wanted to do.

And so far, when I look at my career, I started off in Adulthood with a really great young cast of up and coming actors, and then I worked with Michael Caine straight after that [on Harry Brown] and now I’m doing The Sweeney with Ray Winstone, Damian Lewis and Hayley Atwell… the list goes on. It’s a dream come true and I find myself now in a position where pretty much whatever I want to do is my choice, except I’m so burnt out now that I don’t know what I want to do. I think I’m going to take a break and decide what it is.

Read our interview with Damian Lewis and Hayley Atwell

Read our interview with director Nick Love