Three And Out - Colm Meaney interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
COLM Meaney talks about why the emotional content of British comedy-drama Three & Out proved so appealing, why the controversy has been mis-represented and why he’ll be playing Detective Gene Hunt in the American version of BBC hit Life on Mars.
He also talks about his Star Trek days [on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine] and – gasp! – why he’s not a Trekkie!
Q. Obviously, the suicidal aspect of your character has generated a lot of controversy. Do you think it’s valid? Would you expect it?
Colm Meaney: I think it’s people that haven’t seen the film to be honest with you. I think if you see the film you realise it’s not a film about train drivers, it’s not a film about suicide, it’s a film about people and their relationships, their emotions, how we fail to achieve what it is we really want through stupidity and for various reasons. I think the real emotional core of the film and what makes you laugh and cry… you’re not crying about the suicides or any of those apparently obvious issues. What you’re crying about is the failure of people to understand each other. The fact that Tommy [my character] just can’t get it right… you get it from Imelda [Staunton]‘s performance. She still has great fondness for him but she knows he’s a f**k up and she’s not going to have him back.
You see Mackenzie [Crook]. His character’s life is a mess and he learns how to live his life from a guy who’s completely f**ked up his own life. They’re the emotional strains and pillars of the film, so I think it’s a very superficial analysis of the film to say we’ve made a comedy about suicide. It’s not about suicide. What this guy has chosen to do is actually very uplifting. He’s sick of his life, he doesn’t want his life to be in other people’s hands, so he’s made a very clear decision.
Q. How important was it that you and Mackenzie Crook got on?
Colm Meaney: I can’t emphasise enough how important it was for us to get on well. The fact that we did was great. But the fact that we kind of clicked instinctively as actors was really important. With the amount of stuff we had to do together in this film and the complexity of the stuff, it would have been difficult if we didn’t. Especially on the schedule we were on. If we were two kind of method-y, talky actors who sat around analysing everything all the time it would have taken six months to shoot.
Q. How long did it take?
Colm Meaney: Six weeks. It was quick. It was the one thing that was difficult about the shoot. Jonathan [Gershfield], for a first time feature director, cast it brilliantly. Everywhere you looked you’d see great performances going on. And it was an amazing script. But it was a tough schedule. Budgets are getting lower and tighter. As soon as you can finish a film in 36 days they say: “Well if you can do it in 36 days, why can’t you do it in 30?” So they’re always lowering and cutting back. So it was six weeks of pretty hectic days.
Q. There are scenes between you and Imelda Staunton that are very poignant and profound. Were you surprised to get that depth of emotion in a comedy?
Colm Meaney: Yes, but that’s why I thought it was such a great script. It’s one of those very rare scripts… you read it for the first time like an audience and it made me laugh out loud and was also pretty close to bringing a tear to my eye. When Imelda came in and we had the first table reading, it really did bring a tear to me eye because she was so astonishing. But it’s very rare that you get that in a script… that they can achieve that.
Q. Are you drawn to things that are more emotionally honest?
Colm Meaney: Absolutely, yes. I think actors generally are drawn to good writing and this was exceptional writing. In terms of both the script and the way that it veers off and unexpected things keep happening to you as you go through this emotional ride. Equally, the characters are multi-layered and complex. None of them are what they seem, or just that. They’re that and a lot of other things.
Q. You’ve got another uncompromising role as Gene Hunt in the American version of Life On Mars… How will you be playing him? Is he completely Americanised?
Colm Meaney: Oh yes, he’s American. David Kelley wrote the script, of Ally McBeal and Boston Legal. He’s a great, great writer and I read the script and I actually wasn’t familiar with the show here at all. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 26 years now, so the script came to me as an American script. Someone said to me: “It’s based on a BBC show.” But people here talk about how it reminded them of The Sweeney and stuff like that but for me it reminded me of Hill Street Blues or Kojak. When we got on the set, it was very much like reel-to-reel tapes and those dial phones. I was like: “I was alive, I remember this…” But it was very much an American character. But I have since watched it because I got send the preview tapes and thought I’d just watch one of four episodes and ended up watching them all. It’s a great, great show. But in a way I was glad that I wasn’t familiar with it before I did it, because it could have inhibited me. Philip Glenister is so great in it [as Gene Hunt]. There are, of course, similarities. He’s a ball-breaker…
Q. Living in LA, it’s the most PC place in the world. Will it clash with lifestyles?
Colm Meaney: Yeah, for sure. But I think it’s a wonderful conceit. We’re all aware of how much the world has changed. It doesn’t seem like that long ago but when you go back and look at the physicality of what it was and you start playing the thought processes, it’s like another world. It really was. It’s bizarre.
Q. Does living in California encroach on your lifestyle. You’re Irish, I presume you like a drink… do you smoke and how do you find the restrictions?
Colm Meaney: I do smoke but it’s much easier there than here. At 8.30am this morning I was out in the street having a cigarette and it was freezing. I went to the receptionist and said: “Is there anywhere, like a terrace, I can have a cigarette?” And she said no and pointed outside.
Q. Are there places in LA like that?
Colm Meaney: Yeah. The thing with LA is that’s changed again a little bit. Beverley Hills has now introduced a no smoking anywhere… in the street or anywhere else. But in the rest of the city it’s been pretty much no smoking in bars and restaurants for 10 years now. But because of the climate and everything else, there are indoor and outdoor places all over the place, so I can name you 10 places I can go and eat, drink and smoke at the table within a radius of a mile or two.
Q. When you have more than two drinks in LA does it get frowned upon?
Colm Meaney: I know as many drunks in LA as I do here [laughs].
Q. Do you find your Star Trek role still tends to influence the way people look at you?
Colm Meaney: No. The only people that watched that were Trekkies. It’s an interesting point because I’m like an actor who has two different careers: there was the Star Trek TV career and then there was what I did in the features. I’ve worked with a lot of people in features – directors and producers – who didn’t even know I was doing a TV show…
Q. Will you be seeking out the next Star Trek film?
Colm Meaney: No but it’s interesting because I would not watch Star Trek. Science fiction is not my favourite genre. Having said that, I did learn a lot from doing the show that there’s some great value in the genre. They dealt with subjects on the show that you couldn’t deal with on a contemporary TV show in the same way – things like homelessness, genetic engineering and other subjects that came up in the course of that series.
Q. Did you know that you were going to be doing it for so long?
Colm Meaney: Kind of… I was recording on The Next Generation for a couple of years and that was great because I’d go off and do whatever I was doing and anytime I was back in Los Angeles and not busy I’d go in and do two or three episodes of The Next Generation and then f**k off again. But then Deep Space Nine came up and they asked me to play the role and I was very reluctant to do it because you kind of figure that every Star Trek show that came and went did so over the course of seven years. So, you know what you’re signing up for. But the executive producer said: “Listen, if you want to get out to do a picture and you really want to do it and it’s really good, I’ll let you out…” And unbelievably he was true to his word and I actually had a really good time. There were some seasons where I did three or four features during the season.
Q. You must be inundated with requests to go to conventions. Do you go ever?
Colm Meaney: No! And the fact that I don’t, of course, puts my price up [for when he does] [laughs].