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Three And Out - Mackenzie Crook interview

Three And Out

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MACKENZIE Crook talks about appearing in new British comedy-drama Three & Out, some of the controversy surrounding its themes [especially in light of London Transport’s criticisms] and why his love scene with new Bond girl Gemma Arterton was something he deaded.

He also talks about his passion for London, future projects that are in development [such as The Last Van Helsing and a film about Dick Turpin] and the way he sees his career shaping up…

Q. Three And Out comes over ready with its controversial line with accusations of bad taste and what have you. But when you actually see the film it’s not really about suicide, is it? It’s quite profound about relationships… Do you think people will be surprised? What kind of feedback have you had?
Mackenzie Crook: A lot of people have been surprised. The advertising campaign has been a bit of a mystery to me. But you can’t sort of flag up the poignancy and those heartfelt movie moments in a poster very easily and so they’ve gone with the comedy aspects on the poster and the campaign. I think people will be surprised and hopefully not disappointed. There’s lots of different levels to it and, yes, it’s not a film about people jumping under trains, as people very soon find out. I think the controversy is a little bit unfounded.

Q. Although I suppose you’d be surprised if London Transport or the union weren’t making some kind of comment?
Mackenzie Crook: Yes, although we did film on the Tube and they were sent the script and approved it. It would have been very difficult to make the movie without those scenes that were filmed on the Tube. So, I wish they’d all got together with the unions beforehand and all agreed beforehand rather than this all coming out now where it seems like people are jumping to conclusions about it. You know, a film about suicide and people jumping under trains wouldn’t be funny and is not something I would want to be a part of. But this film isn’t about that. It’s a very small part of the premise.

Q. Is there anything that you, as an actor who tends to be in more comedies, would draw the line at? Or is comedy a subject for any story?
Mackenzie Crook: I can’t specifically think of a subject… I’m tempted to say paedophilia wasn’t a subject for comedy but then there was the Chris Morris thing a few years back, which I thought was brilliant. It’s difficult because suicide is obviously no laughing matter and is very distressing to all involved but no more so than murder and yet how many comedy movies have been made about that? So, even with the darkest and most distressing subjects there’s always going to be humour not far away, just under the surface. And it does help otherwise we’d just get ourselves into a massive trough of depression if there wasn’t humour just around the corner.

Q. When you say the film is not about suicide, what would you say it is about?
Mackenzie Crook: It’s about human emotions and friendships. It’s basically a road movie and it’s the friendship that develops between the Paul [Mackenzie Crook] and Tommy [Colm Meaney] character that is the main body of the movie and where the humour comes from – the situations they get into. I think it’s a brilliant premise but it’s quite ridiculous as well and you soon realise that and the character, Paul, soon realises that it’s not as easy as perhaps he first thought… on paper, it seems like an easy way to get some money but he soon realises it’s not.

Q. Is it true that you broke a rib during filming?
Mackenzie Crook: It was the scene where I’m running across the Lake District and I get thrown over the railing over the river. It wasn’t Colm that did it, I have to point out, it was during rehearsal that the pads were put too high up or something and I went down and thought I haven’t got much padding. But that was very early on in the movie. I was planning to do some weights or something before I had to take my clothes off for the love scene but that didn’t happen, so I was my usual cadaverous self [laughs].

Q. Were you self-conscious about the love scene?
Mackenzie Crook: Yeah, it was nerve-wracking. I wasn’t looking forward to it just because it’s a very awkward thing to do with someone that you’re not actually in love with.

Q. But you beat James Bond to the girl [Gemma Arterton]…
Mackenzie Crook: Exactly [laughs]! She didn’t know at the time that she was a Bond girl. I wonder if Daniel Craig’s been asked “what’s it like to follow in Mackenzie Crook’s footsteps?”

Q. Your character describes London as a great big ant hill where nothing works. Do you agree?
Mackenzie Crook: No, I wouldn’t. I love London and I’m passionate about it. That was a line in the movie that I was not uncomfortable with saying, because I’m acting obviously, but that I totally didn’t agree with it.

Q. What are its good points?
Mackenzie Crook: I’m passionate about history and there’s no more historic place than London. We’re sitting on a thousand years of history and you can smell it as you’re walking around the streets.

Q. Aren’t you doing a screenplay based on London’s history?
Mackenzie Crook: Yes. It’s actually the story of Dick Turpin, the highwayman. We’re finishing that off now. I’m writing with a guy in the States called Greg Ellis. We’re trying to get it made in the not too distant future. But Dick Turpin was an Essex boy but he was part of this gang that terrorised the Home Counties and north of London, Marylebone, in the 18th Century.

Q. Are you writing it with a view to starring in it?
Mackenzie Crook: Oh yes! [Laughs] That’s the plan.

Q. How are you on horses?
Mackenzie Crook: I’m alright. I sort of lied to Terry Gilliam and said that I could ride horses to get a part in The Brothers Grimm and when I got the part I then had to hurry and go away to learn how to ride them.

Q. How’s fatherhood?
Mackenzie Crook: It’s wonderful. I have a five-year-old son who is very proud to see my face massively on bus stops all over the place. And I have a three-month old daughter.

Q. Would you like to make more family friendly films with them in mind?
Mackenzie Crook: I don’t think I’m going to go out looking for family films. I mean I’ve done Pirates of the Caribbean obviously, which he really enjoys. And I did a movie called City of Ember last year, which is out in the autumn, and I think that’s going to be spectacular and something he can watch. I’m going to pick the parts that appeal to me, whether they’re for kids or grown ups.

Q. Did you understand the third Pirates film… and be honest?
Mackenzie Crook: No… but that’s part of their charm that they’re so desperately confusing [laughs].

Q. Was the third one chaotic to make because the script was still being finished as you were filming?
Mackenzie Crook: Yes. We were shooting the second and third ones simultaneously, so sometimes you’d do a scene from the third one in the morning and then a scene from the second one in the afternoon. So we just had to completely put our trust in [director] Gore Verbinski and he, to his credit, knew absolutely of course what was going on and he was able to tell us what came before and after this particular scene. So it was just a case of trusting the director.

Q. Were you sad when you had to say goodybe to that character?
Mackenzie Crook: Yeah, I was. It was a very intense and long period of my life and when we finished the sequels there’s no telling whether it’ll come back again. I still don’t know whether they’ll try and do another one. So, it was sad.

Q. Didn’t Johnny Depp give you advice on the birth of your first child?
Mackenzie Crook: Yeah, he was a pain in the arse [laughs]. He’s a family man, he adores his family over anything else, and he told me what to expect and had some good advice.

Q. Who are you acting with on City of Ember?
Mackenzie Crook: I have some great scenes with Bill Murray. He plays the mayor of the city and I play his sort of right-hand man called Looper. Saoirse Ronan, who was nominated for an Oscar for Atonement, is also in it, as is Harry Treadaway and Tim Robbins, although I didn’t get to do any scenes with him.

Q. How was working with Bill Murray?
Mackenzie Crook: Brilliant! He’s amazing. He was exactly how I hoped he would be. He’s very amusing and sort of pretending to be grumpy. I think it’s part of the character he plays but he’s just a very dry wit.

Q. You’ve also got The Last Van Helsing?
Mackenzie Crook: Yes, I’m in the first and last episode playing a camp vampire. There’s comic elements in the character but I obviously wanted to make it sinister as well. It is a supernatural horror thriller kind of thing, so my appearance was changed. I didn’t want it to look like Gareth out of The Office being a vampire.

Q. Did you get Hammer horror style vampire teeth?
Mackenzie Crook: I was sort of a 50s throwback. I had a huge quiff and Teddy boy outfit and the vampire teeth… but quite subtle teeth. And a false nose. At some point in the past my character’s nose has been ripped off and replaced with a casty ivory one, so I’ve gone from a fake eyeball in Pirates to a fake nose in The Last Van Helsing.

Q. There’s a line in Three & Out where your character is described as being different. Does that sort of explain your career because you’re not the conventional leading man?
Mackenzie Crook: It’s probably a good point. I didn’t necessarily think I’d ever get to play leading man material and even this is… yes, I’m the lead with Colm Meaney but I still wouldn’t class it as the romantic lead. It’s still the sort of quirky, different role that I’m playing but just bumped up a bit.

Q. But how are you finding the spotlight now that you’ve made the leap to leading man?
Mackenzie Crook: Oh, I’ll tell you after the premiere. It’s fine. The fame thing isn’t something that sits very comfortably but it’s part of the job I guess. I’ve wanted to be a professional actor for years and if you get any sort of success in that field then fame sort of comes along with it. But I don’t know if I’m sort of media fodder like other people are. I’m essentially a family man.

Q. Presumably people still do talk about your role in The Office and it’s going to be the one you’re remembered for. Is that ok with you?
Mackenzie Crook: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve accepted that probably no matter what else I do that was the first big role that put me on the map and that’s what I’ll be remembered for. That series was a phenomenon and people took it so much to their hearts. So I think it’ll be remembered for a good few years to come but I’m absolutely fine with that because I’m proud of that work.

Q. Do you watch the American version?
Mackenzie Crook: I haven’t seen all of it, or followed it, but the bits that I have seen they’ve done a really good job, I can’t deny that. I did have a problem with it at first, just the whole idea of why do they need to do it? Have we not done the job well enough? But now I’ve come to realise that we only made 14 episodes, which isn’t even a season’s length in the States. And the way they’ve done it is great. The cast is brilliant and the writing is brilliant, so I’ve got no problem now. It was strange seeing their first episode because it was pretty much the same script and there was little ad libs that I might have come up with that I then saw in the American one and thought: “That’s my line!”

Q. Do your paths cross much with Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman now? Or is it like ships that pass…
Mackenzie Crook: It really is like that, unfortunately. I’d love to see more of those guys. We were so very close and spent such a lot of time making The Office, and such an amazing time, but we’re now always so busy in different places that it’s sometimes at an awards ceremony or turning up to a function that we get to see each other. The last time I saw Ricky was on stage at Wembley at the Diana Concert, which was surreal.

Q. Finally, can you tell us a little bit about Abraham’s Point?
Mackenzie Crook: That’s a beautiful film and it’s so different from this and other work I’ve done. It’s quite serious. It’s a very quiet, thoughtful movie that should hopefully get a lot of attention. Wyndham Price is a very impressive man and a great director. He wrote it and it’s a project he’s been working on for years, so I really hope that he gets noticed.

Read our review of Three & Out

Read our interview with Colm Meaney