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Sugarhouse - Steven Mackintosh interview

Steven Mackintosh in Sugarhouse

Interview by Rob Carnevale

STEVEN Mackintosh talks about appearing in Sugarhouse, getting beaten up by Andy Serkis and why the role took a lot out of him – mentally and physically…

He also discusses the joy of working on independent films and gives us an insight into some of his future film projects, including losing weight for The Escapist and starring alongside Viggo Mortensen in The Good

What attracted you to Sugarhouse?
Steven Mackintosh: Well, really the main thing was I just thought they were great acting parts. Tom [my character] had lots of range and there was a lot of scope to have some fun with him. It was a great character to really get my teeth into.

Did you identify with him in any way?
Steven Mackintosh: At the heart of the film is a story that a lot of people can relate to, when Tom’s pain is finally revealed. It’s about his life being stolen from him. Everything he held dear has gone and there’s something in that I could relate to being a husband and a father. What I liked about it is that Tom’s secret is sat on for a long time. As the audience, you’re left guessing for a long time and I always liked that when I first read it. You’re constantly thinking: “What does he want? What’s his story?”

He’s expecting to go in there and make a nice clean transaction but because D [Ashley Walters] is this kind of loaded spring of a person that’s hard to pin down, it’s not as straight forward as he’d hoped. He’s pushed and tested by this guy. And then there’s this tornado-like other character [played by Andy Serkis] who steams in and the pressure of the situation forces Tom to the brink until he finally can’t hold the pretence anymore. He’s broken down and at his lowest ebb and finally able to lay his cards on the table.

How mentally and physically demanding was the role?
Steven Mackintosh: Really, really physically and mentally. It was a tough shoot – four weeks, which isn’t very long for a film. We were in one location… But even though it was tough, it was perfect for that pressure cooker feeling of the film. It was also very hot and that really kind of got all of us into the right frame of mind. We were trapped in this steamy warehouse, we couldn’t get out and that added to the tension that the film needed to create. I did feel physically wrecked by the end of it but I expected to be. If I hadn’t come out a little bruised I might have thought I’d been cheating. It should have hurt a bit.

Q. I heard a story that Andy [Serkis] got a little carried away when “tuning up” one of the younger cast members. Did he refuse to pull any of his punches with you given that he gives you quite a pounding at one stage?
Steven Mackintosh: [Laughs] I got a serious pounding! I’d heard stories from others and his reputation came well before him. So I became genuinely scared as those sequences came up. I started asking people if he really didn’t pull his punches and I did become genuinely apprehensive. But that was great because in the early part of film Tom can’t care less about Andy’s character or anyone else – he’s beyond the point of caring. But an interesting thing happens throughout the course of the film and Tom rediscovers feelings – and one of those is fear, he realises he’s afraid and that this madman is going to kill him. Andy [Serkis] managed to create an air of menace that was genuine and that was fantastic because it really worked in pitching the performance just right.

How did you enjoy working with Ashley Walters?
Steven Mackintosh: He’s fantastic. It was amazing because as we started working together we got a sense that it was working between us. We’re so completely different and the energy of our performances are also completely different. It made each scene exciting to do. But there was also a lot of humour between us and we laughed a lot about some of the lines and situations we faced. I also loved what he was doing with his part, and how he brought charm and energy to it. In contrast to D, I’m sitting on this energy until we both experience this kind of flip around. He’s eventually broken down as well.

Q. Sugarhouse and the forthcoming Small Engine Repair are two very independent British films. Is it important to you as an actor to support such films where possible?
Steven Mackintosh: I often think scripts like this are great and if everyone believes in them there can be an incredible feeling of commitment to them. Small Engine Repair was shot for a small amount of money in a remote part of Ireland. But on both Sugarhouse and Small Engine Repair everyone believed and wanted to make it work, so you get a camaraderie and commitment to the work that’s amazing to witness.

We had some extraordinarily gifted people on Sugarhouse that have worked on much bigger films, but they were all prepared to take a cut in pay because they really liked this little film and wanted to make it work. I think every actor has to find a balance between sorting their finances and taking on smaller, more personal projects. Certainly, getting that balance is what I’d ask for if I could. Everyone wants to do great scripts because fantastic writing is quite hard to find. When it lands in your lap you get excited. It’s not then about how much you get paid, it’s: “I want to do this because I think I can give something to this.”

What’s also nice about Sugarhouse and Small Engine Repair is that they’re both completely different and that’s important to me – to keep the variation going, and not to be pinned down. It’s always the aim to try and ring the changes in each part as much as possible. In Small Engine Repair, I’m playing a rural guy who’s fixing leaf blowers and lawnmowers in rural Ireland, as opposed to Tom in Sugarhouse who’s this City guy about to explode.

You also continue to be very busy. Can you tell us a bit about The Escapist, with Brian Cox and Joseph Fiennes?
Steven Mackintosh: Yes, earlier this year I shot The Escapist with Brian Cox, Joe Fiennes and Damien Lewis. Again, it’s really a great, great script by first time writer-director Rupert Wyatt who, I think, is going to do really well. It’s a really classy script. It was a bit like a puzzle to read, and quite cryptic, but it comes together at the end. It’s basically a smart angle on a prison escape movie.

I play a guy called Tony who’s a serious junkie within the prison. I’m also the brother of Damien Lewis’s character and together they’re running the prison – everything has to be operated through them. He’s a fairly nasty guy. I actually had to lose weight for the part. Rupert asked me how I felt about getting really scrawny. I’m not the biggest of guys anyway but I’m fortunate I can just pack it away and it doesn’t seem to show. So I dropped some calories. I saw some rushes for it the other day and it appears to have worked. I look fairly slight.

Q. How difficult was it to lose the weight?
Steven Mackintosh: I was careful about doing it. I didn’t want to do anything dangerous. But what I did worked for the role and gave me that haunted, wasted look the character definitely would have had. I also have very short, cropped hair.

Q. You’ve also just wrapped on Good, alongside Viggo Mortensen?
Steven Mackintosh: I’ve literally just finished. Amazingly again, it was a script that had been around for a while but I was so pleased to be involved because it was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. It’s a really intelligent look at a period in time that’s been covered a lot in films – but it brings a new dimension to it. The story is universal in that it looks at the nature of good and evil and asks what is evil? Is an entire country capable of becoming evil as such? Is that really possible?

I’m playing a guy who’s a part of the SS in pre-war Berlin. It was a real pleasure to do and Viggo was fantastic to work with – as were the likes of Jason Isaacs…. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

Finally, are you looking forward to seeing how audiences will react to Sugarhouse?
Steven Mackintosh: I think there’s a lot of raw energy to it that I hope people will respond to. When a film’s being made for such a small amount of money you do start to wonder whether audiences will compare it to something that costs £100 million. But I think people will be able to see a raw energy in the acting that really works. I also think there’s a touching element to the story at the end that I think people come away with. So fingers crossed…

Read our review of Sugarhouse