FROM CROWN COURT TO BACKBEAT

Ian Hart Interviewed by Carol Allen


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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Do you ever wake up and think, it's Tuesday, it must be Robinson Crusoe or B Monkey or whatever?

Yeah, oh yeah, bloody hell. What it was it called, yes, The Butcher Boy. That and B Monkey kept sticking in my head because Steve Wooley's involved in both of them and I kept ringing up and saying, I'm doing Butchy Monkeys, B Bastards, I've no idea what I'm doing. I'll call you back in a minute. I'm no good in the mornings. People for some reason call me in the morning, get business over and done with and I'm like Huh, yeah, I've gotta go, and I keep missing things as well cos I'm so fucking lame. I haven't the faintest idea. And of course I also have to go and do publicity for film festivals and everything else and I don't know which one's which and I'm going to festivals and I haven't the faintest idea where I am.

You obviously do a lot of research into your parts. You're not one of these actors who says, OK, how many scenes have I got, I'll just read my scenes....

Yeah, look at the script and count your lines - tell them I'll do it, how much? (Ironic!) No, for me it's - I regard it as a privilege to be asked to do it, so I'm not going to mess around, and I'll try my best to not disgrace myself or to not have the faith misplaced. 

I must ask you a bit about yourself - all I know about your background is that you were born in Liverpool. When were you born?

1964, born in Liverpool, not a lot to say, in a very boring neighbourhood which was just one of those - a very early council estate in the middle of nowhere, which was once farmers' fields, and as I grew up there just became more houses. So it was a really dull neighbourhood, nothing there, just grew up, went to the same school as my brother and sisters, walked through the park every day, a very mundane childhood really. My Dad worked in Ford's car factory in Halewood, and my mum worked in the kitchens at the school on the corner from us run by the nuns. Everything was run by nuns where we lived, my school was run by priests and nuns.

So you were brought up a Catholic?

People at school actually recognised them as being quite sensible really, cos I was a bit anti-Catholic. I was a super Catholic, I went to Rome, to Lourdes twice, was always in the Legion of Mary, I was a super Catholic, an altar boy, but by the time I got to whatever age it was, twelve, I just thought, no man, this is insane because you couldn't debate something with a nun or a priest. A priest is a vessel of God. If you say a priest is wrong, you're questioning the entire notion of the church, so you couldn't have an argument with your teachers. I couldn't wait to get out of it, it was very very repressive so when I was like 15 I knew some guy from school whose parents were far more educated and artistic whatever, and he was going to this youth theatre and I went along with him and that was it. I thought, this is where I meet other people. I could also meet girls. So when I found the youth theatre I found something I could relate to that was completely the antithesis of my background, that's why I got into theatre. 

Did you become pro straight from the youth theatre?

More or less, yes. I joined when I was about 15 and left when I was about 16 and a half, did about a year and a bit one or two nights a week. I went to college and did A levels in English Lit, Sociology and a thing called Theatre Studies, which was awful. In the summertime after the first year of college I got a job - the guy who used to run the youth theatre rung me up well he didn't ring me up, he spoke to my mate, I didn't have a phone, he said there was a group audition, an open audition, so I went down with a few friends, we all auditioned for this TV series about teenagers on the dole. It wasn't an audition, we just walked in and sat there and they gave us all jobs, because it was a big thing, there were two lead parts and then there was this gang of about six of us and I was the gang leader so I just went round threatening people and stabbing people and things for six months and it was great. I'd never had any money before and I was made, I was over the moon. We got to go and stay in hotels that somebody else paid for, they gave us drinking money, per diems, and we used to go out and there was a gang of us, it wasn't like you're sitting in a hotel room and everybody else is adult and you're not. It was ten of us, like the best time I ever had. And then from that I went to work on a farm in Switzerland for a while and when I came back I didn't know what to do and I just got lucky. I bumped into a guy in the street and he'd just auditioned for a play and he said there were no parts in it, but I thought, I'll just write a letter - one thing on the CV - and I got an audition for this job at the Liverpool Playhouse and then after about five auditions because for some reason the director didn't like me, eventually I got the job. I stayed there for a year and that was kind of it, I convinced myself that was what I wanted to do, 'cos really that TV job was not much of a learning, I learned bits of technique, where to stand and how the camera works, but in the theatre was where I had a training, from other actors.

Learned on the job?

Yeah. My first job was about teenagers, I was never being asked to stretch myself or do anything that wasn't in my realm of understanding, but just in terms of having to fill a very old proscenium arch 800 seat theatre, that requires voice training, which I didn't have, so things like that. Then I did a musical and a vocal coach came in so you wouldn't use your voice, so things like that which people go to college for I picked up by working in the theatre. And then I started doing bits of TV for Granada and that's what they still do know. Granada go down the motorway, go to the Playhouse or wherever else, see who's young and new and you end up doing episodes of Crown Court as it was in those days, so I just carried on working at the Playhouse for a year, did bits of television, and then didn't work for ages.

So although you're going through this period where you're dashing from one project to another....

Two and a half years is the longest period I've spent without a single days work and I've had that twice happen. 

Did you feel like giving up at any point?

I did other things - went back to college and did a course in photography and video, making little films with friends and things like that. I did other things, I worked for a friend of mine doing videos about water sewage treatment, just a job and you get paid cash in hand, better than the dole. No I never thought about giving it up because I was in the air, every theatre got a CV and photograph of me every year, never employed me once but every year got a photograph. Still went and knocked on the door and said, "any chance of an audition?" 

Do you live down here in London now?

I do I had a friend Dave Morrissey who lived in Crouch End and when I was coming down to do Backbeat they rented a flat for me to stay in, me and the other two guys and I then went back home again, it was a year before the film came out, and when the film came out I had to come down to do publicity and so I stayed at my friend's house and I had to do odds and sods of auditions then, because the film came out and I was getting offers of work, so I was down here all the time, coming down on the train all the time it was a pain, and I was staying with him and eventually he said I'm going to move, he wanted to get a bigger place, so why don't you rent this place off me. So I didn't have to look for anywhere and it was ten times cheaper than anything else I realise now. I didn't realise how expensive things were because in Liverpool I was paying £12.50. So I stayed in this guy's flat, so eventually he sold the flat and I was looking for somewhere else, I was still working down here, I did Clockwork Mice and Loved Up, both of which were shot in London so then got somewhere to stay permanently.

You're not married?

No I live with my girlfriend. We've never got round to getting married.

Backbeat was a bit of a breakthrough for you?

Yes, I couldn't get shot before Backbeat, I couldn't get shot when it had been made, it wasn't till it came out....No that's a lie because I got Ken Loach's job before Backbeat had been released, mainly because Susie Figgis had seen Backbeat otherwise I wouldn't have been on the list. It's as simple as that, if you don't get your name on the list you don't get an audition and I wasn't on any lists anywhere.

Backbeat and The Hours and Times, in both of which you played John Lennon. You don't look remotely like John Lennon and yet managed to give a very good impression of him. The spotlight was on Liverpool when you were a kid, it was great to be Scouse. Were you aware of the Beatles then, was it a big thing to play Lennon?

No it wasn't a big thing for me, but I was aware of it because it became very tiresome for people in Liverpool, because you still had DJ's who were going, "Oh I remember the time me and John were having a piss and.....", and you're thinking, will you stop that, I was at school, eight years old and you were on local radio saying that then, I'm 15 now, all those years have gone by and that's all you've ever said, will you stop it please. And it became very tiresome, we wanted to find, as young people do, something that was ours, so there were bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, Tulip Explodes, and bands like that who were getting national coverage and that's what we were into. When you've got a city like Liverpool which was once a great port, it was once the second largest city in Britain and a very vibrant city, now you've got Matthew Street is our museum, and that's become the only thing you've got to be proud of it's kind of sad. You want to find something else to be proud of. Matthew Street was where the Cavern Club was, they knocked it down, the thing isn't anywhere else in the world, particularly in America, they wouldn't knock it down. They knock things down all the time but if it's got commercial value - if the Beatles had been born in Chicago, the houses would still be there, the hospitals where they were born would still be there because people - in Liverpool they knock it down, they wanted to build a vent for the Mersey tunnel, so the Cavern thing is not even there, it's a brick wall where once was the cavern. It was still open in the 70s, Gary Glitter played there, it was still a working club till something like 74. 

Eight films in two years, in two weeks time you're going onto another one, this is in a country where we don't actually have very much of a film industry.

We don't, no. It sounds like a lot but I don't know - this year's been quite slow really. The first six months were very busy and since then I've been taking it quite easy, 'cos nothing appealed to me. I'm very lucky to be in a position where I can choose to work or not, I'm very lucky, I know I am, never take it for granted for a second.

Do you turn a lot down?

Yeah, you'd be amazed the number of scripts that are around. I know we don't make many movies but people still write scripts and scripts get made which are frankly quite awful. I had a bit to do with somebody once, it was quite funny. They sent me the script and I said, no not interested, they rang me back and said, like you to reconsider. OK, I read it again, no, still not interested. Three months go by, would you go and meet and discuss it with them. I go to this meeting in BAFTA, I sit down, the guy says to me, "I believe you think our script's shit", and from that point for an hour and a half he and his mate ripped into me as to, "who the f**k do you think you are to say our script's shit." I said, "one I never said that, if someone did say that on my behalf they shouldn't have done, and two, why bring me here for that." Then about six months later I was in a pub and the guy came up to me and said, "we've got funding. We're going ahead with it, it's a goer, you were wrong, we were right." So people get very embittered about people criticising their work. It's understandable because if you work long and hard and some little bastard says, "no I don't want to do it," at that time and that day I don't want to do it, there's tons of stuff I've turned down and friends of mine have done, been paid four times more than I've ever been paid, and it's been a huge success and I've thought, "maybe I shouldn't have turned that down," but no, that's the way I felt about it. If I start making decisions based on, I don't want anything getting away, I'll do them all, that's when you start doing bad work then, because you're working from a different perspective.

If you got a big offer from America that would make you international, but you didn't really fancy the part, but it would be good for your career, would you go or would you not?

No there's have to be something in the part - you've got to get up in the morning, you've got to go to work. It's fine sitting in the house thinking in a year's time I'll be famous, so then you move to a different area where you'll be famous, you'll be offered worse work, not necessarily better work, because people who like doing really independent things in Aberystwyth aren't necessarily going to offer you the part now, 'cos they'll think, we ain't going to get him, we won't bother ringing, so then you're losing out because you've had to make a trade between that and whatever and at the end of the day, if it's a long job....If it was a tiny, tiny, tiny part and perhaps I could find in my head something that was good about it, but then you can turn up and the director doesn't want that. You can turn up and have this character for them that will make the little scene more interesting, and if that's not what they want you can't really do anything about it once you get there. What they make out of what you do is another thing entirely. You don't make a decision in the house, when you read the script. If I read a script and I don't like it, when I get there the director might be one of those people who goes, let's all hear your ideas, let's change it, and it could turn out to be a job which is really good, you're not going to know that till you're on the set. Similarly you accept things you think are going to be great and they turn out wrong. It's a big gamble always, so I wouldn't accept a job if I didn't like it. I don't see the point. I'm not going to live forever, I'm going to live another 30 years at least so something's going to turn up. 

 © Carol Allen
 

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