British actor Abhin Galeya discusses his latest film Cleanskin, working with Sean Bean, and the lack of action in British cinema.
What is Cleanskin all about?
The main theme is terrorism and the spider web of conspiracy and politics that lie behind preventing terrorism. The story follows my character Ash as he develops into a terrorist with a dangerous agenda and Sean Bean’s character Ewan – a secret agent on a personal vendetta to stop the fundamentalist threat, and the cat and mouse game that we both enter as we try to outmanoeuvre each other.
Could you tell me a little bit about your character?
Some of the story follows Ash’s earlier years at university and at this stage he is fully integrated young man – doing what any young man does at uni – going to the pub, developing relationships etc. He is studying law and could have become a brilliant human rights lawyer had he taken a different path in life . Whilst at uni he gets recruited and slowly his impression of the world around him gets radicalised. This, together with his increasing sense of being an outsider set him on a very dangerous and violent path to avenge the injustice and corruption he believes the western world has on the planet. Even though Ash and Ewan have very differing views, on a grand scale they are on parallel paths.
What did you find so appealing about this project?
Though it covers big current themes of politics and terrorism the script didn’t read as an expositional polemic as many things on this subject do but it read very fluidly as a high paced action thriller full of tension. In terms of my character Ash – I found him very compelling as the script explored the reasons why he does what he does and the struggle he goes through as he adjusts to the life around him. This together with the very physical aspect to the role made it a very attractive part. I initially went for a meeting with the casting director and then with Hadi – the director – and then got the part.
What were your family and friends reactions to the films subject?
They were pretty excited and are always supportive whatever project I do. Although my dad did spread the word that I was doing a film with Sean Penn until I corrected him.
What was Hadi like as a Director?
Well he had a huge undertaking. His script was very ambitious and being a low budget film the schedule was very tight – but he really knew what he wanted and always remained calm and in control on set. I’m sure there were days where he was probably having heart palpitations but he just didn’t show it – which in turn lead to a very relaxed and happy working set when it could have been utter confused mayhem. That together with the fact that he wrote, produced, directed the film and saw his vision through is no mean feat.
The film attracted a very talented cast. What was it like working with them? What was Sean Bean like?
Yeah the cast was fantastic and actually we had a great laugh together. Because Ash’s journey is quite solitary it was always a huge delight to work with the other actors and they were just fantastic people and fantastic actors. Sean was just a pro – such a nice guy, so down to earth – no big ego – just talent in spades. Watching him work you could just see Ewan was always there under his skin – it was quite effortless.
What were your best and worst experiences while filming?
Without doubt one of the most enjoyable aspects to the shoot was the action sequences. I’ve not had a chance to do a lot of action stuff in my career but this film was full of action / stunts / fights / explosions etc – it was just exhilarating to do. We had a great stunt coordinator – Peter Pedero who let me do a lot of my own stunts, even though I have 2 left feet, but it was so well planned and he made the stunts so much fun, especially the kitchen fight with Sean in the hotel – it was literally like playing ‘bad ass ‘ when you were a kid – it was thrilling.
The film was shot entirely on location in London. How did you find the experience?
I loved filming in central London. We had some great locations, like Senate House, right in the heart of London. I think it was always Hadi’s idea to use London in a very cinematic way – the way New York or Paris is used in films.
Is it a typical British film?
It’s a sophisticated action thriller. You don’t really see that many British films in this genre, unless they are about ‘cliched’ gangsters. Even though it uses London as a backdrop its style is very international and cinematically it lends itself more to European and American cinema.
What challenges do you think British actors face?
In terms of British films one big challenge is time. Often on some films the prep time for the actor is minimal. There are usually no rehearsals – you tend to meet the rest of the cast and crew on the first day of filming – so a lot of preparation or homework is done on your own. I’m a great believer in collaboration, spending time with the people you’re working with / extensive rehearsals / improvisations before you actually start filming so that once you’re all on set and the cameras start to roll you know your character inside out. You have developed specific relationships with the other characters as the script dictates and the director and actors know how each other work – you can then start to play and truly be in the moment in a scene. With theatre productions you often work together for at least a month before showing your work but due to financial constraints; scheduling difficulties etc this amount of pre-production with actors is still quite rare in British films. I’m quite passionate that as with theatre it is a definite necessity and it will show in the work and at the end of the day it will make everyone’s life easier once you’ve actually started filming.
How do you think British cinema compares to the rest of the world?
Well it’s definitely made a name for itself over the years with maverick directors like Shane Meadows, Ken Loach, Danny Boyle etc and there’s some brilliant new talent like Andrea Arnold and Steve McQueen etc but I think it still needs a bolder more risk taking vision. We need to take on more genres and really create an industry that sustains itself to the point that the big British films really help the small British films. There is such a wealth of talent in the low budget sector and I think they need to be supported more than they are but I’m optimistic that this is slowly happening now.
Who are your biggest influences?
Wow this list could go on and on. I’m a big big film fan – a film nerd if you like. I watch films constantly from all over the world and the ones that suck me in are my very big influences. When I was at drama school Marlon Brando and all those actors that came after him like Jack Nicholson, Deniro, Pacino had a huge impact on me that lead to a great passion in 70s American cinema – films like Bob Rafelson, Five Easy Pieces, Dog day afternoon, The Godfather, Martin Scorsese etc. Watching them for the first time they were so mind-blowing and exciting and they all seemed to have this beautiful actor/director collaboration behind them that really showed on screen. Right now I’m a big fan of European cinema especially French Films, I freaking love the Korean cinema scene – Park-Chan Wook – Oldboy was just amazing, they seem to have this very baroque style of filming violence that’s very thrilling to watch. Oh and I love the American box sets like Mad Men, Breakin Bad etc. I could go on and on and on but I’d be here all month writing a list.
What are you working on next? Any ideas for who you’d like to work with in the future?
There are a few projects in the pipeline but I don’t want to jinx them.
Here goes another list answer – I’d like to work with everyone on my long list – from Park-Chan Wook to Steve McQueen, Scorsese to Haneke. Basically I’d love to work with any of these maverick directors all over the world but really I just want to work on interesting projects telling as many different stories and exploring different worlds as I can and working with interesting inspiring people along the way.