Martin Compston discusses his research methods
Sometimes when watching a disturbing film you can’t envisage yourself sitting down and having a nice cup of tea with one of the leading perpetrators, but that’s exactly what The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape did – with Martin Compston ahead of the release of Piggy, hitting our screens on May 4.
The Scottish actor, renowned his roles in films such as Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen and The Disappearance of Alice Creed, plays Joe in Piggy – a man seeking revenge for the murder of his older brother, and when Piggy (Paul Anderson) arrives on his door with a plan to kill off those guilty of the crime, suddenly things begin spiralling out of control.
Compston discusses working alongside Anderson as well as his gratifying experience with director and first-time filmmaker Kieron Hawkes. The Scottish actor also discusses his research methods (or lack of…) and tells us exclusively about the controversy surrounding his next feature The Wee Man, a story abut the notorious Scottish criminal Paul Ferris, of whom Compston is portraying…
Piggy is an intense and dark film, but one you must be very thrilled with?
I’m chuffed with it I really am. I mean I was chuffed to get it because it was a cracking script from the start and it’s, as you say, really intense. It’s a cracking cast and it’s just fucking dark. All of the violence is just so real and that’s why a lot of people are taken aback by it, because if you see somebody getting punched in a pub or something it’s sickening, you know, it’s a horrible feeling to actually see real violence, so compared to film violence which is glorified in some ways this isn’t glorified at all, and is dirty and real as possible and I think that’s why people feel so uncomfortable.
Did you get a feeling for how dark the film would turn out to be on set?
A bit. When I was reading the script I had an idea but again until you are there and you see it it’s hard to judge. Sometimes you become a little bit removed because of prosthetics and stuff and it actually becomes quite technical and it’s only when you see it all cut together you go “oh jeez, that’s actually quite nasty”. But I did have a feeling, but more psychologically. Paul was blowing me away on set and I just thought he was terrifying, and the lighting and the mood and the big warehouse we were filming definitely created a scary atmosphere to be in, so yeah I had a feeling it would be dark.
Paul is of course quite scary in the film, but what is he like off-set?
Ah Paul is a diamond man, he’s one of the most charismatic people you’ll ever meet, he is a funny, funny man, and it was great working with him. I’ve been really lucky this past year with back-to-back jobs but sometimes I am quite anal about things and although I really do put my heart and soul into things, sometimes I can get into bad habits, in some ways going through the motions. But Paul is so spontaneous, he uses everything around him and you never know what he’s going to do so you have to be prepared to just go with it, and it was like going back to school for me because you can’t just get through this one you have to be on your game every single day.
Did you find it difficult at all to identify with Joe – a character who is capable of doing some of quite nasty stuff?
A bit, but he can be quite passive and Piggy is the proper driving force and he’s the one pulling him along. There are questions of what would happen had he not been there, or whether he is even real, but without Piggy I don’t think he could have gone and done what he went to do and by the end of it he’s too far involved. But there are all of these feelings in everybody, on both sides of it, it’s that paranoid thing of walking down a dark street and hearing a noise behind you and you turn around and it’s just an old woman and it’s really jumpy, and for the first part of the film it’s just ramping that up, and then you kind of get that feeling you get in a pub when someone bumps into you and tells you to fuck off and you just have to get on with it, but you wish that once you could just crack him right in the mouth. That’s inside of everybody because we’ve all met fucking idiots on a Friday and Saturday night who love a bit of mouth and you just think… “just this once, this one time…” and that’s the line Joe’s crossed.
Kieron has cited influences such as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and you can definitely see some Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes in there too in the revenge plot – were there any particular performances or films that inspired you and your character?
No not at all, I mean Dead Man’s Shoes is one of my favourite films but you have to come at these things with a clean slate, you’ve got to approach it fresh. If you have anything else in your head then you start to let it influence you definitely, and you need to just be approaching everything clearly. Especially as it’s Kieron’s first feature and he is a fresh voice and you need to all come at it with a similar energy and be open to his ideas and be open to what he wants to do, so no I never had anything in mind. You want to be influenced by great actors and to emulate them but no there was nothing that came into mind.
Did you do any research at all, perhaps speak to anyone who had faced similar problems as Joe does?
Nope, went in completely fresh. It’s weird, people have different things, I think research can be overrated. It can be great, especially if you are playing a specific part, but I think sometimes people can get a little too wrapped up in it instead of just playing the moment. There are things you just become obsessed with and it affects what you are trying to do. I never look too deep into it, and I was fortunate in that Kieron wrote the script and he knew about where this has all come from so if there was anything I needed I just went to him.
Talking of Kieron, it’s such a bold piece of filmmaking for a debut production – how bright a future do you see for him?
Honestly the sky’s the limit for him, because he is such an enthusiast and he loves what he does. And he was just so good to work with, you know over time he became one of my best friends and he is such a lovely guy. He’s got such amazing ideas and every day he came on set and wanted to make it the best he could. As you say he is bold, he has not played it safe which a lot of people do on their first film, and he’s got so many ideas that he wants to do. I’ve been very lucky to work with some cracking first time directors who have gone on to a lot bigger things and I think Kieron will do the same. And probably out of all of them I’d probably say he is the most I’ve ever wanted to work with again.
There is also a romance plot between yourself and Louise Dylan of course, how important do you think that is to counteract the darker sides to the film?
It’s nice and I actually think she has played it beautifully, because if it wasn’t pitch perfect she would have come across as a bit daft and moany but she is so sincere and she plays the character so sincerely. You need to keep Joe on your side and have sympathy for him and you do because he is a bit of a lost soul and you just hope he can get with Claire and turn things around, but once he lost his brother he just lost his nut, but it’s a very important theme.
As for yourself you have worked in Hollywood and recently filmed in the Alps, do you feel more in your comfort zone doing a British drama back home?
I just love working man, I really do. There are a lot of nice things that come with it but I’m actually at my happiest when on set, but I do feel that in British cinema I’m in my comfort zone but it’s weird because I don’t think I’m ever going to be the type of guy to get a part in Spiderman or anything, but in character driven pieces I really get my teeth into them and they feel a lot easier and I sort of lose myself in it. When I’m suicidal, or a smack-head or a murderer I actually feel more comfortable.
You do appear to be so busy at the moment, are you currently working on anything?
I’ve just finished Filth, the Irvine Welsh novel with James McAvoy and Jamie Bell and I’ve got a BBC show starting with myself and Vicky McClure and Neil Morissey which is a big five-parter and I was chuffed to get that. I actually got it during Piggy and I never expected to get the lead in a prime-time BBC cop drama, playing a middle class English copper – I never thought I’d see myself getting that so I was chuffed. We’re also doing The Wee Man which is going to be a bit mad. It’s about Paul Ferris, who I’m playing, who is an infamous Scottish gangster and was involved in the biggest Scottish criminal trial in history which I remember watching as a boy and it’s still burnt in the consciousness of everybody in Scotland. So to get that is almost like a one-off part you can get so I’m excited about that. I’m glad we filmed it in London too because there’s been a bit of a frenzy back home as it’s still quite raw because it wasn’t that long ago – late 80’s, early 90’s – so there is still a lot of hurt families who have had people killed in feuds and stuff so its quite sensitive. I just hope everyone remember it’s just a film, because even the police banned the film from being made in Scotland so we had to film it down here and they even called for a public boycott.
Looking forward to that one… It’s out in the summer, you should go and see it.
PIGGY IS OUT TOMORROW