Interview with Stephen Graham, star of A Patch of Fog
Actor Stephen Graham - of Boardwalk Empire and This Is England fame - was in Edinburgh to discuss his latest film, British thriller A Patch of Fog.
Whether it be his roles in British fare like Snatch, The Damned United and This Is England, or prestigious American epics like Gangs of New York, Public Enemies and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Stephen Graham has become one of the country’s best actors. His latest film, Belfast-set thriller A Patch of Fog, sees Graham play a lonely security guard who becomes obsessed with Conleth Hill’s shoplifting author. It’s another great performance from Graham and I caught up with him at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival to talk about his new film, weird fan experiences, working with Scorsese and more.
So how did you come to be involved in A Patch of Fog?
With me, all the time, it’s about the script. It’s the script and the director that draws me to any project. I just read the script and I found it very compelling and really interesting. Just that loneliness and that isolation that we all go through as human beings. For me, it was that intriguing element of a man who’s very alone and lost and can’t really find another human being to have an interaction with. The obsessive way that unfolds, I just found it really interesting, a really interesting character to play.
How did you approach it then? Presumably you can’t play your character, Robert, as a weirdo because he doesn’t see himself that way.
No, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to go down that conventional route. What I wanted to achieve was the isolation. We all have moments where we’re alone, that solitude…I’m very fortunate that I’ve got an amazing wife and two beautiful children but I have felt lonely in the past, I think we’ve all felt that. Like you’ve just said, I didn’t want to make him a weirdo, I wanted to make him a normal person who finds himself in an extraordinary circumstance. It’s kind of a love affair in a way, like when you’re a teenager and you fall in love with a girl, when you’re infatuated with someone and you get dumped, remember that feeling? At the school disco when you find out she’s kissed someone else? Your whole little world collapses and it’s like why? What’s wrong with me? And sometimes you go on the defensive then. So yeah, it’s an infatuation that he has with Sandy.
Robert turns into kind of a stalker in the film.
So who are your favourite movie stalkers? Are there any that inspired this role?
I didn’t base it on anyone to be honest with you but I’m going to go for the same film with two different actors: Robert Mitchum and Robert De Niro. Cape Fear. Both completely different but both incredible stories.
Have you ever had any weird fan experiences yourself?
Yeah! Yeah, I’ve had one or two. (laughs) You get so many lovely, endearing, beautiful letters in the post and every now and again you get a very strange one, from (adopts Swedish accent) Klaus from Sweden, “Stephen, you’re such a beautiful man”. It’s a bit disconcerting, it’s a bit strange, you know? I know it sounds terrible but I have had that weird one, must’ve been coming out a nightclub or whatever, and I did get asked to sign a woman’s breast. She popped it out and gave me a pen and I think…I did sign it. Yeah.
And have you ever been the weird fan?
I have yeah, I have been the weird fan. Completely. I don’t mind admitting it, I was completely strange and shy, and it was with Steven Gerrard. I just found myself saying the most ridiculous things. Trying to be cool but being an absolute ballbag. Yeah, I didn’t play that too well actually.
This is Michael Lennox’s first feature film. How does working with him compare to working with someone like Scorsese or Michael Mann or someone of that stature?
I don’t really think of them as comparisons in that respect. It is Michael’s first feature but he’s a fantastic director to work with. He truly knew the story and he really understood the story and to me, Michael was very much an actor’s director, and Marty’s very much an actor’s director, but Michael’s a different type of director. He’s very much an actor’s director but he’s also very visual – Marty’s very visual too but he’s much more about the relationships. Michael’s got a great understanding of the story and he’s just a very nice man to be around, I really liked the sensibility he had on the set, do you know what I mean? He created the floor so we could create a lot and we kind of worked on the script together. If a scene didn’t particularly work, me, Michael and Conleth would look at it together and come at it from a different angle so that what we did made sense for us on the day. He was a really fine character to work with and hopefully I’ll work with him again.
How was it working with Conleth? Did you prepare a lot together?
It was really great. I remember back in the day when Michael said he really wanted Conleth and I too felt Conleth would be fantastic for the role. He’s a great actor, and we have a mutual friend as well, who I spoke to and she said he’s a wonderful man. I just felt he had the right qualities for the character. He played it extremely sincere and he played it just right, it wasn’t over the top in any shape or form. He had that lovely subtlety with it and he’s basically a man whose secret gets found out and he’s trying to cling on with everything he can to hold on to that secret.
You work in America a lot but come back here to do a lot of film and TV work. Is that a conscious choice to do different work or support British film?
No, not in any way, shape or form. To me it’s about the script and the project and the director. Within our profession we are very nomadic, we are a travelling circus and you kind of go where the work is. I don’t really see the difference between them. To me, whether it’s doing a big Hollywood blockbuster like Pirates of the Carribean or a little indie film like A Patch of Fog, I always give as much as I can to the project and I expect the same from the people around me and that’s always the same. It just so happens that America have a lot of money to build the sets and that kind of thing, but it’s the same. I’m very lucky and I’m very blessed to do a kaleidoscope of work.
I need to ask you about This Is England. The film and the series are both so good. Was Combo a breakout role for you? Is that the role you get recognized for?
Yeah, more or less yeah. Combo and Tommy from Snatch, which is great!
Al Capone in America surely?
Yeah, like I say, I’m very blessed to have played a variety of roles. But Combo is very close to my heart, that whole experience.
So what are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a series for the BBC, with Tom Hardy. That was a great experience, he’s a beautiful man and an amazing actor, just so inspirational. He’s executive producer on Taboo as well and it was just such a creative atmosphere. We worked with two directors for each different block, they did four episodes each. They’re both Scandinavian and they did The Killing so it was great, was really nice to get a European view on something that was very British.
What’s it about?
It’s about Tom’s character, who goes off to Africa to work for the East Indian company and when he comes back, his father has passed away. It’s all about the East Indian company and the King and all that stuff. I play the Artful Dodger all grown up basically, where I’ll do anything if they pay me enough money. It was really great to work on.
A Patch of Fog is released in theatres on July 8th and on all major digital platforms on July 11th. You can read my review here.