It seems like he’s been around forever, working alongside some of Britain’s brightest and most talented individuals, some of whom have gone on to great things. Now actor Frank Harper has taken the necessary steps to follow suit. Harper is perhaps best known for his brutish portrayal of loveable rogues, head-cases, and henchmen in the likes of IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS and THIS IS ENGLAND, and with his directorial debut, which he also co-wrote, he’s certainly impressed. THN was lucky enough to talk with Harper about his new crime-thriller ST. GEORGE’S DAY (released on DVD & Blu-ray on 24th December), in which he stars as one of a trio of East End gangsters who’ve seen better days. Once they and their crew become embroiled in a £50 million drug deal involving the Russian mafia, there is no going back!
Check out what the star had to say.
Has directing always been something you’ve wanted to explore, or is it something that came to the fore whilst working as an actor?
I think it’s something that’s come from being an actor and after I began writing the script, it became something slightly personal. I thought that the only way round it was to actually do it myself. I’m glad I did. It was tough, but I enjoyed the challenge of it. It was a lot of fun and I’d certainly like to do it again.
When you co-wrote the script, was it always your intention to direct, as well as star?
No, Urs [Buehler] came in at a later date on the script. It sort of began about writing the script and actually acting in it. But two years into the process, I thought you know what, ‘I’d like to direct this now’. So that’s really what it was.
Was the prospect daunting after working so long as an actor?
I was lucky as an actor and I’ve picked up a lot over the years. I’ve been very lucky to work with people like Jim Sheridan, Shane Meadows, Nick Love and Guy Ritchie. That was like research and there were points where I’d think, ‘What would Nick do at this point? Or what would Shane do?’ My first proper job on a movie was with Jim Sheridan and was an amazing set to be on because everyone wanted to come to work every day, and I was really aware of that. I’d think ‘I need this set to feel like Jim’s set’. The atmosphere is set by the director and when you’re working long hours under stress, you need people on-side. I was lucky – I had a very loyal crew who worked incredibly hard.
How difficult was it assemble a cast of familiar British talent? And was it a challenge to have them working on the same film?
Again, I was very lucky. I wrote the parts for the core five in the film – myself, Craig Fairbrass, Vincent Regan, Neil Maskell and Tony Denham. I bespoke the parts for them and I think that comes across on screen. These are characters that know each other well and have known each other for a very long time, which we have.
There seems to be a close relationship between the three leads especially, are you all as close in real-life?
Absolutely. We’re all mates. We socialise together and I think that comes across. Me and Craig have known each other for over 20 years… Tony as well in fact and I think that works and makes the family element believable.
The film is packed with familiar faces from the British film industry, many you’ve worked with before. Did you feel the need to audition anyone?
(Laughs) It was very funny once – one of the things I’ve taken personally out of this, is how many actors wanted to come and work on it. Nick Moran and Dexter Fletcher wanted to support me, saying, ‘Listen we’ll come in and do a day.’ I feel very humbled by that and there were other people were saying, ‘Sean Pertwee wants to be in the film, and Ashley Walters wants to be in the film, and Jamie Foreman wants to be in the film.’ So for me, as an actor, that was the nicest thing. Obviously they respected me enough to come and work for me, you can’t ask for much more than that. I had someone saying, ‘Sean wants to come in and look at this part, what scenes do you want him to read?’ I just said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not gonna make Sean Pertwee come in and read, if we’re lucky, he’ll wanna do it!’ A lot of them worked for mates’ rates, so I’m all out of favours for them!
The plot hops from London to Amsterdam to Berlin and even L.A at one point. How many of those cities did to you actually shoot in and was it difficult in attaining permission?
No,the great thing about Amsterdam and Berlin is, and the reason I wanted to go the Europe, is that I wanted to open the whole genre out a bit. First of all, taking it to Amsterdam, there is a natural connection there and I just wanted to shoot in Berlin. I think it’s an amazing city and actually getting permission to shoot in the Olympic stadium in Berlin was surprisingly easy. I can’t begin to imagine what hoops you would have to jump through to film in Wembley, or down the London Olympic stadium. It’s quite scary really, how efficient the Germans are. I think we’d had a really tough shoot in London and the fact we all got on a ferry to go to Amsterdam it sort of lifted everyone again. It was like we’re off on holiday.
Is there any chance Micky, Ray and Albert could make an appearance in a follow-up?
Well, that’s been talked about. I think the interesting angle is that the Peckham Princess (Keeley Hazell) ends up in Los Angeles and Micky says at the end, ‘See you in the city of angels’. If it does happen, I think it would be interesting to see those characters in the US. That would make it a different film, literally taking the film, somewhere else and to see them integrate with the Americans, I think would be quite funny and quite interesting.
Did you draw any inspiration from film, actors or experiences on other projects when putting together the script and the film?
Yeah, Like I’ve said, I’ve been lucky to have worked with someone like Shane Meadows. You know, with all the films I’ve done with him, it’s been workshops and developing the script though workshops. So that was always interesting. I think when Nick Love makes a film, he’s got a very clear vision of what audience he’s making that picture for. I think that comes into it as well. I think if you’re going to make a picture, aim it at your core audience, then if you can branch out from there that’s a result. Sometimes you’ve got to have an idea, who you’re making the film for. To me, there is no point in making a film no one wants to watch. Someone said to me yesterday, ‘Whats your favourite film,’ and it’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. You learn a lot from that, like when your putting the music together. There are a lot of scenes that without the music, are just a camel in the desert. So you learn how important music is to a film and that was a massive learning curve for me. The post-production side of things, a massive learning curve. I learned a lot through the editing process and you almost have to write your film again really.
Is post-production something you had been involved in before, during your career?
Again, I was very lucky early doors. One night I went to watch rushes for IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, and back then they’d show them in a cinema on a reel and I ended up sitting between Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis, taking across me as the rushes were being played – that was bit of a masterclass, I gotta tell you. You know, I’d been in the editing suite and seen Shane at work, and Nick Love at work. you pick up things, little tricks. Again, I was in the editing suite with Jim Sheridan, watching him take frames out of a scene. I was very conscious of that, and once we sort of cobbled this film together, I sat down with my DOP Mike Southern and he said, ‘Let’s sit and watch this film now, where we can take frames out to tighten it up.’ It’s amazing when you really go back and look. Hopefully, it’s a fast-paced film and that’s something I tried to do, which I’ve picked up from all these people you worked with and every time you go to work, you learn something new.
Could you tell us what you’ve got lined up next and if you’ll be directing again in the future?
It’s not me being a wanker, but it’s something I’m not allowed to talk about yet. It’s a very different genre, it’s going to be very contemporary again, something that’s very current. I’ve spend around eight months researching it. So I’m hoping once this film is out the way, I can get my head down and do the next draft of it, then hopefully if this film does well, hopefully they’ll let me loose on another one.
As always, THN would like to thank Frank for his time, with the film deserving of success. Click this link to read our review of ST. GEORGE’S DAY, which is released on DVD and Blu-ray 24th December.