My Father Die opened last year’s Frightfest with a bang. Directed by Sean Brosnan (son of Pierce), My Father Dies follows a young deaf and mute man Asher (Joe Anderson) whom, after hearing that his father Ivan (Gary Stretch) has been released from jail, seeks to exact his revenge. You see, his mean father was incarcerated for murdering Asher’s older brother, the event being the very reason that Asher himself is both deaf and mute.
Back at Frightfest we gave the film a full five stars, describing it as “powerful, compelling and strangely beautiful”, as well as being “unrelenting in its brutality.” The main cause of all that brutality is Ivan. Playing the terrible Ivan is Gary Stretch, star of Shane Meadows‘ Dead Man’s Shoes. Prior to acting, Stretch made a living through boxing and eventually modelling. His performance, in addition to being menacing, is also exceptionally charismatic, not dissimilar to Jeffrey Dean Morgan‘s portrayal of Negan on The Walking Dead.
Whilst at the festival we sat down with Gary to discuss the tough role, acting with an eye patch, and the possibility of Ivan getting a prequel.
What were your feelings when you first read the script?
It was very different. It was very poetic, dark of course, it was what I expect of Sean. He’s a really smart kid, I’ve known him a long time. My first impression of the script was that it was different. It was refreshingly different. A little bit provocative and extremely dark, but the intrigue overwhelmed the darkness for me. It kept me interested. It got my attention and I’m a big fan of Sean Brosnan. I’ve worked with him before and I thought this is interesting.
How did you prepare to get into the mindset of Ivan? I’m hoping he’s quite different to you as a person…
It was tricky. Anthony Hopkins did the greatest example of being so evil you have to like him. You know that kind of commitment. I didn’t expect anyone to like me, that was not the issue, but I certainly had to justify certain things in my brain. So I had to fill in a lot of gaps and find a way to approach it with a commitment level that was no apologies. I built my own world around myself. My job is not to make people like me in a film. It’s to give the writer his vision. I tried to do that the best I could. It was tricky at times because I’m a – I think I’m a nice person – I’m a very protective person of people, friends, family. So Ivan was like the opposite thing to me. I hate violence. I was a pro-boxer, but that’s a sport, I don’t like fights. I don’t like watching fights. I don’t like violence. I certainly hate people who abuse women and children. Everything that was against me, against my beliefs was presented in Ivan. It was tricky and very exciting to be able to explore those areas which I found interesting to do. But not easy.
What was the toughest?
Probably the rape scene. I talked to Candace [Smith] before and she was so gung-ho. She was like ‘go for it!’ But I’m still extremely uncomfortable with it. I just don’t like that thing. Even the pretence of it is still offensive to me. She was a great sport. She was pushing me to go for it. She cried after and she was black and blue, but she came over to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss and thanked me. That was tough.
It’s a really powerful scene so was maybe worth the discomfort in a way?
You know, it happens in life and so you say to yourself – ‘how would this take place?’ and ‘you can’t make shit pretty’. You’ve just got to get on with it and make sure that you do it in a way that is … I was working with the kids and I was having to beat them up, the kids were amazing, but they’re kids. I did a short with Sean before this one and had to beat up my kid who’s a great little actor. I took him away and I said, ‘listen, you know this is a movie?’ He said ‘Gary I’m fine’, I said, ‘I know that but I still want you to know that we’re just doing movie. Any minute you don’t feel comfortable…’ He was so brave. So we just try and make people comfortable and just get it done. It does affect people. It affects me. I had to sit and think about it after, and I don’t like that stuff. But it’s part of life, it happens, and as an actor you recreate life. I think the definition of actor is being truthful to an imaginary circumstance. If this was going to go down how’s it’s going to be, and so that’s what we do.
Did you and Joe Anderson have much interaction between takes, or did you keep yourself distant?
We kept ourselves pretty distant. I felt that was the healthiest way to do it. Joe is a wonderful guy, I love him, but when we first met he was a little standoffish which is normal. I didn’t judge it, I just left him alone. It was funny, he then told Sean – ‘I don’t think Gary likes me.’ Then Sean came to me and said, ‘play it more, make him more uncomfortable’. So when I met him I didn’t know if I liked him or didn’t. But we would work and I wouldn’t give him the time of day, I’d be having a coffee, he’d walk over and so I’d just walk away. He said to Sean – ‘I don’t think Gary likes me, he looked at me funny.’ He was a little intimidated I think, but Sean kept telling it was working and to keep doing it. I wanted to talk to him, but I explored that space and let him be distant. I think it made his job a little easier.
I heard rumours that a prequel might be in the works?
Sean talked with me after about it, that would be interesting. To see why Ivan got to that sort of space. It’d be interested because I didn’t discuss my inner background for Ivan and the things that I filled the gaps in for. I’d be very interested to see the gaps and issues that Sean brings to the table. That would be a very interesting thing to approach.
The physicality side of the role is also very demanding, you spend a portion of the film with just one eye. How was that to act?
I’ve spoken to other actors before and they say that the depth perception goes…
I’m claustrophobic with it. When I was a professional fighter I never wore a head guard because I like to be clear. It was very uncomfortable. I didn’t like it all, but again I used it in my favour. There’s a discomfort throughout the movie. Marlon Brando, I remember, did a couple of scenes in movies where he had to have this discomfort feeling, and I read once that he didn’t go to the bathroom for two days, and he was literally onset fucking dying to go and he wouldn’t go until he’d finished the scene. He said he was squirming. It’s interesting whatever actors do to get to where they need to. It’s no one’s business but their own, but in these kinds of situations, when there’s some form of discomfort and you’re doing a role that requires it, then I think you just have to make it a positive. It was difficult riding the bike, you can’t see stuff, it was tricky, but the reality of it is, if it was real, it would be difficult riding a bike so you deal with it. It would be very fucking fraudulent to have a hole in the eye, it would change everything so you have to take what you have and use it. It’s just part of the job I guess.
What are you working on next?
I just directed a movie on Rhonda Rousey the fighter. I’m in the edit right now. Just directed my two first films so I’m putting them to post. Doing the music and all that stuff. Then I’ve got a couple of scripts I’ve got to read. Very into a script I’ve just read, which will shoot in the new year. There’s a project with Ray Winstone that I got sent which is another interesting part. My main focus is on finishing the Rhonda film.
My Father Die is available to download now. It arrives on DVD from Monday 3rd April. Read our full review here.