By his own admission, actor Daniel Mays never seems to stop working. Having just wrapped filming for new TV series Temple, he’s on the publicity treadmill for his latest movie, Fisherman’s Friends, released in cinemas this Friday, 15 March.
Based on the true story of a group of fishermen-turned-singers from Port Isaac in Cornwall, it’s exactly the sort of feel good film Mays believes we all need at the moment. He plays the music executive who discovers the group, signs them up and turns them into an overnight success and confesses that he now has their music on his playlist – even though he’d never heard of them before being approached to make the film.
Talking to THN’s Freda Cooper, he recalls shooting on the choppy Cornish sea and the crowds of American tourists that watched the cast filming in Port Isaac. As he didn’t have to do a local accent for his role, or sing either, he believes he got off lightly – but doesn’t comment on whether audiences have too!
Read the interview in full below.
I wonder is you had known about the Fisherman’s Friends prior to making the film?
I hadn’t heard of them at all. It was a complete education to me. It said Fisherman’s Friends on the…
… and you thought lozenges?
I thought lozenges, you know? So, I delved into the story of them. It’s kind of extraordinary really – this left-field success story. They were discovered in 2010 and made the top ten and then got a recording contract with Island Records, played Glastonbury, and I thought it lent itself to a really quirky, comedic story. When you put the twist on it that I’m the music exec. or the music manager that discovers them, who is stranded in Port Isaac, and you put a rom-com scenario with it, I thought it lent itself to moments of hilarity and poignancy as well. There’s a lot of pathos in the film. Even with something as light as this you try and find the levels of emotion in it, and that comes to the fore the more the film carries on.
Was that what appealed to you as you’re such a busy guy. It must take something special for you to think, ‘oh yes, I quite fancy that.’
Yes, I didn’t know sea shanties. I didn’t know of their music. I thought to myself that this could be a really interesting mix. I also really the liked the fact that it would be based on fact. It was a chance to put that amazing story of them getting discovered up there on the big screen. It’s a genre of film that this country does a lot of – The Full Monty, Calendar Girls – I was recently in Swimming With Men which obviously would fall into that category as well, but I think that if you can get the tone of it right, and the flavour of it right, it can be a film that really does have that mass appeal, and you can leave the cinema with an absolute spring in your step. I hope that it’s a film that achieves that.
So have you got their music on you playlist now?
I do. I mean, you can’t help but… it’s infectious. I didn’t have to learn any of the sea shanties.
You got off lightly.
I got off lightly. I didn’t have to do a Cornish accent or sing, but by the end of the film, by God did I know all of the tracks and the sea shanties and we would be in the pub after filming [with] a pint of Tribute and we’d be kinda singing it.
They came from Port Isaac originally and you filmed in Port Isaac, which is really familiar to anyone who watches Doc Martin on the TV.
Yes, it’s the same place.
Presumably they are used to the TV cameras but how did they take to a feature film taking over the place?
They were used to it. Doc Martin is there every two years. The weird thing about filming down there though is that it’s full of American tourists. Doc Martin fans. There’s a Doc Martin tour that goes around all of the locations. You can walk around the village in no time at all. The security on set was quite loose. You’d be acting with Tuppence Middleton and James Purefoy and you’d have all these American tourists in your eye line. So it was quite relaxed.
And potentially quite distracting?
A little bit, yeah. You had to block all that out really but what a beautiful part of the world to film in. Obviously the scenery is so idyllic that it adds to the experience of watching the film.
You say it’s a beautiful place to film in, but there is a scene on a fishing boat. How beautiful was that? Are your sea legs any good?
My sea legs were fine. The focus puller and the boom operator were literally throwing up during the scene.
So it was actually filmed out at sea?
We got on the boat and we were out there. Some days it was very choppy, and the weird this was that it only affected me when we got back on land, which was very weird – like a couple of hours later? Then I’d get the sea legs, which was very weird. It’s like a delayed reaction to it. Someone told me that it’s about the crystals in your ears dis-lodging and all this weird technical talk. Yeah. Very weird.
Your character, Danny, is kind of the outsider really, isn’t he? You would have had to build a rapport with Tuppence Middleton’s character, who is your romantic interest, but you also had to build a rapport with the boys in the band because of working with them. How did you about those two separate things?
We were all thrown in the melting pot together. They naturally found that comradery – the fisherman. There was a slight sense of me being an outsider to that at the beginning, but then we all kind of got on with it. It was a great journey that the character goes on. He’s this cynical, high-flying music exec. and he falls in love with the girl in the village, the community. He suddenly realised that they have got an authentic voice and a chance to make it in the industry and he believes in them as a group – and believes in their music. Through that, he comes to a crossroads in his life and he reevaluates what’s important him and what success really means. He’s got all of the materialistic wealth and goods but he’s no purpose. What is it worth if you haven’t got love and collective-ness and companionship? So, that’s a really poignant and heart-felt message that runs through the film, particularly with my character.
We were saying earlier that this is very much a feel-good film in the vein of The Full Monty and various others. I couldn’t help but feel that the release was quite well-timed given that we are going through a period of uncertainty. I wondered what you thought it was about films – about how they can tap in to the mood of the nation sometimes.
Any feel good film that is being released in the Brexit, political nightmare at the moment should be welcomed with open arms. I think that this film encapsulates the power of the underdog and the power of community, and I think of identity more than anything else. I think as a country, at the moment, in the mess that we are in, we haven’t got that. We want our politicians to desperately come to the fore and lead the way, and that’s not the case. from my point of view, they are all just fighting amongst themselves. It’s very worrying, the future we’ve got ahead of us and we want to be stood up and be counted for. In times of depression you want escapism and I think that this film has definitely come along at the right time. If you can switch your brain off for a couple of hours and just enjoy yourself at the cinema, what more can you ask for?
The last time I saw you you were talking about your TV film about Tony Martin – also a true story. I wondered what you’ve got coming up next?
I did a second series of a really goofy comedy called Porters. It’s on Dave channel. I’m in Good Omens – the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett Amazon Prime show. I’ve just wrapped on a massive show for Sky called Temple, alongside Mark Strong. It’s based on a Norwegian drama and this is the English version of it. It’s essentially about an illegal operating theatre underneath Temple tube station. That’s the premise, but it’s a love story, a thriller, apocalyptic drama – it’s mental. It’s absolutely high concept but extraordinary – and a dark comedy as well. It’s a brilliant piece and I literally wrapped on it two days ago. Then I’m going to shoot a comedy called Code 404 with Stephen Graham in a couple of weeks…
So you never stop working.
I never stop. No. One of these day I will end up sitting down and seeing my kids.