At A Glance
With an unimpeachable body of work, including Spectre, Sherlock and the latest TV sensation Fleabag, in Steel Country we see Andrew Scott transform into a character rarely depicted on screen, offering a refreshing departure to our usual murder mystery tropes.
Directed by Simon Fellows
Written by Brendan Higgins
Released by Bulldog Film Distribution
2019, 90 minutes, 15
In UK Cinemas Friday 19th April
Andrew Scott as Donald Devlin
Bronagh Waugh as Donna Reutzel
Denise Gough as Linda Connolly
Christa Beth Campbell as Wendy Connelly
Sandra Ellis Lafferty as Betty Devlin
Interview with Andrew Scott
By Claire Bueno
Brimming with Irish charm, charisma and instantly disarming Claire Bueno sat down to talk about the nuts and bolts of Donald Devlin, a refuge collector from Pittsburgh, who squares up against his town to relentlessly seek the truth behind the disappearance of a young boy he sees on his rounds.
CB: I think what was lovely about this film and the beauty of the writing was you instantly see the character in the first scene, that this guy has no filter, was that something that you liked when you first read the script?
AS: Absolutely that was a kind of the chief thing about it was that this character was very vulnerable, very direct, idiosyncratic really vulnerable you know, I just love that in relation to the kind of character he is and he is in a way sticking up for. The story takes place around a murdered boy and the investigation into it seems really neglectful and I think for some reason he sort of is defending himself in defending this boy, not that it’s conscious that he’s gotta pay attention and care for this kid because he sees himself in that kid. So yeah he was a really beautiful character.
CB: He very much reminded me of Colombo
AS: (Laughs) I’ll take that!
CB: He’s kinda relentless in his pursuit, he tenacious and you know what? Man you may think I’m a fool, but I’m nobody’s fool. You know what I mean?
AS: Yeah, yeah, I think it is obsessive to a certain degree but you know he feels he’s right and you feel he wants to be listened to for once in his life, you know.
CB: I think what I really like as well is that you get to learn about his character more and more through the relationship he has with people, you see different facets of his personality, was that something that emanated in the writing as well?
AS: Yeah, each encounter that he meets, he meets a lot of characters maybe once or twice that you get to know him through that and what their attitudes are towards him, he’s a father, his ex-partner, particularly his relationship with his daughter, I liked all that, so it didn’t just become a whodunit, it was sort of like a big character profile. Yeah I loved, playing that kind of character, you know we were in Griffin, Georgia which is outside Atlanta and let’s say it’s a very particular place, lots of fast food restaurants, the pavement alive with people going round with guns, it was a very different place that was very helpful, you know we got all his costume for $10 or less in Walmart, eating ice-cream for breakfast, I keep saying it like I’m sort of method (laughs) pretending it was for the character. Honestly I promise I’m having 11 rounds of white toast for the character!
CB: What’s interesting because it was shot in Georgia but the story is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I believe the writer is from around there, so I wondered did you go to Pittsburgh yourself in kind of character to try and pick up the essence because Georgia is very different.
AS: Yeah well that was what the challenge was I suppose was to take these very different places. We weren’t afforded the time to do that, erm but yeah I absolutely learned as much about Pittsburgh as I could and Pittsburghese, and the way they talk and stuff though I had to reduce the very strong Pittsburgh accent. So yeah the whole thing was really, really, erm it was difficult in a sense because it wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be for me.
CB: Because it’s a very different way of life, but also we’re seeing even in the film, the steeliness of the community, that subliminally something is bubbling away, that things are just getting hidden.
AS: Hidden. Absolutely. Neglected. Totally apathetic and lazy and hot and just shruggy . Erm and that’s what was really interesting shooting around the time that Mr. Trump came to power and there’s a Donald here who is on the lowest rung of the ladder and also Donald on the highest rung of the ladder and erm the people would look to the Donald in our film , well that guy is mentally ill r unusual or idiosyncratic whatever and actually the one that I think what makes us very mentally ill is when were are not able to admin any form of vulnerability or fallibility, which I would look at the top in relation to the US at the moment , I think that is a real sign of dangerous mental wellness.
CB: Absolutely, you talked about the idiosyncrasies, some of the lovely charming qualities, which makes you laugh and adds a little levity to the film, is when Donald goes into disguise (laughs).
AS: Yeah, absolutely, like that’s gonna work, absolutely, I loved all that, you know, people are very unusual, I think in some ways erm Donald isn’t what they call neurotypical, but you know people who are neurotypical have different and crazy ways of presenting themselves and expressing themselves and exactly the same is true for people who are neurotypical we all have our own weird things, so I tried not to separate myself too much from him and what he would be thinking.
CB: And he is very self-aware.
AS: Yeah, he is, I think that is really true, he really is I think he knows that he’s different.
CB: Absolutely, and I believe you had quite a luxury to rehearse this?
AS: Yeah, we did, we absolutely did. Just to be able to go and make each scene count. You go, OK what’s this scene for, how does that bring the story on, yeah I know we were lucky because sometimes you don’t get that luxury and even on big budget movies.
CB: I notice he has a lot of nervous ticks so I wondered whether that was something that was something that was in the script or whether that came more organically?
AS: Yeah, I think that was probably a bit more me I think, it’s that thing of like being hot, so hot, and he’s a bin man, a garbage collector as they call them and, so yeah, and he’s wearing like this woolly hat, a full woolly hat so a lot was probably just me going, get the sun out of my face (laughs).
CB: In relation to the other actresses, because this is actually, considering you’re the leading role, you are surrounded by a lot of females in this aren’t you (laughs).
AS: Yeah, I love the girls and Irish, Denise Gough and Bronagh Waugh because we’re Irish Americans, and my daughter is absolutely brilliant. Yeah there were actually loads of characters in it, and that was really nice, there were lots of different scenes with a lot of different people.
CB: I really felt you saw so much more of his personality, you know like the mother of his child, there is this soft romanticism and innocence really, in the daughter you see in his personality someone very loving, the interesting relationship is with his mother.
AS: Yeah, yeah she was brilliant and also the absence of the father, I think he really feels the absence of his father, and I think that another maybe because this little boy has gone missing there is this fatherly, because he is a good father, Donald is a good father definitely and so his relationship with his mother is apathetic towards him, you know she’s on a lot of medication, she’s fiercely religious, I think she loves him, but I think her parenting is sort of apathetic.
CB: Yeah and of course he wants to change that within the relationship this his daughter.
AS: Yeah exactly, and further down and that can be a real danger in our society is apathy, not that people are wilfully cruel, or wilfully loving where you are just a bit like that is very hard to negotiate because you don’t even have the energy of anger or resentment because you’re like, you don’t hate me, you just don’t care enough to hate me. Which is the frustrating thing about him, which is what the whole case in the movie is, what’s anybody doing? Nobody is doing anything.
CB: We have an abundance of murder mysteries, what’s unconventional here is the outcome, it isn’t at all what you expect is it really?
AS: I think so, it’ll be interesting what people think of that, I do think that it’s kind of controversial in a sense that ending, and people go, whoa OK and provokes quite a strong reaction, but I think that’s good, it’s quite a dark place, it gets to quite a dark place.
CB: And the beauty of this film is that the film is independently made so do you feel there is much more kind of community spirit, people coming together and working together, egos are left at the door and everyone just wants to make a good film?
AS: Yeah, you just don’t have the time to be waiting around. I have been very lucky in my career I never had that thing that was too difficult, or there’s been diva behaviour or anything, I’ve luckily avoided that, erm maybe because I’m the diva (laughs), everyone seems lovely to me! (Laughs). But yeah you just, sort of have to get on with it and you don’t have a lot of time and you have to make decision on the hoof which is why it is really important to get rehearsals down because you don’t have much time on the day, you’ve got a location for half a day or something, you can’t’ be spending too much time, figuring out what the scene is, you’ve got to know and apply that on the day.
CB: Where you encouraged in the rehearsal process to bring your ideas to the forefront and be able to improvise with your character.
AS: Yeah it was very collaborative process with Simon the director, and then yeah you sort of have to give it up, you know when they get into the post production they make decisions and you go you know, obviously your job chiefly is when it’s on the actual set, but absolutely collaboration is totally essential.
CB: it’s interesting that you say that because obviously the major difference between film and theatre, theatre being an actors medium you follow the trajectory and the arc of your character from beginning to end, you don’t have that luxury in film. So is it difficult not to follow the story chronologically?
AS: Absolutely, it can be difficult, yeah honestly speaking yeah, it can. You have to be able to give it up, sometimes you do a take, and you think, please don’t use that take as I don’t agree with it, but I have to be able to play around and give you options and you know, and all that kind of stuff, but then you go off and go on to your next job, and you go actually I kinda like that and so. But part of the challenges and one of the big challenges, and I say this to you, of being a film actor is to be able to go, don’t just do the same thing in every take because you’re fearful that they are not going to use the right one because that’s when you become a little ridged. So I dunno, I ty to trust, trust is big.
CB: And sometimes with the director you want to give him different options.
AS: Yeah totally, and sometimes you’re pleased with their results and sometimes you’re going; OK? And that’s the wonderful and also the heart-breaking thing about making a film (laughs).
CB: And if I can ask you one last thing, because he was such an endearing, child-like character was it hard to let him go at the end of the shoot?
AS: I did feel he was a character that I felt very attached to, but I needed to stop eating ice-cream for breakfast, there’s only so much you can do that, I need to go home and have some kale! (Laughs)