"I just pop in and act all curmudgeonly, that’s my predisposition," says Ian Hart of his role as Big Eddie in the new film Slapper and Me, which has just wrapped at Bubwith’s Green Screen Productions near York. Hart, who has just literally wrapped his last scene, steps off the set and into our interview, perhaps fittingly sailing past us singing The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and treats us to a bit of pre-interview ivory tickling on the nearby piano.
"What drew me to the story was the lightness of touch," says Hart, who has starred in nearly a hundred films and TV series: from the first Harry Potter film - as stuttering Professor Quirrell - to starring twice as John Lennon (in Backbeat and The Hours and Times), recently popping up on Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and in the acclaimed role of psychiatrist Kester in two seasons of Rae Earl’s well-received My Mat Fat Diary. Hart admits that he "jumped into the role of Kester: it was literally someone else’s gig but they couldn’t do it at the last minute. So I was asked on the Friday to read for it and I started work on the Monday." Rae Earl’s series is set in the 90s - and shines in its now-period detail - but feels fresh and contemporary due to its intelligent, non-patronising depiction of the depression felt by not only the main character but of everyone in the story.
"That show deals with mental illness very differently to how serial soaps deal with ‘issues’ as theme of the week. My Mad Fat Diary shows everyone dealing with their mental health problems, including Kester - just because he’s a psychiatrist doesn’t mean his brain isn’t all over the place - and people within the mental health field have responded positively."
Slapper and Me, described by Hart as "Rocky with a greyhound in it," is a throwback to a perhaps more innocent time in 70s England, written by first-time screenwriter Rob Isted and directed by seasoned TV director Betsan Morris Evans. The story follows eighteen year-old Derek Springfield, who coaches a no-hope greyhound called Slapper, despite his grumpy father Big Eddie (Hart) and mother Lil (Lesley Sharp) opposing his endeavours.
Every now and again it's nice to do something more celebratory. We are a miserable people in the Northern hemisphere.
"Slapper and Me is a feelgood story, a bit of an antidote to looking out of the window at this greyness and economic disparity that tends to feed the kind of stories that we usually tell," admits Hart, who was recently on the jury for a season of British films at the BFI. "Although the films were great and eloquent, there was a general pervading misery to them." Slapper and Me, however, provided the actor with a rosier view of Britain, of childhood and of the past: set in a time of flared trousers and loud furniture, the film is "the writer’s memory of the 70s. We all tend to look back on our own childhoods and paint a very rosy picture, unless we’re trying to plead for misery and twist our childhood to gain sympathy."
So with films like Slapper and Me, are we heading for a golden age of British storytelling that relies not merely on grey skies and depression but a mix of nostagia and forward-thinking positivity?
"The problem is in this country that every time we make a film it’s a one-off. To use the term ‘industry’ implies there’s a production line of films happening, one after the other, but even Michael Winterbottom and Ken Loach have to start again every time they make a film and go looking for funding. To say ‘industry’ is implying there’s a mechanism that gets films made but, aside from those big US-assisted productions like Harry Potter, it really is everyone for themselves every single time we make a movie in this country."
The benefits of filming in the States are, according to Hart, that "the weather is better in America and you don’t have to look for your thermals every morning. You know, you wake up and the sun is already shining. Other than that though, work is work." Joss Whedon once stated that "having all the money is the same as having no money, except that when you ask for things, they say yes more than no." Hart de-glamourises his experience working in Hollywood with directors such as the late, great Tony Scott, saying that "the craft is the same, whether you have one or five cameras. The difference is bascially that with more money comes more choices when you get back to the edit room."
As we allow Hart escape to another interview - before he even gets the chance to shower - we discuss the York filmmaking scene. "This film is is my first awareness of it really. I did a play at the Theatre Royal many years ago but it’s great to see films like this being made here. I like York and I like working here, it’s a beautiful city."
Slapper and Me is released in 2015. Visit Greenscreen Productions for more information.