Opening across the UK this week, Belfast-set thriller A Patch Of Fog was one of the must-see films of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. David Watson sat down with debut feature director Michael Lennox and star Stephen Graham to discuss their twisted bromance.

David Watson: This is your first feature, was it a big jump from making an Oscar-nominated short?

Michael Lennox: It was. Before you start, naturally, there’s a fear. It’s a step into the unknown and ultimately I’d like to be making features for a very long time. So that was the apprehension. But as soon as Conleth and Stephen came on board, I felt at total ease. Conleth and Stephen have worked with some of my heroes. Some of the greatest filmmakers in the world…So you’re sort of wondering: “What’s it going to be like, you know, in Belfast?” But they made me feel at ease and put in 150%. Very, very quickly I’d forgot about all of that and it was just about enjoying the process of making a film that we all wanted to do and we all believed in.

DW: What was it that attracted you to the script? 

Stephen Graham: For me personally, it was different. It’s not the kinda script that lands on your door every now and again, you know what I mean? Obviously, there’s lots of buddy films out there and there’s lots of kinda like: “He’s the good guy…he’s the bad guy.” But not this great, kinda, paradoxical shift in who’s right and who’s wrong or who’s got the moral high ground in many respects. And at the end of the day, you know, I don’t get to do much comedy. I don’t know why. And I love comedy. I was brought up on comedy, The Two Ronnies and all that, great, great comedy. So for me to be able to do what I perceive as, and what Michael’s view and vision was as well, is to do really like a dark, black comedy. And for me it had that kinda sensibility like back in the good old days, like Boys From The Black Stuff and that kinda thing, with Yosser Hughes and them kinda people where it’s like played completely for real…

DW: The humour that’s there comes out of the characters…

SG: Yeah, and the situation, so it was great for me.

DW: There’s the great line where you say: “I looked through your window, and it looked like the fucking Waltons,” and he says: “I looked through mine, and it looked like the fucking Mansons!”

SG: Yeah! You say to me, what attracted me to the script, and it was the little moments like that that were really the reasons why I wanted to do this film. And I had a conversation with Michael and we just hit it off straight away. You just, you get a sense for these kinda things. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and I thought it’s a great little script, it’s a really low, low budget but I know everyone is going to be putting in 150% into and integrity’s going to be in the job and it was really great to do. Working with Conleth was a joy, an absolute joy. What I really enjoyed about working with Conleth is we’d rehearse a scene a certain way and we’d set it up ad we’d rehearse it and the cameras would be there. And we’d be eating a bit of food in the scene or something, and when we’d do the take, I’d reach over and fucking take a bit of his food and shit like that which really threw him.

ML: Conleth has come from…he’s like a god of theatre. And script is king! And when Stephen would come in and try different things and not tell him…it was great because it would completely throw him. But in a good way!

DW: It works onscreen for the characters…

ML: It works for the character in the film. But sometimes, even I didn’t…

SG: …didn’t know what I was gonna do…

ML: I remember there was a scene where he threw the TV against (laughing) the wall. And he didn’t tell me he was going to throw the TV.

SG: Nah, I didn’t tell him I was gonna do that. I did go to props though and say: “Have we got another telly?” And they said…no, but I still went and did it anyway coz Iknew it was only gonna be one take. So, I knew if we didn’t have a telly, this was the last take anyway. But it was fun to play that. You know the way we all have a social space, (points at Michael) he’d be pissing himself laughing behind the monitor coz Conleth, I love the way Conleth works, he’s very, like, “Let’s play with this,” and we’d work on it and it’d be great. And we’d do one take that way,and I’d give one take that way…and then the next one I’d pop round next to him…and it would really fucking throw him! Coz it’s quite uncomfortable when someone comes at you like that. But, we decided, coz the character had that kinda Asperger’s way about him, he’s definitely on the mild end of the spectrums, so to him, there is no boundaries, it’s ok, we’re all the same. So, when I do a take then, you’d see Conleth, as the character, but also as Conleth, which is the great part, react…

ML: “Why’s he just touched my leg?”

SG: “What the fuck’s he doing here?” Which really worked in lots of scenes and was great fun to do.

ML: You asked Stephen a question, what attracted him to the script in the first place? For example, that scene you mentioned about the Mansons, usually that’s the point in the script where everything heats up and they’re at loggerheads, but really in that scene they’re just like an old married couple, going out sofa shopping, complaining to each other. We said: “Aw, is this the point in the thriller film where gets the knife or he wakes up tied up? No! They’re arguing over…

SG: Arguing over buying a sofa!

DW: It’s a real twisted bromance. What struck me is, obviously you’re playing yet another outsider but he’s very vulnerable, almost childlike, there’s a naiveté to him…

SG: An innocence.

DW: What struck me was you’re playing a vulnerable psychopath and Conleth’s sorta playing a vulnerable sociopath…you’re kind of a match made in heaven!

SG: Bingo! Yeah, thank you, that’s a lovely compliment.

DW: Do you see yourself as a Method actor or are you able to leave it at the door? 

SG: I like to really get into my characters as much as I can. And get the walk. My process is the shoes and the walk. And the jacket and stuff like that. That’s how I find the physicality of it. But then, obviously, with the emotional content there’s a lot more behind that. But with this one, it was great to have fun, not necessarily have free range, because I did say to Michael right at the beginning: “Keep an eye on me! Make sure you reign me in! Because if I’m playing a fucking nutter I might go all over the gaff…” But he gave me a great note which was: “Just think of the character having minor Asperger’s, just being on the cusp of that spectrum.” And then what happens is, within each scene, you wanna play the truth of that moment, rather than an overall super-objective. So it can always change. Because you haven’t got an overall moral compass of he whole picture. But within each little bit, you have the truth within that scene. And because you’ve played the truth in that scene, it can be different in another. So that was fun to play, it was different.

DW: Obviously, you’re knownfor playing nutters…do you get people being a bit cautious around you in real life?

SG: I’m nice. I think I’m alright. I’m a nice lad. I’ve got two lovely, beautiful kids who I adore. I’ve got an amazing wife. No, I’m just good at playing nutters! Not nutters for the nutters sake.

DW: There’s always a reason for them being the way they are… 

SG: And I’m no Mr Darcy am I, for fuck’s sake?

DW: Well, that was what I was gonna ask, is there no chance of you lightening up and doing a Rom-Com or a nice period drama?

SG: This is my Rom-Com! There you go! I do like playing characters who are on the outside of the social spectrum in many ways.

DW: No chance of a musical? 

SG: If it was, like, set in Vietnam or something, yeah. Defo.

ML: A musical set in Vietnam with Stephen Graham! I’d love to see that!

DW: Wouldn’t that be Miss Saigon?

SG: There you go! I’ll do Miss Saigon!

DW: Someone I interviewed a couple of years ago, said you were his best screen kiss… 

SG: That was Sean Bean! That was another moment where…I’m one of them actors, I can’t help it…he never knew I was gonna kiss him. I never knew I was gonna kiss him. Until I trew the lips on him. There was no preplanned kiss in that scene at all. It justfelt right to do it in that moment. And them little moments sometimes really cement the character for you and take it beyond the realms of being an actor, acting, to how does it really feel to be this person.

DW: But you never crossed that line with Conleth?

SG: No. But I got really close. But that was a different vibe. There was no sexual attraction there, in any way, shape or form. It’s a purely platonic friendship they have. But I like to fuck about, keep it on it’s toes, I like to keep it fresh. Hopefully, never to the detriment of the story or anyone’s personal safety…

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