The Disappearance of Alice Creed's Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston: The Movieline Interview
One of those pleasant gems you hope to stumble upon at any film festival, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a wonderfully entertaining little thriller from British screenwriter and first-time director, J Blakeson. Set almost entirely in an enclosed apartment, Blakeson's story takes a simple premise -- "So you've kidnapped a beautiful heiress. Now what?" -- and wrings out of it a darkly humorous and utterly unpredictable tale of greed gone wrong, with shades of Rope, Shallow Grave and Deathtrap. The titular heiress is played by Quantum of Solace star Gemma Arterton, who squeezed in this film between her two upcoming blockbusters, Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans. Rounding out the triangle are the two kidnappers, the elder and more volatile man played by Eddie Marsan -- star of Mike Leigh's Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky and Will Smith's super-nemesis in Hancock -- and the younger played by Martin Compston, a Scottish actor discovered by Ken Loach (who gave him the lead in Sweet Sixteen). Both are superb in their roles. Movieline spoke to Marsan and Compston this morning at TIFF, for what it turns out was their first official interview in support of the film.
There's a number of twists and turns in The Disappearance in Alice Creed. Are you finding it tricky talking to the media about it without giving too much away?
MARTIN COMPSTON: Well, you're our first interview! [Laughs]
Well, without spoiling anything, let's just say all three characters in the film are called upon to do some things any actor would consider pretty challenging.
EDDIE MARSAN: What I think is very good about the film is that the characters have very clear intentions and purposes in what they're trying to achieve. But those purposes are hidden from the audience until about two-thirds of the way through. All the twists, really, are twists about the characters' motivations. As an actor, you build the arc and know exactly what it is. But it's also aesthetically pleasing to keep a secret from the audience that's going to be revealed two-thirds of the way into the film, and it's great fun. I saw it for the first time Saturday night, and it was great fun seeing the audience reaction to each twist. They knew they were being played with, and they were looking for the next one.
Well after the first one drops, it's like, OK, I guess anything can happen at this point.
So you both play hardened criminals. Eddie, you're the elder, the aggressor, calling the shots, Martin, you're the greener one, the more passive one. Did that dynamic come naturally to you guys?
MARSAN: It's written, I think. We just got along really well within the first rehearsal. We had a few weeks rehearsal and we just sat down and worked it out. The dynamics of the relationship, where we met, things like that.
COMPSTON: One of the things we were lucky about was that we were able to shoot a lot of the film in sequence. Shooting the first [silent] sequence gave us the time to connect by the time we got to the heavy dialogue stuff.
Early on comes a very disturbing scene in which you've just kidnapped Gemma Arterton, and you're required to bind her to a bed and remove her clothing while she puts up an incredibly convincing fight. How did you go about approaching a sensitive scene like that, requiring so much trust between relative strangers?
MARSAN: It was horrible. She's very brave, very stoic and very trusting. It was just an awful thing to do. But there was an air of respect on the set. Everybody was very sensitive. What it did was, it made everybody trust each other for the rest of the film, because we shot that first, we got it out of the way. Everything else, there was an air of cooperation and mutual respect, and a great deal from sensitivity from everyone.
COMPSTON: Gemma was a star. She never once complained, or said it was too much. Already it's an incredibly uncomfortable thing for us to have to do to someone you barely know; it would have been ever more so if she was uncomfortable. But she just went on with it.
I imagine for all the time on screen we see her cuffed and gagged, she was in that state for much longer during the shoot.
COMPSTON: She was. She was there for days and days. I put that gag in my mouth just once, just to try it. It was disgusting.
And so now that you're seeing it for the first time with audiences. How have they been reacting to it?
COMPSTON: Saturday night was the first time I had seen it, and there were so many laughs. I had never realized it. We filmed it straight, making it as real as possible. But it's the ridiculousness of the situation and the release of tension that makes you laugh.
MARSAN: Our audience applauded [at a pivotal scene].
There's a fair bit of nudity required of everyone in Alice Creed. How did you feel about that?
COMPSTON: You never feel really comfortable being naked among strangers, but it was nothing compared with everything Gemma went through, so you just think, well, get on with it. The one scene that sort of freaked me out had a [full frontal shot], but it was quick and you couldn't really see it. But one of our producers said, just wait until the DVD comes out and people press pause!
How did you break into acting originally, Eddie?
MARSAN: I was a printer. I served an apprenticeship to a printer, and my boss was an alcoholic, and he said, "In 20 years time you can be where I am." And I looked at him and thought, "No, thanks." So I went to drama school in my early 20s. Doing it now for about 20 years.
You've worked on several films with Mike Leigh, including Happy-Go-Lucky. Could you demystify his improvisational techniques a bit?
MARSAN: It's fantastic. You have three months to build a character, another three months to create a story in which the character interacts with other people. Nothing is ever written down. And then you shoot it. You're given every opportunity to do the best work you possibly can. There's no excuse. The worst thing about doing a Mike Leigh film, is that when you're finished doing the Mike Leigh film, you feel like a fake on a regular film. Gradually that dissipates, you start to become more technically capable again. But it does knock your confidence.
So the luxury of having all that time to create a character sort of regresses you a bit?
MARSAN: Yeah, because if you're going to play a barman, he'll ask you to be a barman for three months before you do a scene.
So he has you on the job?
MARSAN: Yeah. In Happy-Go-Lucky, I studied I can't remember how many driving lessons. Driving tutor school. All that stuff. It makes the film richer, and your performance better as well.
And you've worked on some big-budget Hollywood blockbusters as well. I'd imagine that process is a little different?
MARSAN: Two days after my last scene in Happy-Go-Lucky, I was blowing away Will Smith in downtown L.A. It was crazy.
So no improvising?
MARSAN: "Here's your script. Here's your bazooka. Kill the motherfucker!" And that's what you do.