The actor talks about being involved in director Christopher Smith's new movie
Having been an actor for 15 years, Danny Dyer is what you'd call a survivor. Maybe best known for his role as Tommy Johnson in The Football Factory, the actor recently sat down to talk about the role of Steve in his newest film Severance.
Severance centers on an international arms dealer who rewards his six-member team with a mountain retreat in Eastern Europe. But their agenda quickly changes when they are attacked by a renegade band of soldiers.
You're quoted as saying you'd never been a huge horror fan - so what was it about Severance that made you want to do it?
Danny Dyer: It's not that I'm not a horror fan, it's just that the horror scripts I've been sent have been rubbish and obvious. Because they usually are in horror films - it's just about scare factor. You're always one step ahead, you know who's going to die first, you know who's going to survive, you're going to get a jump every twenty minutes.
So with this, it was totally different. And it was about terrorism. And it was very apt. And every character in it was brilliant. You need characters you really care about because you're going to kill them. And in this you don't know where you stand at any point.
So how did you come to get the role?
Danny Dyer: It wasn't like it was my conscious decision to now do horror, I had to audition like anybody else. It was more like, I've got this amazing script, I've got to get this part. And Chris really wanted me. The financiers didn't so much, they were like, no, he's not really funny, he's not a big enough star, so I had to prove myself. And I like that pressure on me. I wanted to prove every single one of them wrong. And I did.
What do you make of the film's mix of horror and comedy - keeping them both in balance rather than prioritising one over the other?
Danny Dyer: It's a brave thing to do, I tell you. Very brave to have these very dark scenes and then chuck a light-hearted moment in. And the only way to make it work is to keep it real, for every actor to play it straight. Not once do you set up a gag. And that's what makes it funny.
What's very clever about this film is to get an audience to feel guilty for laughing about things. They can't help but laugh but then they wonder if they should have. That's clever. And that's what filmmaking's about for me. About giving people every emotion in a film. My favourite film of all time is Nil by Mouth. It makes me cry, it makes laugh, it gives me the fear, it makes me feel sick at points, you come away from the film having felt every emotion and I think that with this we get a bit of that as well.
So is that an extra challenge as an actor, balancing the scares and the laughs?
Danny Dyer: It was great for me because I've got all the funny lines, really. But it was good for me to show a bit of range too. My character, Steve, is a man's man in it, but I wanted him to be endearing too. The opening scene where I'm ordering escorts was a worry because you didn't want him to come across as seedy, so I had to play it in a certain way.
I open the film, my character's tripping out of his head on magic mushrooms, so I've got an opportunity to show I can do that, which is a hard thing to do. And be funny. And be scared. And keep it real. So to show all those different emotions in one film doesn't happen often. Usually it's either drama, or it's comedy, or it's trippy, mad druggy acting. But to put them all together, for me personally as an actor was like, OK, I've got some work to do here. And I relish that, it makes me buzz.
The film is a real ensemble - how did all the actors work together?
Danny Dyer: It was a joy. None of us knew each other before, but this is filmmaking, you all get thrown in together, go away for 8 weeks in the middle of nowhere and you're all a team, fighting the same battle. You don't always necessarily get on with everyone, but on this we did. And that stems from all believing in the film, knowing we had something special and being excited about that. Also it stems from the fact that we respected each other as actors and we all bring something different to the table. On paper, me and Toby wouldn't get on but actually when we met, we got on really well and that comes from mutual respect.
It was a bit weird when we were in Hungary, because half the crew was Hungarian and we didn't speak each other's language, so there was a bit of a divide going on. But we all knew that we were making this amazing film so that's what got us through.
Was the chemistry among the cast evident from the very beginning?
Danny Dyer: When we first met round a table for a read-through, when the other actors started to bring their characters to life, I went, "Oh, didn't think of that, that's special, I'm going to have to change what I'm going to do now." And that was with all of them. It's competition but it's healthy. Acting is tennis, it's bat and ball. That's what two good actors do, rather than just eating your bacon roll and saying your lines - that's Eastenders.
Steve has some very memorable scenes during the movie - were there some that you just couldn't wait to shoot? For example, putting a severed leg in a fridge...
Danny Dyer: Oh yeah, there were loads of things. I'm quite an instinctive actor too, I know how I'm going to play it, I see it immediately so I knew how I was going to play this foot in the fridge thing. It's like, if you're trying to get a foot in a fridge, you just want to get it in that fridge as soon as possible and slam the door shut. I didn't want to milk it too much, just try and jam it in, get the bottles out, take the shoe off, then the sock off - and the foot looked so real, it was horrendous. They took a real cast of his foot, toenails and everything, hairy toes... and it was very heavy. What a scene to play as an actor. I'll never get that opportunity again. And the whole machete up the bum thing too. Six hours of that, is very surreal, I'll tell you.
Apparently director Chris Smith insisted that you didn't choreograph your big fight scene - didn't that make you just a little bit worried?
Danny Dyer: No absolutely not. That's probably one of the reasons I was cast as well. You know, I did The Football Factory so I'm used to that - riot scenes, to getting battered, you know what I mean? I wanted it to be real as well. I wanted it to look scrappy so I was willing to take a few digs, you know? That's the key to the film, to keep it real. A normal fight is thirty seconds of rolling around on the floor, scrapping, that's what it is. It's not rolling over boxes or getting punched through windows.
I spent a day with the Hungarian stunt men just to get to know them and work out roughly what we were going to do, but we just left it to the day and it was tough. As the fight goes on, they had to keep adding make-up for every time I got battered, then I'd have to go away to get my [bruised] eye on, then I'd come back and couldn't see through that eye, so fighting with one eye, then I'd have to go away and put the fake teeth in, for when I lose me teeth, so as the day went on you get more and more messy and more and more uncomfortable, which helps with the scene but it's tough, man, it's tough.
Chris Smith seems to have limitless energy and enthusiasm - what was it like working with him?
Danny Dyer: He was a joy, really. Directors quite like to rule with an iron fist, they like to have temper tantrums, they like to shout and scream. Chris is the opposite. It's like he's in a sweet shop. He can't believe he's got this opportunity, can't believe he's a director and that's very endearing. So you want to do your best for him. He's very good with actors, that was the key. We're all very different actors and he dealt with us all in different ways.
Some directors make a big thing of telling you in public that what you did wasn't good enough but he'd pull you aside. And he got the best of us. He was the leader of the pack but he was like a big kid leader of the pack, bouncing off the walls. When we first started shooting, I thought, he can't keep this up. It's gonna reach week two or three and he's going to start hitting a dip. But he never did. Whether that's because he was taking loads of drugs, I couldn't tell you...!
Are you happy with the direction your career is heading right now?
Danny Dyer: I don't know, man, I've been acting for 15 years, it's been a long time now. It's only this last year that I've started to come into me own a little bit. You can never plan anything, you're never guaranteed anything. As long as I'm getting the work and it's quality then I'm happy. But you never know.
It's like with Severance. This is my best work to date, I would think personally, but I can say that as much as I want, I can promote it till the cows come home, you can put the poster on as many buses as you want, but you just don't know if anyone's going to go and see it. You never know where you stand - and I like that. I like to be on edge. This film could go through the roof, put me on another level and I start going to Hollywood or whatever, or no one takes a blind bit of notice and I just crack on again. And then I'm in Casualty...! I don't believe my own hype, I just take each day as it comes. And I always feel blessed.
Severance is released to buy and rent on DVD on January 8th from Pathe Distribution Ltd