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A Conversation with newcomer Charley Palmer Merkell

The Guvnors
27 August 2014

THE GUVNORS is both love letter and hate mail to the alpha male. This story’s alpha is Mitch (Doug Allen) who lives buried in suburban London, having turned his back on his previous life of casual violence and intimidation as part of a legendary South East London football firm. In the modern day he’s the doyen of respectability and quiet confidence, until a young upstart (Harley Sylvester) attempts to drag him back in, desperate to inherit Mitch’s reputation and vanquish his legend. As events escalate around them, secrets are revealed, blood is spilt and lives are shattered. Gabe Turner’s violent thriller explores the sinister, inescapable legacy of a life of violence in all its forms. The Guvnors also stars Martin Hancock and Jay Simpson.

In this interview, The Fan Carpet‘s Chris Kafar had the pleasure to speak to up and coming actor Charley Palmer Merkell, who plays Trey, Adam’s right-hand man.



Is there a particular actor who inspired you to pursue a career in acting?

Yes, there is a particular actor. There’s a couple of actors I looked up to quite a lot, Tom Hardy was one of them as I got older.  When I was younger, people like Eddie Marston, Jamie Foreman, those kind of old school, British actors and obviously people like Michael Caine and Bill Nighy. I always sort of aspire to possibly work with them in the future.


What enticed you to join the project?

What attracted me was the script, it was really good. Although, it had elements that had already been touched on in films, obviously like violence, which has been obviously done to death. It was actually the reason for the violence in this was quite interesting. There was a lot of father, fun issues in it, which again has already been touched upon but the way Gabe (Turner) wrote it, the twist and turns were very interesting in it and the violence wasn’t non-sensual, it was more people trying not to be violent but feeling they couldn’t really escape it, which was quite interesting. My character I really, really loved the idea of playing someone that nasty because he doesn’t really have that many motives during the film and I kind of had a lot of freedom with Gabe directing it to give my own reasons to why he was like that and to play with it. I guess that attracted me as well, that I knew off Gabe he was gong to allow us to have some freedom and I quite enjoy that when I’m acting.


How was working with director Gabe Turner?

It was pleasure actually because I didn’t know Gabe before. Harley (Sylvester) had an audition to play Adam and he wanted me to just read in with him – to read him the other lines as Trey and he did say to Gabe that I was an actor, but I just went down there and as luck would of had it Gabe said, “Well, you two could just be Adam and Trey” which is pretty cool; I have not done that before. Straight away I kind of knew he would be one of the boys really; he wan’t really your sort of usual director. I don’t think it was because it was his first film but also that as well we  had quite a lot of freedom. He was still funny and seeing how things worked but I just think he just nailed it. He knew the script obviously inside and out because he wrote it, but then on top of that he let us play with it loads which I think personally is a perfect combo of a director. If you put that much trust in someone it would be stupid not to give it back, so that’s how it would kind of work. He would just come in at the right moments during scenes and just say, “Maybe just try this one little thing” and it would just change the whole thing. It is amazing, so I hope I can work with him again.


The Guvnors is within the same tradition as films such as Green Street and The Firm; not only in it’s subject matter, but its fearless attitude towards violence and its gritty tone. What stood out to you as unique about this project?

I definitely would not compare it to Green Street actually at all; I think its not that. It only very briefly touches on football violence firstly. Its not really part of the storyline at all; the storyline is about a shift in respect that’s happened in a lot of areas of London where the old school gangs which were just by chance at the time were football fans actually had a weird level of respect and even prior to that even older firms back in the day. In the days of people like The Crays and people who get talked about like that had very odd morals that were amazing and very upstanding, but then at the same time obviously they were still dishing out a lot of violence because there were a lot of anger within them as young men, as there is in a lot of young men in general and I think this film just touches upon the fact that nowadays, in a lot of areas in London there is no hierarchy, there is no morals and everyone is kind of out for themselves; I don’t know what the reason for that is. I don’t know why it is shifting so much.

A lot of the estates back in the day in London and certain areas, the rougher areas of London they were all very much, their ancestry had grown up there. They all knew each other and they were  family and friends and cousins, whereas now you have a very, very vast mixture of lots of different nationalities and lots of different backgrounds and obviously it becomes that mentality, if you are living within that then you probably do need to fend for yourself, but what comes with that is not a lot of respect because you don’t actually need to necessarily respect over people that are living around you because you probably will never really come into close contact and I think Guvnors just touches on that. I don’t think there is another film that I have personally seen that actually touches on the difference and you hear a lot of people, I do in my family anyway saying, “There’s no bloody respect anymore, these youngsters” and all this stuff and it is actually true. There’s a lot of young kids out there now that will just rob anyone, they do not give a s*** who it is, they will rob anyone and everyone. They’ll go out with a knife and they’ll stab someone and not really care, whereas back in the day you knew who it was. You knew who it was if you were trying to rob someone and it was a risk, whereas now nobody cares and I think as long as the father and son aspect of the film it touches on that.



Regarding the character you portray in The Guvnors, Trey, was there any performances that shaped your own?

Yes, ever so slightly there is one mini-series that I watched. I wasn’t imitating the character at all, there was just one little thing. It was none other than Tom Hardy in a series called The Take and there was one thing he used to do in it. He was a character called Freddie Jackson where I used to watch it  and think, he is staring through people’s heads. When he looked at people it looked like he was actually piercing right  through their skull and I kind of tried to get that and have a reason for that in this ‘cause it is quite a scary thing I think, especially if you came across a man and he is staring at you, but you feel like he is staring right through your eyes and that was the only thing. I remember watching that around the time of getting the part and thinking, This may actually may make sense to my character because there’s are a lot of scenes in Guvnors where I am just trying to frighten people, there is no real other agenda.


Your mother is none other than long-standing, EastEnders legend Patsy Palmer (Bianca from Eastenders). Has she affected your acting career at all?

She told me not to act actually, so I dunno whether that was her affecting my career because I did the opposite of what she said. She for whatever reason was like, “Don’t do it, there are so many other things you could do.” Once I showed her that I could act and that’s all I wanted to do, she obviously backed me on it. People ask me this all the time, “Did I become an actor because of my mum” or whatever, but i think it was more the fact that it was one of the only things I was naturally quite good at, that and sport and once I realised I wasn’t going be a footballer at about 15 I just knew that’s all I was going to do really.


How was working with Rizzle Kicks member Harley Sylvester and what do you think of his debut performance in a feature film?

I think its a brilliant performance by him. I think there will be a lot of pressure on him to do something, especially when I think he did do that. I couldn’t tell you how different the character is to him in real life, he is one of the most lovely and modest people you’ll ever meet and his character has so many issues and is just a really, really scary psychotic person, so I think he’s played it amazingly. He made a lot of very bold decisions in the film, as an actor. To do that especially in his debut film is risky and for him he has so many people looking at him, so many people waiting for him to fail, so to do that I think is quite brave.


Your career certainly looks promising considering your latest film, Legend has a host of multi-award winning actors ranging from Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, Thor: The Dark world), and Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Bronson). How does it feel being associated with such stellar names and is there anyone in particular in the cast you are fan of?

It was so nerve-racking on the first day of it, it was like I actually really felt out of my depth, but I think the reason was personally because I has so much build up because obviously I got the part and it was a month till filming and we had rehearsals and stuff. There was so much build up outside of the project because all my friends and family, all they wanted to talk about was that. They obviously just built it up and up in my head and then I found out the other cast members, Christopher Eccelston is a fantastic actor, David Thewlis – the list is endless. I got a bit nervous on the first day, but luckily, somehow I remember getting home actually from the first day of filming and I live in a flat with my uncle and my nan lives in the flat opposite me, so we’re always with my nan as well and saying to both of them at dinner, “I’m just going to tell you now, we’re not talking about the film t all until it is finished” and it worked, we didn’t talk about it and then within the rest of that week I was absolutely fine and I felt like I was kind of holding my own against everyone which was quite a special thing, to feel like i’m on par, in an improv in a scene with one of my idols was quite a nice feeling for me; I felt like I was getting somewhere I guess.



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