From Theatre to FIlm: A Conversation With Harry Melling For SAY YOUR PRAYERS
Written and directed by British filmmaker and comedian Harry Michell (Chubby Funny, Guinea Pig), produced by Helen Simmons (Chubby Funny, F*CK) and co-written by Jamie Fraser (Living The Dream, Pillow Talk), it stars a slew of homegrown talent including Harry Melling (Harry Potter franchise, The Lost City of Z, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Tom Brooke (Game of Thrones, The Death of Stalin, Bodyguard), Anna Maxwell Martin (Philomena, Motherland, Code 404), Roger Allam (The Thick of It, The Lady in the Van, Endeavour), Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Good Omens), Vinette Robinson (Sherlock, The A Word) and Flora Spencer Longhurst (Unforgiven, The Maltese Connection).
Led by Harry Melling and Tom Brooke, two of Britain’s most promising up and coming actors spring boarding from major franchises such as Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, the duo play two radical Christian hitmen.
Orphaned brothers and Christian radicals, Tim and Vic, arrive in Ilkley with the relatively straightforward task of assassinating Professor John Huxley. However, after a classic case of mistaken identity, they find themselves having murdered the wrong man. Now stuck in the town during Ilkley’s busiest weekend, they wait for the arrival of a foreboding mentor to give them instruction. The mission must still be completed – that’s providing Vic’s rage, Tim’s doubts or the efforts of foul-mouthed Detective Inspector Brough don’t get in the way first.
Executive producers include: Hugo Heppell, Roger Le Tissier, Frances Le Tissier, Andrew Orr, Kevin Loader, Rece Ltd, Bastien Sirodot, Adrian Politowski, Julien Loeffler, Fabrice Smadja, Charles Emberson, David Leigh, Jack Meeus, Amon Ziah Mahmud, Ben Bond, Harry Michell, Andy Brunskill, Matthew James Wilkinson and Farah Abushwesha.
The film is a Guinea Pig Production with Aimimage Production in association with Independent and Featuristic Films. Financing came from Screen Yorkshire, Ivy Gate Films, and Umedia.
In our interview, The Fan Carpet‘s Marc Jason Ali spoke to Harry about Say Your Prayers, he tells us about why he got started in the film industry, how he relates to Tim and what he has coming up…
It’s wonderful to speak to you today Harry. I’ve been an admirer of yours for a long time. So, if we go back to the beginning, was there a defining moment to get into the film industry?
Oh. I don’t think so. I mean, in my family there was quite a lot of actors, quite a few of us. My grandad, my mum’s dad, was an actor, probably best known for playing Doctor Who, the second Doctor Who. And then my mum and my dad aren’t actors at all, but my mum’s brothers are actors and my cousins are actors. So there’s a lot of us. So I kind of was introduced to theatre at a very young age and I think that’s where I probably caught the bug, but again, I’m not entirely sure I can tell you one defining moment that when I was (clicks fingers) “that was it”. And then it sort of snowballed into this obsession really from a very young age.
And I think certainly I think the obsession was, ironically, theatre, that was my real initial love being on stage and working out how that worked. And from that, obviously, the Potter films came along and now I’m here.
So what was it about Say Your Prayers that enticed you to get involved?
I just really enjoyed the script. I really thought Harry Michell did a really cool script. It was quite unusual in terms of the subject matter and in terms of the comedy and how that worked.
I was really interested in Tim as a character, someone who is very naive and innocent and someone who is always taking on the world and receiving the world. I’m not sure if I’d done something, in a way, as naive as he was and that really intrigued me. And also, in terms of the comedic aspect of the film, with that naivety comes a great potential to really play up the misunderstanding, you know, he’s always misunderstanding things and misinterpreting things and that comedic trope, so to speak, is something that I thought I could have a lot of fun with. So it was kind of a combination of all those things and then meeting Harry and finding out who else is in it, it was kind of a no brainer.
Brilliant. So what was it specifically about Tim when you read the script?
I think that thing of like he’s a very naive innocent character and someone whose always misinterpreting things and getting the wrong end of the stick, you know, listening to the wrong thing.
And he’s doing that because in the centre of Tim is a real goodness, he’s a great honest good person whose trying to compute this very complicated world. And I just thought that was a very interesting thing to really be exploring, certainly in these times, although obviously it was filmed a few years ago, but in terms of exploring those themes it felt really apt and right to do so.
Awesome. And how do you relate to Tim?
Oh, good question. Obviously there’s elements with which I identify with him, like I guess, I (laughs) like to think I’m a good person. I liked to think there’s an openness to me as a person. I think potentially that’s what Tim represents. Of course, like any character there are huge differences as well, you know, Tim feels like he’s always catching up with the world and I don’t necessarily think like that, but I felt like Tim was always two steps behind, you know, so maybe that was the difference.
Actually, thinking across the board, I think a lot of the cast are quite different from their characters. Derek Jacobi was very different from his character and Roger Allam was very different from his character, probably because they’re playing very evil people. You know, very questionable people with very odd morals of which Roger and Derek aren’t. So it’s always fun to play someone slightly away from you, it always allows you the room to invent and create something for yourself.
Absolutely. So do you have any memories from filming that will stick with you throughout your career?
I really enjoyed……so Tom Brook who plays Vic, my brother, it was a real joy working with him and, you know, just because the relationship was very close in the film. We’d always try and sneak away during lunch breaks, there was a really good cafe, I can’t remember where, but it was while filming. I can’t remember which village it was because we did move about, but every single lunch time we’d try to sneak away to this particular cafe and we’d made a deal with the drivers to nip us round and so we’d have a sit down meal and a coffee, a nice coffee. So that was kind of our lunch treat if we were lucky enough to make a good deal with the drivers. So yeah, I really had fun doing it, it was a really quick shoot but it was a lot of fun.
Great. How long was the shoot?
Four weeks, which for a film is tight. That’s a real tight shoot. We’d shoot a lot a day and so you had to be on your toes. It’s funny how you can do these bigger films and they’d take a long and long time and the sort of more independent numbers can be shot very quickly.
So is this shortest shoot you’ve ever been on?
I think so yeah. I think it was. I think……yeah I think it was. I mean, obviously, there’s bigger shoots, where you’re in and out a bit more. But the entire duration was I think the shortest shoot.
I imagine, with your experience on Potter for example, they must have gone on for months.
Yeah they went on for a long time. I mean, luckily, because my bit was a very isolated sort of chapter in the book, I was only in for like, I think, a month and then they went and did the other parts because they had to shoot it in a contained block, so to speak, with these movies. But also the nature of acting with kids, they have to do certain hours on set and certain hours at school and so that, again, makes for a longer shooting period. So yeah those films take a while and, of course, just the set pieces take so long, you know, when you’re doing big set pieces with owls and all sorts and crane shots going through moving stair cases (laughs) is just going to take longer.
Yeah absolutely. So are there other aspects of the film industry that you’d like to pursue?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I write a lot. I wrote a play two years ago that I managed to get on in New York and London, so that was a real exciting moment in terms of actually having made this thing from scratch. So I’d love to do more writing, I’d love to, who knows, I’d love to direct maybe one day. I just don’t know. I mean, I’ve always tried to just follow my nose in terms of the things that interest me and if there was something that I thought I could potentially offer something to I’d try and do it. But I wouldn’t do it unless I thought I could offer something to it and in terms of timing it would have to be the right timing in terms of “okay this is the right time to do this”. But I’m very happy be acting for the time being.
Awesome, and we’re happy to see you. Are there any genres that you haven’t done that you’d like to?
Yeah good question. I mean I’ve never done an out and out sci-fi thing, which could be quite fun. You know, sort of futuristic sci-fi number, that could be quite fun. And maybe an out and out horror. I mean, I’d be up for anything. I think that’s the good thing about genre is that…….actually in terms of genre it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the writing in that genre. If the writings good, the writings good, it really doesn’t matter in what genre you find yourself in. So yeah I’d be up for anything, futuristic sci-fi or an out and out Hammer horror film, that could be quite fun. Who knows?
Yeah, The Hammer horror films are really really good. So is there a book that you’re a fan of that hasn’t been adapted to film or TV whose adaptation you’d like to be a part of?
Interesting. Okay, let me think. What have I been reading recently? Gosh. I recently read this book called Featherhood, which is a book by this guy called Charlie Gilmore and it’s a really good book. It’s a memoir, I’d say actually, about his life up to this point, I think he was in his early 30s and its effectively about him bringing up a bird. I believe it’s a magpie, I think. And he finds, well he doesn’t find, his partners sister finds this magpie on the road and they bring back to the house, and they feed it and they bring it back to health. And it’s just a very beautiful story and, of course, within that is him fathering this magpie and it’s about his biological father and their relationship. And it’s just a very eloquent beautiful book about fatherhood really. So that could be a really interesting film, because there’s something really simple. I quite like really simple relationships that have a lot of, you know, odd deep details and a nice sort of texture. I think the relationship between a boy and a magpie on film might be quite intriguing. Maybe not, maybe it’s been done, maybe Kes has done it. But that would be intriguing to see.
Wonderful. So with the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, what do you think the future of cinema is?
You know I really hope it’s something that can live side by side with these platforms. I think, you know, especially in these times, what a wonderful thing Netflix and on demand platforms have had for people stuck at home, allowing access to the stories that they probably need, you know, to escape what we’re all living through which is a very surreal time. So that’s where I really think Netflix and things of the like come into their own really, is the access and sheer variety and quality of the work they produce. But then again you also want to be able to go to the cinema and see it on the big screen, I think that’s really important as well.
And I honestly think these are things that can live side by side. I recently went to the cinema for the first time in a long time to see Tenet and it was amazing to see it on the big screen. And, you know, to be a part of a community watching a film is really important, but I really do think that they can live side by side and they should live side by side and hopefully, once we get out this Covid hole, cinemas can go back to what they where.
So what are you hoping audiences will take away from Say Your Prayers when they get a chance to see it?
I hope they laugh, I hope they laugh. That’s the first thing, I hope they laugh and find it funny. I also hope they can, kind of, take away the complicated themes of it which deal with religion, family and sort of radicalism and stereotypes. All of these themes are kind of interwoven with the narrative and sort of power and how people corrupt and use that power and how actually a lot of those things do live side by side and it’s quite a complicated web to untangle. So I hope it works on those two levels, I hope, first, it’s funny and second, they take something away from it that makes you think. I think if people do that then hopefully the film will be doing its job.
Awesome. During these unprecedented times, what have you been doing to keep yourself creative and keep yourself sane?
Harry: Keep myself sane?
Marc: Yes (laughs)
Well, I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve been watching films. I’ve been doing a bit of writing here and there. I’ve been doing lots of press for things and I’ve been Zooming a lot with friends and things like that. So, just trying to keep…..you know, of course, been seeing friends and family when I’ve been allowed to. So, you know, it’s been…..it started off and it was a big shock to the system I think, as it was for all of us and we really had to amend our way of living and after a time you get used to it and now its kind of become a bit of a normality, a new normal.
So, yeah, I just…..who knows what will happen in the upcoming weeks I think we’ll be taking, well I’m sure we’ll be taking a few steps back. But hopefully we can all continue to, sort of, stay sane, like you said, and stay healthy and look after each other.
Absolutely. And obviously in these difficult times, what are you looking forward to getting back to once it’s safe to do so? Have you got any projects on the horizon?
I’m really looking forward to going back to the theatre. I’ve been getting a few messages from friends saying that film and TV shows are starting to be made and their doing bits and pieces here and there or things are getting up and running. I know that is kind of building momentum, but theatre has taken a big hit in terms of financially what makes it possible for producers who need to have a turnover and can only have a turnover if there’s a certain amount of people in the audience. Audiences feeling comfortable going to the theatre, that’s a big thing. So I do miss the theatre and I hope that there can be a……I hope to be in the theatre soon either as an audience member or as an actor. I think people gathering together to hear a story is really fundamental to us humans. So yeah.
I think, the last time I read anything, I think it was mid 2021 that the theatres are going to open again.
I think I read that.
Well that’s the thing, you read something and you read something the next day and it’s changed (laughs) it’s really hard to to up with the……and of course it changes because we’re behind what this virus is and what it does.
Yeah absolutely. Do you keep in touch with any of your Harry Potter castmates?
Sadly no. I haven’t spoken to any cast for a long time. I was trying to think……the last person I spoke to was Fiona Shaw. I spoke to her when she won the BAFTA for Killing Eve just to congratulate her, and she’s been a huge important part of my life. So that’s probably the last person I’ve spoken to. But it’s that thing that when you’re that age and everyone sort of goes off to to do their own thing, people sort of take different parts, you might see a person now and again “oh hello” but unfortunately everyone’s gone in very different, well certainly, I have moved on somewhere else. But I haven’t spoken to many of them.
Just before I let you go, other than Say Your Prayers, do you have anything else coming out or in the pipeline?
Yeah. So, in October I have this Netflix show called The Queen’s Gambit that’s coming out which is about chess, which I really enjoyed making. It’s a series, I think it’s a six or seven parter and that’s coming out at the end of October. And then this thing called The Devil All the Time which came out last week which I really enjoyed making and it’s interesting to hear what people (think?) and how their responding to that. And then, yeah, that’s it really.
What’s Tom (Holland) like to work with?
Holland. Yeah I didn’t get to work with him, so to speak, because we were in different parts of the story. But Tom’s just a lovely guy, really really lovely and so talented. Yeah, we worked together on The Lost City of Z, that’s where I first briefly met him and it was lovely to see his face again on The Devil All the Time.
Lost City of Z was brilliant. I really enjoyed that.
Yeah it was a good film. James Gray is an amazing director. So good. I haven’t seen his latest film, I haven’t seen, oh god what’s it called? The Brad Pitt film, I haven’t seen it, where he’s in space. Can’t remember what it’s called.
Yeah, Ad Astra, I haven’t managed to see that one (can’t make out).
Well I’ll leave it there. Congratulations on the film and I look forward to seeing whatever you come out with next.
Thanks man. Lovely talking to you.
Say Your Prayers is now available On Demand here