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Zawe Ashton talks crime drama

20 May 2011

Jason Statham (The Mechanic, The Expendables) heads the cast ofBLITZ as the tough, uncompromising and un-PC detective “Brant”, who is teamed with unlikely partner “Sgt Porter Nash” played by Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum) to investigate a series of police murders. BAFTA and Tony Award-nominee Aidan Gillen (HBO’s The Wire) and fellow BAFTA-nominee David Morrissey (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, State of Play, Nowhere Boy) join the cast as a cop-hating serial killer “Weiss” (Gillen) and hack crime reporter “Dunlop” (Morrissey).
The strong supporting cast includes Tony Award winnerMark Rylance(recently seen at the Royal Court in Jez Butterworths Jerusalem), Zawe Ashton (St Trinian’s II: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold), Richard Riddell(The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans) and Nicky Henson (Vera Drake).

Written by Nathan Parker (Moon) and produced by Zygi Kamasa, Steve Chasman (The Bank Job), Brad Wyman and Donald Kushner,BLITZ is the second feature to be directed by Elliott Lester.

With the release of London-based crime drama ‘Blitz’, the Fan Carpet’s Stefan Pape caught up with promising actress and star of the film Zawe Ashton. From Hackney, London – Zawe is a young, gifted actress starring in just her second feature film, and with a challenging role – playing the damaged WPC Elizabeth Falls.

At such an early stage in her big-screen career, Ashton spoke of what it was like working on Blitz, and working with her film idols and what the future holds for her, as America beckons.



Firstly, Blitz is a really interesting crime drama, you must be delighted with it as a finished product?

I’m really delighted that I’ve been a part of it and that my character is so stark and different in the film. And to have worked with some of the names in it – Paddy (Considine), Jason (Statham), Mark (Rylance) and Aiden (Gillen) is just unreal.


As you’re still relatively new to film, what was it like working with such experienced and talented actors such as Jason and Paddy?

It’s a blessing. You’re not supposed to get this far so early on in your career so I just feel so lucky and honoured to have just seen them on set and to have been able to observe them, how they carry themselves when you’re in scenes with them and what they’re doing when the cameras on them. Mark Rylance is an actor I’ve loved for absolutely years, in theatre and film, and he would sit in the make-up chair next to me giving me advice and just being a wonderful person which he didn’t have to be. No one had to be but they were all really supportive of me, the newcomer, I really appreciated that.


Did you ever envisage three or four years ago that you’d be on the big screen so soon with such big names?

No not so soon, it’s been a dream to be on screen in general, making films and doing them with such brilliant actors, not just one but so many all at once! Paddy Considine is an actor I’ve wanted to work with since I was about 17 when I first saw ‘Room for Romeo Brass’ so I still can’t believe it. It’s not just been working with a wonderful actor like him but being part of an action film with a massive Hollywood actor like Jason Statham but also Aiden Gillen who is an actor I really admire and he does loads of kooky stuff. So many different frames of reference were included in one film. That’s not supposed to happen but it has.


This was only Elliot Leicester’s, the director, second film, as it was yours. Do you think the fact that he was still finding his feet at this level as well helped you?

I think I could probably apply that in terms of casting, Elliot really pushed for me and he didn’t have to at that key point in his career. Being his second film, there were lots of big names up for the role as producers and other people were pushing being names into the pot. I think that’s where our levels of relative inexperience met head on, he could tell I was at the beginning of something and needed a chance and perhaps that is how he felt about himself as well.


You have done quite a lot of TV work in the past, is film now an area you want to stay in now?

Definitely. Film is such an immediate medium, with television you could do a series and then not be on for a long time and then come back where as with film it really feels like you’ve got to keep a momentum going. I was lucky enough to be making two films simultaneously in 2009 and then went straight on to my next one in the following summer. People remember you that way I think and you’ve got to keep that going. If you go too long without making a film people go ‘who’s that?’ and forget who you are. Also, more importantly, I think it’s something you get better and better at. Screen acting is something that I think even the most professional actors are still crafting and honing now so in that respect it would be helpful to keep it going.


Your character Elizabeth was a strong willed policeman but was quite vulnerable in many ways. What attracted you to the role itself?

I think exactly that – the complex worlds that she inhabited. She was inhabiting the world of the police force where you can’t drop your guard, you have to save face at all times because I think it must be difficult enough as it is being one of the only women on the force, in the film, let alone battling these demons. So it was this really nice balance of being a strong female but also having this dark and overwhelming past. There is great light and shade in her journey.


How much research did you have to do into the role?

I did do over a month before filming, researching and spending time in rehab centres like the CAA (Cocaine Addicts Anonymous). I spoke with an ex-policewoman who had also battled with drug addiction and right at the beginning of the film my character has failed a sergeant’s exam and so I looked into what this exam entails exactly – a lot of work, research, time and homework. Things like that gave me such an insight into where her head is at the beginning of the film – she’s tired, she’s been studying, looking forward to a potential promotion and when she doesn’t get it everything starts to spiral out of control. With the subjects such as drugs it’s important to be as specific as you can because this is people’s lives; it’s a serious issue, so I took it seriously.


Were there many parallels you could draw between yourself and the character?

I think I could really identify with her relationship with Metal (Steven Harwood-Brown) the young guy, a guy who is just completely off the rails, who has done some hideous things, not to be prejudice. Her quality of seeing people’s best points, even when they are people who would best be dismissed and placed under the radar, I think I can really identify with that, a lot of my work outside of acting is about working with young people, I work with a company called Clean Break, a theatre company which wants to rehabilitate women out of prison. I identify in trying to humanise and be patient with people who society forgets about. Also being a woman in a man’s world and having to really hold your own and having to be everything to everyone she is one thing to Tom Brant (Jason Statham) and one thing to lots of men as well – like every woman I think I identify with that multitasking as well.


Having been born and raised in Hackney and the film being based in London did you feel that it gave the film a certain degree of realism for you, as you were in familiar surroundings?

We were filming 10 minutes away from the house where I was born and grew up so it made it very real! Not only that but filming on the same road where I had my first ever job working in a cinema for seven or eight years. It made it immensely real the fact that I was there filming this feature film in my home borough made me realise how far I’d come and how far I want to go on – such a blessing.


Did you bump into anyone you know?

Too many! I bumped into old neighbours; my first boyfriend from primary school who now drives the school bus, my mum came down one night without telling me because she didn’t want to disturb me. It was literally like a camera crew had come in to film my life!


Did the local, familiar surroundings make it easier for you to act in?

I think so, for an actor you want your references and resources to be as close to you as possible when your building a character so having that vibe of London, knowing how crazy it can become, not having run-ins with the police force, but having a station on every other corner. Having my experience so close made it really easy to build the character and feel ‘I’m London, I’m proud’ and an inspiration for other Londoners.


And lastly, what does the future hold for you? Any upcoming projects?

Right now I’m actually working on two writing projects with the BBC. I’ve written a feature film which I’m having meetings about and I’m waiting on hearing about a couple of acting projects now. It’s a really key time so it’s just about waiting for the next project to be attached to but I’m hoping for more film and then figures crossed – America in the next 18 months.



Zawe Ashton Photos | Blitz Film Page