I recently got the opportunity to talk to Christopher Hatherall about his role in prison drama ‘Ghosted’. Here, Christopher talks about how he got involved in the project, and how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Christopher. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Ghosted’ is in selected UK cinemas right now…what is the general plotline surrounding the film?
An older prisoner, Jack, (John Lynch), is close to being released but discovers that his wife has left him on the anniversary of their son’s death. When the young Paul, (Martin Compston) enters the prison and comes under the watchful eye and dangerous attention of the wing bad boy Clay, (Craig Parkinson), Jack then sets about teaching Paul how to stay away from the malicious Clay and just do his time. This sets in motion a battle of wits and wills between Clay and Jack that makes time for everyone on the wing very difficult, and throws up a few surprises for Jack and Paul.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the film…
I have a very small role, playing the drug dealer of Clay’s crew, a character called Sparky. I deal out the drugs and generally do what I’m told to do by the boss. It’s better for your health if you do that around Clay.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I have worked with the director, Craig Viveiros, many times before. We first met on a feature film in 2007. Craig was the camera operator on the film and we got talking. He revealed that he wanted to be a director and showed me some of his writing, which was, like ‘Ghosted’, gritty, real and affecting. Once we returned to London we set about working as director and actor and completed our first project together, a short film called ‘Flat 126, Floor 24’, a month or so later. Since then we have worked together five times, each time being better than the last. He is an extremely sensitive, intelligent, and encouraging director, who trusts his actors. Those are rare qualities and I’m hopeful that I will get to work with him many more times throughout my career – because now it feels natural when we are both focused on set, working a scene together. We have become great friends also, and so I genuinely cannot speak highly enough of him. He has a big future.
What was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
I like working on films because you all become part of one team for the duration of the production. A film bubble develops and, in many ways, normal life ceases to exist. With ‘Ghosted’ we were shooting on a set in south-west London and the production was there for almost six weeks. As I had a small role I wasn’t there for that long but when I was, it was a complete joy to be involved. I already knew some of the crew, (like James Friend, the cinematographer and one of the producers), having worked with them previously, so for me that made the shoot very smooth. The cast were excellent. Lynch, Compston, and Parkinson excel as the three main protagonists and led by example on set in their professionalism and focus and energy. And that was repeated by all the actors and crew involved and created a friendly, creative but focused production, which for a low-budget film is an essential platform for success.
Has being in the film changed your stance on prisons and inmates?
Clearly prison is not an ideal place to find one’s self! The sense of confinement both physically and mentally – that ‘Ghosted’ captures so well – is very testing, terrifying even. We shot the film on a purpose-built prison set and that helped greatly in creating an authentic atmosphere. The intensity of the situation, heightened by the proximity to everyone else, the feeling that you would have to be constantly checking what you say, what you do, how you behave, makes me appreciate how life for prisoners is very particular and fraught. For my role I did research into how drugs get into prisons and was surprised at how easily they get in and how prevalent they are inside. Given that prison life seems to be about living under such an intense microscope it is no wonder that prisoners will look for anything that will help them to cope and escape that feeling.
Let’s talk a bit about you Christopher. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I never considered being an actor or even wanting to act. Growing up I was in one school play at the age of ten and that was that. Until I was 22 I was working at an insurance company having a regular life in Gloucester. That was never really for me, so I packed it in and went to University to do a degree in Film Studies and Modern Writing – the aim being to become a writer. I took the odd acting lesson with a private tutor to learn about an actor’s process and so better inform my script writing. And I fell in love with it. Acting requires intelligence, sensitivity, and imagination, as does writing, but I found the immediacy of acting much more suited to me. To be able to engage directly with a text, to read a character, empathize with them, and then use your imagination and own humanity to create an authentic portrayal of them is a very enjoyable test to take. When I finished the degree I joined a theatre group and was on stage for the first time when I was 25. Then I got a role in a super low-budget feature a year later and from that was signed to an agent. When I was 27 I moved to London, slept on my mate’s floor (as any self-respecting artist does!) and started looking for roles in independent films. That was six years ago, and considering how it all started, I am happy how it has gone so far. The drive to do more grows ever stronger.
What advice would you give to British actors wanting to get into the industry?
For me it’s about working hard, being willing to learn, and, most importantly, loving what I do. My first agent told me that I had to be in acting for the ‘long game’, meaning that success (however you qualify that) would not come in a month or a year or even three/six. It takes a long time to become an overnight success, and I still have a long, long way to go until I can say that I am successful. I have been working hard pursuing a career for over six years, and if I wanted to make money then I am in the wrong game! The love of the process, of being a part of something, is what keeps me focused when it’s four o’clock in the morning in November; you are outside, it is freezing cold, and you still have another four hours to shoot. I never entered the business via the conventional route (i.e. drama school), which meant that I had to get out there and meet people who were making independent films and work hard to prove myself worthy of being involved. Then I had to work hard when I actually got the gig too, and work hard afterwards to find the next one. The more projects I have done, the more experience I have gained and the more I have learnt – both about acting and the business. And then all you need is a decent amount of good fortune that puts you in the right place at the right time!
We should mention you’ve been in a number of indie films and shorts – how important do you think the indie industry is nowadays?
Hugely important, and it always will be. The independent industry is the only viable alternative to mainstream cinema and ideally should be supported more by the establishment in order to blood new talent. For those filmmakers that can’t enter the business via a more conventional route the independent industry is the only avenue for them to go out and make a film. Finding financial support in this country is especially difficult so websites such as Shooting People are vital in allowing independent filmmakers to network and find the actors and crew that they need to make a project happen. Given the unconventional way that I entered into the business such websites were essential in providing me with the platform to get myself in front of new filmmakers. The mainstream has money which gives them more security in making a film. They can afford established actors and technicians, and then, because of the talent involved, it is easier for them to find support in distribution and sales, which in turn means that the film reaches a larger audience and therefore is more likely to make a profit. Independent filmmakers usually find themselves scraping around for investment, or indeed self-funding their project, which means that some of the time the entire budget goes into the production and people work for free – for the love of what they do – or at least for a much lower wage than they would receive in a mainstream production. This can be hugely limiting of course, both in terms of artistic vision (because film making is expensive and if you don’t have a lot of money then you are limited in every area such as equipment, locations, logistics, personnel etc.) and in terms of distribution, because if you can’t afford a bankable star or recognizable name then it is difficult to get your film to market and expect people to come and watch it. However, for those indie filmmakers with the intelligence and drive to make their film and the strength to carry it through, having a limited budget can be a blessing as they can retain artistic control over their vision and produce what maybe be referred to as a purer piece of work that is a fresh and interesting alternative to the mainstream and not bound by meeting revenue targets and getting bums on seats. It’s easier said than done of course, but this is why the independent industry is such an important breeding ground for those talented filmmakers that might otherwise never be discovered. It also provides an important source of work and experience for the many, many talented actors, writers, and technicians out there who aren’t yet established within the mainstream industry. I think that the mainstream in this country is pretty good at recognizing those excellent indie films that have been produced on low-budgets but that is always afterwards – not during the inception and development stage. But that is symptomatic of the ambition that exists in this business which causes everyone within it to look up rather than down, and that is to be expected and championed. Only with such strong ambition can anything be achieved. There is a plentitude of young /new filmmakers out there trying to get their films made and, given that the terrain is so tough, undeterred ambition and indefatigable determination is the very least that is required. Of course you hope that once those new filmmakers establish themselves and begin to work within the mainstream – they retain as much of that independence of artistry and vision as possible.
What does a Christopher Hatherall day usually consist of?
Thankfully being in this business means that there is no usual day. I find myself constantly trying to make contacts regarding prospective projects, reading scripts, preparing for auditions, and looking for work – which is never easy. Essentially, at almost every second of everyday at least some part of my mind and focus is on acting. I’m very happy that I naturally have that level of commitment but it can be tough when you are trying to relax and seeking some normality. I read and watch a lot of films too, both at the cinema and on DVD. I re-discovered Howard Hawks’ ‘Rio Bravo’ recently. Check it out.
What’s coming up for you in 2011? I hear you’ve just finished a project, called ‘Lost In Italy’….
‘Lost in Italy’ is the next collaboration with Mr Viveiros! It’s a mystery drama in which I play the younger version of Ray Winstone’s character in the film. His name is Terry and he is not a particularly nice guy; a drinker, gambler and womanizer who cares little for anyone else’s feelings. It is in post-production now and hopefully will be released sometime in the autumn. I have just completed a couple of interesting short films; ‘Prosopagnosia’, which is a Dutch production about a man, who can’t recognize faces, accused of murder, and ‘Ouroboros’ which is a drama told in continuous split screen. Recently, low-budget indie feature ‘The Point of Regret’ was released on DVD, and Anglo-Indian feature film ‘Life Goes On’ had a limited release at cinemas and will be on DVD later in the year. Currently there are a few possible projects on the horizon so I’m working hard to make them a reality.
Thanks for the interview!