DAVID THEWLIS FEATURE
voice and clothes and a way of moving. That’s what takes all that time, through improvisation
and discussion and research, and so the film.
'evolves in a very organic way.’
Thewlis left his native Blackpool a few years back to study acting at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. During the rehearsal period for Naked, the 30-year-old found himself living in Soho and was able to draw from the local atmosphere, its inhabitants and their stories as the character developed. Johnny also hails from the North (Manchester in his case), and the world he finds himself in is filled with a more desperate set of grotesques than in Leigh’s previous comedies. Naked overﬂows with lonely characters, isolated from each other by the episodic nature of the narrative, with only Johnny — a manipulator who offers them no real sense of hope - as the loose link between them. And as Johnny scours the darkest alleys of London’s nightlife, Thewlis delves into the more shadowy comers of his own personality.
‘Yeah, I had to investigate a lot of the anger in myself, a lot of the bitterness, pessimism and cynicism which is in all of us. Maybe some people never quite tap into it or acknowledge it — we repress so much in this life — and so to be given that licence is a little like therapy. Someone asked me if I slept out much when making the film, and I did twice: once on my roof and once in a park. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t want that to sound like “Hey, I really suffered for this part”, because on the street where I lived there were more than ten people out there every night. Talking to these people and hearing their stories is obviously an inspiration, because one of the most striking things is that they’re not all drug addicts and
winos and no-hopers — there’s a large percentage of highly intelligent people living on the streets.
‘In fact,’ he continues, ‘l’m not particularly sure about how much the film has to say about London itself. It is relevant that this is the capital city, that this man has come down from the second city to look for something. But in escaping Manchester, he escapes into the prison of London. The truth is, this film could really have taken place in Manchester or Paris or New York or Rome. It’s about urban decay and moral decay and dispossessed people. I think what’s indigenously Northern is the humour and that cynicism which is much harder than a London humour.’
It’s this humour that makes Naked’s stark depiction of 905 Britain palatable. This and a virtuoso performance by Thewlis that is surely among the best of the year. His skills were warmly appreciated at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year when he beat off the likes of Harvey Keitel, Daniel Auteuil and MiChael Douglas to win the Best Actor Prize (Leigh picked up the Director’s accolade). This brought him to the attention of the big Hollywood agents who whisked him across the Atlantic for meetings despite never having seen him on film.
Thewlis himself is more calm and practical about it all. He has worked steadily since leaving drama school, combining a little theatre work with television roles in the likes of The Singing Detective, Road and Frank Stubbs Promotes. His feature credits have included cameo parts in Damage and The Trial, as well as a storming lead in the Falklands drama Resurrected. He also licked chocolate off Jane Horrocks’s naked body in Leigh’s previous
DAVID ruswus: ‘I had to examine a lot of the anger II ml!)
work, Life Is Sweet. Most recently, he completed three weeks filming a small role in a new adaptation of Black Beauty (‘I wanted to , get away from all the heaviness of Naked that was still hanging around,’ he explains. ‘I play a very pleasant character who looks after the horses and is kind to animals’). His contribution to the development of Johnny and Naked has also given him more conﬁdence in his writing and, although two previous pieces remain in the bottom drawer, he’s been working simultaneously on a ﬁlmscript and a stageplay, . with Royal Court Theatre interest in the latter. ‘Films like Naked and Resurrected are slightly seditious and challenge the status quo,’ he says of his greatest moments, ‘and given the chance, I favour those sorts of films that do stir up things because, my God, things need stirring up. They’re the best films because they make people want to talk about them. I’d hate to be in a film where people came out and were indifferent about it. I consider myself quite political, and wish to be more so in terms of actually being activated about things. I do films about things I believe in; I wouldn’t do a film that went against my principles, and obviously my principles are left-of-centre. Some of my personal views are extreme . . . that’s going to look bad in print, isn’t it? I’m not saying I’m Workers Revolutionary Party, I’m not actually talking about party politics, I’m talking about a sense of justice. Anything seditious for the right reasons is attractive to me because it’s seditious.’ Cl Naked opens in Scotland on Friday 5 November. Mike Leigh will make a personal appearance after the 6.30pm showing of Naked at the Edinburgh Cameo on Sunday 7. Tickets £5 (£3 for Cameo Club members).
The List 5-l8 November I993 11