ympa’thy for the devil
PETER CAPALDI sold his soul to the devil and lived to tell the tale. Here it is. Words: Miles Fielder
eter C apaldi looks knackered. At first I think the state of
his eyes — they look like he‘s rubbed them so hard he's
rnesrnerised himself with the hypnagogic patterns on the inside of his lids — are symptomatic of a six-month run in l‘eelgood. a satire about New Labour spin doctoring playing at London‘s Garrick Theatre. But the show has been a blessing. respite from a damning period in his professional life which began back in 1993 when Capaldi. star of The Crow Road and Soft Top. Hard Shoulder. won an Oscar for the brilliant short film he wrote and directed. Fran: Kafka 's It's A llr/ondetjirl Life.
‘1 had a great piece of good fortune. which was that little lilm won an Oscar.‘ recalls (‘apaldi in Soho one afternoon prior to a performance of Feelgood. ‘1 suddenly had access to a lot of people and I had a script that I wanted to make.’
Capaldi sold it to Miramax. the American mini-major studio which specialises in films utilising liuropean talent and sugar- coated for the Oscars: Shakespeare In Love. ('hoeolat. Captain ('orelli's Mandolin. “We spent about a year developing it.' continues (‘apaldi ‘Then they decided not to make it. And they own it. so I couldn‘t do anything with it. It languishes on the shelf. Then I got approached by some other Americans.
Another project. which also we spent a long time on. Then that got shelved.‘
After Kafka. everyone wanted to meet (‘apaldiz after a year and no new lilm. the calls stopped coming in. ‘You do collapse. emotionally. when these projects don‘t go. because you commit so much to them.‘ he says. 'Also. you are left with no i. future: on the Thursday you think. “I'll be starting on a Monday and I‘ll be getting paid for a year and a half to make a film". Then on Friday. they say it‘s not happening and you have no income for the future.‘
Capaldi‘s experience is nothing new: it‘s a classic case of British talent being tempted by l-lollywood. But where other Brits have sold their souls for glamour and dollars. (‘apaldi refused to capitulate. ‘You've got to have a passion.’ he says. ‘lt‘s not about being a gun for hire. As soon as money crosses the table. trouble follows.~
During this time (‘apaldi stopped acting for a year and a half. 'When it all collapsed I thought: “Better get my tights out". I missed acting. I missed the company. Writing's very lonely.‘ Btrt (‘apaldi kept on writing. Over the course of a year he wrote Strietly Sinatra. the story of a Glasgow club singer obsessed with Frank Sinatra and who. like Frankie. falls in with the mob. DNA Films. the outfit run by producers Andrew Macdonald tWarns/rotting) and Duncan Kenworthy (Four Weddings And A Funeral). gave (‘apaldi the money to make the film.
(‘apaldi‘s experience working with British money men is a world apart from America. For a start. his film got made. with Ian Hart. Brian Cox and Kelly Macdonald in the leads as singer.
gangster and girlfriend. respectively. (‘apaldi's surprised his script wasn't tampered with for commercial purposes. though. ‘l‘m instinctively drawn to darker things.‘ he says. ‘Yet Duncan Kenworthy was strangely protective of the darker areas.‘
Strietly Sinatra has a very dark side to it. because. at its heart. it‘s a Faustian fable in which Hart‘s naive Toni (‘ocoxza sells his soul to (‘ox's wily crime boss (‘hisholm for fame and fortune. Parallels with (‘apaldi‘s American experience are all too obvious. though it looks like he got something out of it after all. ‘America was very educational.‘ he says. ‘because it made me arrive back at the point I maybe should have started from. I thotrght I should go back to square one and make something I could make.~
Strietly Sinatra. which (‘apaldi filmed in Spr‘ingburn and Sighthill. where he and his family grew up. also draws on Italian- Scottish culture and the cult of Frank Sinatra. ‘lt‘s nostalgic.’ says Capaldi. ‘l have memories of my parents when l was a child. playing Frank Sinatra records. having parties when people would drink too much and sing Frank Sinatra songs. As I got older. I could see how magical the music was. his a soundtrack for certain people‘s lives in Glasgow. Scottish people are very romantic. they love songs of passion. sadness and melancholy. which Sinatra provides them with.’
Like many Italians in Glasgow. (‘apaldi's family come frorn one of two districts in Italy: Balga. north of Florence. or from the south. in the ('apaldis’ case a village called Picinisco near Monte Casino. 'I paid a visit to this village where my grandfather came from.’ says (‘apaldi. 'and there was this war memorial and all the names on it were incredibly familiar. I knew them all from Glasgow. (‘ocoz/a was one of these names.’
Making Strietlv Sinatra hasn‘t just exorcised some demons. it‘s renewed (‘apaldi‘s passion for filrnrnaking. lle's currently working on another script. The .laeoln'te Slipper. ‘lt's a dark comedy.~ he says. ‘a pseudo-costume drama about Bonnie Prince (‘harlie and his double.‘ (‘apaldi will also be further endangering his soul. to another kind of devil in Max. a film he is acting in alongside John ("usack who plays Adolf Hitler‘s art dealer. "l‘here's a moment when history hangs in the balance] says (‘apaldi. savouring the dark humour. ‘when Hitler can‘t make up his mind whether to be an artist or a fascist.‘
Despite everything. (‘apaldi still prefers working behind the camera. ‘lt's wonderful to see your ideas and fantasies made real.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s an escape from real life. because it’s so long and complicated to do. It’s a nightmare as well: when it's hellish it's really hellish. You‘re struggling with the knowledge that things didn't turn out exactly how you wanted them to. or other people made you do other things. But still there’s enough of a spirit of yourself there to make it special.‘
For now. though. (‘apaldi is happy to do what he remains best known for: act. 'lt‘s nice to get away from the power structures you navigate making a lilrn. I wanted to do something that was a return to fairly simplistic demands from me.’ he says of lee/good. ‘I just go up on stage and do these very funny lines someone else has written. It's been good for that. but six months is a long timef
Peter (‘apaldi is knackered. but he‘s also at peace.
Strictly Sinatra opens Fri 9 Nov. See review, page 24.
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