Film & Movie / Interview / Print / Serial / Television / TV

Interview: John Simm for Exile

BBC Press Office
18 April 2011

What did you think when you first read the script and what attracted you to the role?

The quality of the script shone out at me straight away. It’s not often that you get a script of such quality and it’s quite few and far between in TV or film. It was the kind of quality that you’d get from Paul Abbott, Tony Marchant, Abi Morgan, or Jimmy McGovern, it was that good. Also the story was fabulous and the whole thing just screamed “You have to do this!”

Had you worked with Danny Brocklehurst or Paul Abbott before? Were you a fan of their work?

I didn’t really know Danny but I’m a big fan now. I knew Paul of course – he wrote the Cracker episode that I think broke me and made me.

I thought that script was Jimmy McGovern but it was actually Paul Abbott. I didn’t look at the name on the front of the cover, and I read it and thought, “That’s Jimmy McGovern”, which is the best compliment I could have paid to Paul Abbott at that time and the same thing happened with this, I thought it was Paul Abbott, and it was Danny Brocklehurst!

You’re pretty much in every single scene; was this role a completely new challenge?

No, I think I’m used to it because I was in every single scene of Life On Mars for two years, every single scene and that was very, very hard work. The schedules are always very, very hard, but I’m used to being on set most of the time from when I was in State Of Play and The Lakes, which is fine by me.

If there is a day that I have to wait around I get really bored and I find it harder.

The day goes quite quickly and it’s really good work, so even though it can be quite challenging trying to learn all the lines in time, that’s our job and that’s what we have to do. It took a lot of concentrating but that’s what they pay me to do.

Can you tell us about your character Tom?

He’s a “journalist”, in inverted commas, which means he works for one of those magazines – a bit of a celebrity journalist. He gets fired from his job because he’s not a very nice person, that’s established from quite early on, and then he drives up North, because he’s from there.

We see him driving up North and he goes back to his family home to see his sister and his father who he hasn’t seen for many years. The last time he did, his Dad beat him up badly for some reason, so he left home and hasn’t been back since, for about 18 years.

He goes back to confront his father and to find out what happened, but his father has got quite severe Alzheimer’s and he’s shocked by how far gone he is.

His sister is quite resentful of the fact that he left, and that he left her to look after their father. Her life has literally been spent looking after their father while he’s been in London; living it up, getting loads of money, taking drugs, and generally being an idiot. He’s forced to stay there and confront his dad and find out exactly why he beat him all those years ago.

Exile was filmed in the North. Did you grow up in Manchester?

I wasn’t born in Manchester, I lived there, then we moved all around it; in it and in the outskirts and then I left. But I spent my whole youth there – clubbing, football, and gigs!

I love Manchester, I always have, ever since I was a kid and I go back as much as I can. I spent my youth there and I spent two years there doing Life On Mars and Clocking Off . I’m always in Manchester, I’m always filming in Manchester. It’s either Manchester or Cardiff, but I must say Manchester’s my spiritual home.

I’ve been in London for 22 years now, but Manchester’s the only other place, I think, in the country, that I could live. I love it.

The story is about a father/son relationship, were you able to draw on your own relationship with your father at all?

In a way it’s one of the things that attracted me to the storyline. It’s about a son that leaves home very early, goes to London, and becomes a success, and then goes back. He has to deal with going back to this small town and that in a way, is my circumstances.

I went to school in a place called Nelson, which is about half an hour away from Manchester near Burnley, and it’s a tiny little place. I could relate to it quite easily, driving back up North, I’ve done that loads of times.

I did that the whole time I was a student, also driving back up North, meeting prejudice and the old school friends that you’d lose touch with who are a little bit resentful. I’m not saying that massively happened to me, but I can relate to it.

Tom’s father is played by award-winning actor Jim Broadbent – how was that?

That was just the cherry on top of the cake. He was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I’ve been a huge fan of his forever and it was an honour and a privilege to work with him. In no way was I disappointed, if anything it was even more wonderful to work with him than I imagined, he’s just brilliant.

Had you worked with any of the supporting cast before?

No I’ve never worked with any of them before. I was a huge fan of Olivia Colman, from Peep Show. I remember Claire from Casualty as well – it was really nice to work with them.

Shaun Dooley and I have worked with so many of the same people, we’ve got so many of the same friends, and it was just a miracle that we’d never worked together. We’ve worked for the same directors, we’re the same kind of actor I guess, we get cast in the same kind of gritty dramas, but this was a first. I finally got to work with Shaun Dooley and we were both very, very pleased.

In fact, all of them were wonderful. Timothy West is another one I’ve been a fan of for many, many, many years. I was in awe of him a little bit so it was a great opportunity to work with him.

Are there any highlights or memorable stories from filming?

The cold was a massive part of it, but if we moaned, I always thought back to Jim Broadbent running down the street in his underpants and a string vest, in the snow, and not moaning at all – he didn’t even flinch! So as soon as you felt a moan about the cold coming to your lips, you just stopped and thought of Jim.

There were many memorable bits – just the work itself, the acting, the scenes with Jim, the scenes with all of them, Claire and Shaun, Olivia and Timothy, were just a joy to do.

It was also great to work with John Alexander [Director] because I’ve worked with him before on Life On Mars.

It was a really lovely set, there was a really lovely atmosphere and that counts for a lot with something as deep and heavy as this. It helps to have a nice, jokey, light set, and that’s what we had. I think we’d have gone nuts if we hadn’t!

How was working with Danny [Brocklehurst]?

It was lovely – he was great. I saw him just before we started filming and we watched the United game together. He was brilliant, if we wanted to change anything, or say “is it alright if I say this, instead of this?”, he was totally open for it. He was a joy to work with.

What are your plans after Exile? Are you taking a break?

I’d like to. I was away for most of last year, with Mad Dogs, then I did Hamlet in Sheffield and then Exile. Hamlet took up a lot of the time because I was learning it for the whole year beforehand so I was exhausted after that and I swore I would not do anything for the rest of the year, but then this script hit me and so I had my hands up really! Hopefully I can take some time off.

Exile starts on 1 May at 9pm on BBC1

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