Why did you sign up to this film?
It’s a heartfelt story with a bit of comedy peppered in there. The script is so beautifully written. That, coupled with this amazing cast, it was a no-brainer.
It has quite a classic feel to it: the minnows versus the giants. Yes, and that really appeals to me. That sort of David and Goliath type story, taking on the system, and knowing that the thing that you’re doing is true, and that it’s a good pursuit. I always gravitate towards those sorts of roles, and I’ve never really had a chance to be a part of one like this before. It was a good story to tell.
Tell me about your character. Who do you play in this incredible story?
I play Tom Jenkins, the mayor of Carmarthen who wants to pull down the cinema to build a shopping precinct. He’s not one real person, he’s a mixture of a lot of different characters that Liz came up against from places like the council, who gave her a bit of a tough time. He represents the establishment, if you like.
Is he an out-and-out baddie or is he comedic?
When I read the script, I thought I understood who he was, so I expected to be dressed in pinstripe suits with the mayoral chains. I thought, “I know exactly what I’m doing here,” but then the costume designer put me in a powder blue suit and shades!
The idea was that this guy’s fashion sense was a bit eighties, so he was ten years behind. It was a little bit Duran Duran!
It’s a mix of comedy and drama. You never know what you’re going to get. There’s little bit of drama, then suddenly there I am in some shades and a powder blue suit. It was like Sara [Sugarman] was sort of winding me up and then letting me go and do my thing. I rolled up the sleeves like, “Oh, we’re doing this, then. That’s fine.”
It’s a real-life story. What does that add to it, and why do you think that translates so well into this film?
I was chatting with some of the extras in Carmarthen during one of the scenes where they all pile into the cinema to watch Jurassic Park, and some of them were actually there at the time. They told me so many stories about Liz and that’s what I think will come through in this film – it’s a truthful account of this woman’s life, who was a real force of nature. You can’t really mess about with a story like that. The heart of it looks after itself.
Her energy was contagious, and it rippled through these young people. Some of them went on to have a life in the arts, and some didn’t – but it rippled through that community to the point where a 50-year-old extra was still talking to me about her in a way that felt very immediate. She really had a massive effect on that community and that town.
She inspired a whole generation.
Yes. Also, she showed people that you don’t have to give in to authority if you think that what you’re doing is right. That is such an important lesson for kids to have as they’re growing up.
If you think what you’re doing is right and just and true, then you don’t have to waver for anyone. Stick to your guns. And that’s something she instilled even in the adults. It’s a really important lesson for those young people to learn at such a formative time in their lives.
Tell me a bit about working with the rest of the cast.
There’s a lot of ensemble scenes, and some very sort of buttoned-up, meeting type scenes where we’re discussing what we have to do, and whether we can actually pull down the cinema and build a shopping precinct. I had more scenes with Sam than anyone else. She’s amazing, I’ve been such a fan of all her stuff. There are a couple of scenes where the characters go head to head, which were really fun to do.
You’re one of the very few characters who isn’t directly based on one person. Does that take the pressure off a bit or did you still feel a responsibility towards the real people who are being represented?
My character’s a mixture of many people so we were able to take it to the edges as much as we could, and just have fun with it. There are some dramatic moments but the comedic moments help to balance it out.
There were so many extras on set who knew Liz first-hand, you couldn’t get away from the reality of what it was. Even just sitting down with them between scenes, people were just talking about her all the time. It was like she was in the walls of the cinema in a way, so it was amazing to be in that atmosphere.
What did the people of Carmarthen think of you filming this story about their town?
They were really nice. It’s not every day that a film crew arrives on your doorstep, but this was on another level. When you spoke to the people, they weren’t very surprised that Liz Evans was having a film made about her. It was like, “If anybody was going to have a film made about her, it would be Liz.” That sort of thing made it such an incredible atmosphere to be around.
Did you have to learn the dialect?
Well, I had to speak in the Welsh accent, but whether other people think it’s good or not is another thing! I think the Welsh accent, more than any other accent, has all these different dialects that you gradually would fall into without even realising it. Nia, the dialect coach, was always by the monitor, making sure we didn’t venture too far into another continent.
It’s a difficult accent but once you get your ear in, and once you get in the rhythm of it, it’s okay. It was fun. I’m happy to let the Welsh decide if it’s any good!
What was it like seeing 1993 recreated in that way?
It was crazy! The attention to detail, the set dressing and everything was amazing. You could look up from a scene that you’re doing, and just be completely immersed in that world, because the attention to detail was so good. It just looked after itself, you know? The work was already done, you just had to turn up and make sure your accent was okay.
The film is very much a love letter to the cinema. Were you a big cinema goer, as a child around this period?
Yes, as much as anyone else, I think. I remember how formative it was in just knowing that there are worlds created that were beyond yours, that there’s an imaginary space that you can inhabit where anything is possible, and all sorts of stories can be told.
Despite being a BAFTA winner and a highly acclaimed actor yourself, did you have a pinch-yourself moment working with Jonathan?
Oh, my gosh, yes! I tried to play it cool and just sit next to him, hoping for some sort of anecdote, without having to ask for one. No prodding, or going, “So what was it like working with Anthony Hopkins [on The Two Popes]?” You know, just gently guiding the conversation. But yes, he was great. And just massive on screen, I could watch him all day. Once I got going though, I could chat and chat, and he’s like, trying to find an excuse to leave, sort of thing! But he was lovely, and very gracious with his time.
You filmed Save The Cinema during lockdown, and local cinemas are still very vulnerable after months of no income. What do you hope that audiences will take away from this?
I think it’s going to make people feel more of a connection to what cinema is, and the power of what it can do. But if I’m being really honest, it’s almost the job of the creative arts – the arts, cinema and theatre, and all the stuff that we have creative connections to – it’s almost the job of that to find a way through it. It adapts itself. Because people just want stories, they need stories. They have a need to consume narratives. And that’s why we had the rise of Netflix, Amazon and everything else, when people weren’t able to go to the cinema.
I’ve got a good feeling that it’s all going to bounce back in the way that it needs to, because people need it. The idea of being together in a room with a group of strangers, and all sitting there and having that collective focus on one thing, people need that. This [movie] will bring people’s awareness to how important cinema is, definitely.
What was your first cinema experience?
I think it was something very heavy like Dead Poets Society. It was with the whole family.
What is your favourite Spielberg film?
That’s such a hard question! I’ll just have to go E.T. because it has a little bit of a tenuous link with Save The Cinema in that it’s got a big heart to it, and it’s unapologetic about what it is and what it represents.
Save The Cinema is out on Sky Cinema on the 14th January 2022 and you can read our review here.