Why did you take this role?
It’s a film about film and that in itself was the main attraction. The script reminded me of films that I watched with my mum as a kid, starting with Four Weddings and a Funeral and the entire Richard Curtis back catalogue and then onto The Full Monty and those feelgood British films. I don’t want to make Save The Cinema sound generic because it’s not, but it has that “je ne sais quoi” that those films also have.
The script was such an easy read which is always a good sign, then I found out the whole thing was was true. I did loads of research to try and prove this didn’t happen because it seemed so unlikely and then I realised, “Holy shit, Spielberg, it really did happen!” It’s a really, really cool story. Jurassic Park was a big part of my childhood and it sparked my love for cinema. Without question the first memory I have of going to the cinema is Jurassic Park. I’m sure I’d been to see other films before but that was the first one that had me hiding underneath my seat with my dad just laughing at me while two velociraptors try to kill two kids in the kitchen. So it’s very close to my heart.
Also I’ve been looking to do something in the UK for a while because I’ve been over the Pond for a while and Carmarthen is a lot closer to home than Los Angeles.
Tell me about your character Richard?
He’s the local postman. He’s done it for a while, he knows everyone in the community and he likes his job. His father was really a staple of the local council and had a big fascination with adult education centres and was basically a pillar of good. Not in any kind of political way: he was a bit like my mum, I suppose, just a good person. That was his life.
When we first see him he’s becoming reluctantly involved in local politics; he’s been put on the governing board because his father has recently passed away so he’s taking up where his father left off. But in fact he ends up becoming the mayor of Carmarthen because he has the trust of all the locals and the other candidates are somewhat corrupt.
What’s his relationship with Liz, and how does he get involved in the campaign to save the cinema?
He gets thrown in at the deep end. He’s sort of tricked by the governing board into thinking that he’s helping his father’s cause to build an adult education centre but he’s actually being manipulated by the politicians at the top as a bit of a soft touch who just want to build a shopping mall and make money.
It’s Liz that manages to convince Richard to run for mayor. He doesn’t even know what a mayor does! He has no interest. But Liz persuades him and he becomes a figurehead of cherishing the heritage, recognising the traditions, while also not being stuck in the old days where you can’t do anything progressive.
He surprises himself. I don’t know what the real Richard would think of this, but my Richard is definitely highly surprised at the fact that he becomes mayor, let alone that he ends up being very good at it.
He seems a very decent man?
He has a lifestyle I envy a lot at times. It’s simple and it’s calm and it’s almost like a steady economy where it’s not trying to continuously double in growth every year. He’s very much happy in his ways. He’s not a simple man, in the sense that he’s very educated and a well thought-out character. But ultimately there’s a simple honesty about him. The idea of stealing post would make him shudder! He would happily stand outside in the rain for ten minutes holding a parcel while he waits for someone to come down the stairs. So yes, he’s a good guy and he’s definitely got a good heart.
How close is the character to the real Richard?
Richard was a real person who was mayor of Carmarthen for two terms. I don’t know too much about his real story but I know it was changed for the scripts quite a bit and I worked on him as the character on the page more than the actual history of him. He was definitely involved with the Spielberg story but there was a bit of creative licence, I think, with the story of him becoming mayor, which gives the story a bit more of a ‘small man fighting the establishment’ thread.
Did you meet him?
On the last day I found a letter left on my trailer door, and it’s now on my fridge at home. It was addressed to “Tom Felton Esquire” which was lovely. It’s written in this gorgeous calligraphy and inside was just a very lovely letter from Richard saying, “Thank you for telling my story, and please do me justice” and just saying that he was really happy that his story was being told.
I avoided meeting him, to be honest with you, because you don’t really know what the real life versions of people are going to be so I kept my distance. But after that letter I wrote one back, in not nearly as nice handwriting. We were old-school penpals.
Does this feel like a very different role for you?
I’ve never been a mayor, and I’ve never been Welsh! But yeah, it’s true that I’ve never done anything like this before. Obviously playing a real person is new in itself, doing this kind of period – I’ve done 19th century but not 1996. And just playing such a nice guy. In case you’re not aware, I’m more familiar as a slimy git… There’s no slime or git with this guy, for sure.
Actors often say it’s more fun to play the bad guy, though…
Actually, it’s just as fun playing the nice guy, at least in this instance, because Richard is so shocked by what happens to him. He has no idea what he’s doing: Liz is the petrol in the engine, Richard is just one of the pistons or the clutch or something. I think he surprises himself with how good he is at the job and that was really interesting to play.
I think it’s just more fun for actors to play someone that’s different from them. Playing the bad guy definitely was fun for me because I had three older brothers that used to treat me like the youngest of four brothers, so Harry Potter was a good way for me to vent a lot of frustration. But this honestly is just as fun.
How was it to learn the Welsh accent?
It was really difficult. We had a fantastic voice coach, Nia, who did all of us. I’ve always had fun with accents. I really do enjoy them all. One of my favourite films is Twin Towns and when you hear a really strong Welsh accent it’s hard not to lean into that.
It’s a bit like the way English people think Americans always just go, “Oh my Gahhhhhd” or “Like, awwwwesome” when most American accents are quite different. Or an American might do a British accent as “Awight mate?” and that’s not quite right either. So I had to learn the subtleties of this Welsh accent and not the one I had in my head.
It was hard. There was a solid week where I was like, “This is gonna sound shit, isn’t it?” but Nia had some really clever, simple, easy ways to tap into it. We shot in Wales and we were surrounded by Welsh crew, of course, so that helped and it did definitely become second nature after a while.
What was it like filming in Carmarthen?
I grew up in a fairly quiet village and Carmarthen reminded me of that. It’s a really beautiful place but it’s not steeped in lots of modern architecture or whatever, thank goodness. We shot in the actual cinema, the Lyric, which was beautiful. We were very much welcomed by the locals even though everything was pretty much shut down because of Covid. Considering what was going on, it was pretty brilliant of them to welcome us.
Without spoiling too much about the plot, one of the ways Liz and her helpers save the cinema is to reinvigorate the older population to come back to the Lyric to watch an old classic – in this case, How Green Was My Valley? which I hadn’t seen before.
So in real life we got all of these locals to come in as extras and recreate the moment they actually went to the Lyric to watch the movie and that was pretty cool: we were making a story about a local community that thrives, while actually making the local community thrive in real-time too.
Did that period remind you of your own fondness for the cinema during that period?
Yeah, we had a cinema and a theatre near our house and my mum really enjoyed the theatre especially. I had three older brothers who continuously made my life difficult but one of them did act as well so I used to go and watch him a lot. And yeah, definitely every Friday night we’d go to the local Apollo, which was the name of the video shop, which was right next to the fish and chip shop. Basically, if you managed to convince mum to stop at one, then you probably got both. The nostalgia of picking out a film on a Friday night is very strong.
How did you enjoy working with the rest of the cast?
Most of my scenes were with Adeel and I had a huge crush on the man and I still do. I think he’s absolutely hilarious and so talented in so many ways. He’d always randomly bring a ukulele onto set and the first time he brought it out I was like, “What the hell is that?”
He’s very funny. This isn’t an out-and-out comedy but it’s funny because all these characters have their own little nuances and Adeel’s character has that more than anybody. He has these great sunglasses, cigars. He was great to work with.
It sounds like one of those cheesy comments but there wasn’t a bad bone in the bunch really. Everyone had to pitch in because it was a small production in a small town and that meant it wasn’t always as straightforward and as easy as it is to do it in a big film studio. I think it felt like band of brothers and sisters, which is really nice. We were only there for five weeks but it felt like five months because of how well we knew each other.
And how was it to be back doing British film again: is this you back working in Britain for good now?
We’ll see how the sequel goes! But yeah, pretty much. I never seem to be in one place for very long but I think Covid restructured everyone’s priorities and I’ve definitely been away from home for too long so it was a good excuse to come and hang out with Mum. Now I’ve got a taste for her cooking again, there’s not much chance of me leaving.
There was a quote recently from the Harry Potter producer Chris Columbus recently talking about how you were nearly cast in the role of Harry instead of Draco. Did you see that?
Yes, I did. They couldn’t afford me!
What did you think about those comments?
Well first of all, we all auditioned for different parts at times. I mean, not all of us: Rupert would have made a terrible Hermione, but we were all floating around a bit. I think it was more a case of Chris was so good that he thought, “Let’s just throw some paint on the wall and see what sticks” so I did have the glasses on and all of that. There’s a video somewhere of me dressed in full Potter regalia with with the scar during the audition process. I did two or three auditions for Potter and I did one for Ron as well. I kept dyeing my hair for the different roles and you can imagine the flack I got at school for the Neapolitan hairstyles.
But I couldn’t be more certain there is no one on the planet that could have played the roles as well as they did, let alone deal with the mania that is the Potter-verse. And no one had more fun than me. So it all worked out well.
What’s your favourite Spielberg film?
It’s Jurassic Park, still, because cinema doesn’t really exist in my head until the moment I saw that. But there are so many. Indiana Jones, ET. Whatever happened in that noggin of his has inspired me endlessly and still does to the day. So cheers, Steve.
Have you ever met him?
It’s funny because my first meetings in Los Angeles when I went over there – bearing in mind, it’s all very daunting with these huge studios – I went to DreamWorks to meet one of his assistants. His offices are all like a theme park. There are props everywhere, and it just felt like a really fun place. It almost felt like it was designed by a child that never grew up. I had the Peter Pan syndrome walking around there. I remember the assistant saying, “Steven’s a big fan of the Potter films” and I was like, “What? Steven Spielberg’s seen me in films?”
I was lucky enough to get the chance to meet him a few years later because he was a big part of the Potter rides in the Universal theme parks and I just said, “Hi Steven, very nice to meet you” like a total idiot but he was very nice. The guy is a legend.
Do you hope this film will encourage people to use their local cinemas more?
Definitely. Anyone that has grown up with the cinema, anyone who doesn’t think that Netflix is the only way to watch movies, will always have a soft spot for the cinema. I’m so excited by how much the cinema has progressed. The seats are so comfy I almost fall asleep, and good local cinemas often do themed nights. It costs more now but cinemas are very good at creating a good experience to make it worth it.
If you watch a film at home and there’s no one around you at all, it’s totally different from watching the exact same film with people sitting in the row behind you. You know they’re there.
You might hear laughter or crying and there’s something really precious about sharing that experience with other people. It’s not like just sitting at home and watching your favourite Marvel character. There’s something really wholesome and nostalgic about all getting together to watch something classic.
Do you think we have rediscovered the joy of sharing that experience after being denied it for so long during the pandemic?
It does feel a bit like, “Well that was awful but that did work out well for cinema.” Hopefully it will kick people up the backside to be like, “Yeah, let’s go and check out new films.” Or so many of these theatres now are showing old classics, ones that you grew up with, and I’m a sucker for that.
Save The Cinema is out on Sky Cinema on the 14th January 2022 and you can read our review here.