Sean Pertwee interview: Dog Soldiers on 4K, Gotham, Equilibrium

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Sean Pertwee has racked up well over 100 acting credits to date and there’s a good reason why – he’s long been an advocate and supporter of the British film and TV industries. A quick scan through his resume shows an impressive amount of work with first time British directors, many of whom have chosen to work with him time and again due to his loyalty and belief in them.


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Neil Marshall is one such director, who’s cast him repeatedly over the years, from his feature debut Dog Soldiers back in 2002, to his latest horror film The Reckoning, which is due to debut imminently at FrightFest. But it was the former that gave us the opportunity to discuss Mr Pertwee’s career and the new release of Dog Soldiers on 4K.

As genre cinema hero, with a delightfully high mortality rate, it was an absolute pleasure to have some virtual face time with the man himself, so without further ado…

How are you keeping and how’s this year been treating you?

Well we’re here [on Zoom] and what a bizarre world it is out there, but I’m thankful that we’re all safe and that I got out of New York when I did, because I was out there for pilot season and that got hit. That was my home for the last six years and it’s terrible what’s happened to that beautiful city and the beautiful state and the rest of America, so it’s awful.

Thank god I got home to my family, back to my wife and my son and my mother and everyone, so I have a lot to be thankful for. And I’ve had a very intensive six-month period with my wife and my son, which has also been kind of cool, they may say something different though! [laughs]

There’s nothing like trying to work and home school I discovered/

I can’t imagine that – my boy is 18, so has just finished school thankfully, because I didn’t do very well at school so I wouldn’t know where to start! [laughs] There were howls of approval when the kids were sent back to school, some of my friends – it was hilarious.

I love Dog Soldiers and remember seeing it at the cinema, so was slightly horrified it was 18 years ago now.

It’s amazing that it still has legs, here and across the pond, which I always find extraordinary because I don’t understand what half the cast are talking about half the time, because they’re all from the north – or the northeast of England, in Newcastle! So I don’t understand how my American cousins can understand what they’re talking about.

People must have mentioned Dog Soldiers to you over the years, what’s the first emotional reaction you have to it?

It was one of the most intensive experiences of my career, it really, genuinely was and it still is up there as one of my favourite experiences of 30 years of being in the industry. Because first of all it was terrifying, it was a gamble – it was a first time director who I didn’t particularly know, I admired him, but didn’t know him and I’ve never been on a shoot that was so intensive.

We shot it chronologically, so when people passed away, or died, there was a really palpable sense of loss, because we were shooting in real time, as it were, so everything became very immediate. You never felt like anyone was particularly cannon fodder, we were all in the mire together, as from day one when we jump out the helicopter on the first day. People ask “How did you bond?” well we bonded in a 12-page scene, which is terrifying on your first day, but we’ve known each other for the years after that – we had a few beers that night and that was it, we were a squad.

I think that really shows on screen, I still do, I think that’s one of the reasons why it is still successful and speaks to people, because there’s that real sense of camaraderie that exists in that movie that people probably wish existed in real life.

I think it’s terrific how tangible that bonding is on screen and it’s such a rare thing to capture properly – Aliens is always held up as an example, but it doesn’t happen very often. Neil Marshall also mentioned that your acting experience at that point lined up with your military ranking, so it must have been great to feel like all those elements had lined up?

Very much so, that’s a very true statement. What I gleaned from playing Sgt. Wells was the responsibility and the fact that there were younger and more inexperienced actors on set and the Sarge is mother, father, everything to these people, protectorate, loyal, as they all are to each other and I think that’s something that we gleaned. So when, like I said going back to my initial statement, when people died and were flown off set there was this gaping sense of loss and I think that was one of the really good elements of the piece.

Dog Soldiers is a very quotable film, but do you have a favourite line, or a favourite scene?

To be honest there’s so many, there’s Coop’s “Of course they’ll fit!”, there’s “There is no Spoon”, there’s “I hope I give you the shits!”, there’s “Sausages!” and the list goes on! I’m constantly surprised when someone posts, or I post on Twitter, or Instagram or something else, the love and the outpouring of support – and quotes I have to say – are quite extraordinary, after all these years!

And there’s many quotes, some of which when we were shooting the movie, which was pre-internet really so you couldn’t fact check anything, but of course there’s so many Easter eggs in all of Neil’s scripts, but especially in Dog Soldiers – like Zabriskie Point, I was like ‘What the hell is Zabriskie Point!?’ and then found out what the film was and about the famous big explosion and unless you’re a real film fan you wouldn’t know all these things, like Neil does do.

But it was really funny, because we’d be second guessing him, going “Is that a quote from something?” and he’d say “No” [looking confused]! Because it was so laden with references and quotes that we weren’t quite sure which ones were real and which weren’t! [laughs] That the joy of his film making.

One of things I love about your career, is that you’ve been so supportive of British film and television – I spoke to Neil Marshall last night and I checked a memory I had from the cinematic release of Dog Soldiers, that you’d signed up for it and then waited two years for the funding to be in place. What made you pledge loyalty to a director at that point when it was his first feature?

Because I think that’s what’s sadly often missing and was missing in the industry, especially in America which was my experience at the time. It was when I met him – when someone has an unwavering vision and view of what they want to achieve, I find that very attractive and I think that’s what’s missing a lot of the time.

Through the difference in casting and the difference with say a director, their frisson creates art and when you have someone who is so definite in their vision of a film and of a story, I find that very attractive because they know what they’re talking about and I think that’s what’s missing sometimes in film making now and then, is a commitment to their world, or their heartbeat, their pentameter and I think that Neil’s always had that.

It’s funny, because he’s not a loud or vociferous director on set, but you know when he’s happy because he moves on and it’s us flappy actors that need constant reassuring and patting on the back and I know that from Neil that if you turn up with the goods and give him what he wants, he’ll steer you in the right direction, or another direction, or he starts to get really excited and that’s why I love working with him, because he has a very definite idea of what he wants to achieve and I find that sexy.

It’s one of things where, I don’t know if paying it forward is the right expression, but you’ve now worked with him multiple times and he confirmed that the people he worked with on Centurion led to him working on Game Of Thrones, so if you have that relationship that loyalty and positivity expands outwards and I think that’s a really fantastic thing.

That’s very true and that’s why I’ve always liked working with young directors here, is because to be considered relevant by emerging talent is very flattering, to still be considered by young people, or young directors, is for me what it’s all about, working with new people. So I’ve been very fortunate as it’s elongated my career and I’ve been given great opportunities because of the work I’ve chosen to do.

A lot of it hasn’t been particularly great, but that’s what it’s all about for me, it’s about creating something, it just so happens I often die! [laughs]

I mentioned your mortality rate to Neil Marshall and he said he doesn’t usually let you make it to the end credits.

I was supposed to be in The Descent actually, I was supposed to get a scaffolding pole – he wouldn’t tell me what it was and it was only one day, but I was doing A Bear’s Tail with Leigh Francis, this weird thing about the bear, so had my hand in two other jobs and they wouldn’t release me to do a third and I was gutted, because I really, really wanted to do it. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, or what would happen, wouldn’t send me the whole script, all I knew was it was one scene where I get a scaffold pole through my eye and I couldn’t make it!

Speaking of relationships with directors, you had that loyalty early on with Paul W.S. Anderson, with Shopping, Event Horizon and Soldier, so I wondered if that started the trend for you?

Very much so, I was very involved with the beginning of Impact Pictures with Paul and Jeremy Bolt, I was very close to them both, they went over to America – and in fact brought me over to do Soldier and they stayed and I came back. But yeah I think that’s what led to me initially being put on Neil’s radar, because he was a big admirer of Paul Anderson and what he was trying to do by making British multiplex movies for a younger generation, which hadn’t really been done before.

And Neil I think was one of those people that even edited a little for Paul, when Paul was making his first couple of movies in this country and that influenced Neil, so when he then went to make a movie he said “I want to put you in my film, because I used to watch you through Paul” who was a big influence on his career at the time.

You’ve built up this incredible catalogue of British film and TV over the years, so how was the transition to America for the likes of Elementary and of course Gotham which has taken up the last handful of years?

It was amazing to be at the tender age of 50 and to be involved in a show [like Gotham] – I’ve always wanted to work with Bruno Heller, I’ve been a huge admirer of his work and I’ve worked with Danny [Cannon] before. Again, Danny was sort of leading the charge, back in the day, when he was making Young Americans, alongside Paul Anderson – there were two camps in those days, there was Young Americans and Shopping and it was David Orchid at Film4 really who led the charge and gave these young men the opportunity.

So to work again with Danny, who is a genius, a showrunner, writer and director and working with Bruno and to be given an opportunity to play possibly one of the only British people in this super hero universe and a beloved one at that, was nothing but a surprise and an honour. To be able to give my interpretation of a character at an age that had never been seen before and to make it physical and everything like that, was just extraordinary and to be working with people that I love – Gotham and Dog Soldiers have been my favourite experiences of my career.

So I had a fantastic time doing that, I was pleased to come back and then talk about smelling salts coming back to reality and working with Neil Marshall! [laughing] With a big hat on, in 40degree Hungary! The next day was a bit of a mad one, but it’s what it’s all about. It made me realise how much I’d missed it… how much I missed fear! [laughs hard!]

When I was talking to Neil Marshall about The Reckoning, we were saying it’s fingers crossed for a cinematic after it hits the film festivals this month…

I don’t know, it’s just incredibly sad and I just picked up a Google alert this morning saying they’re re-releasing Dog Soldiers on 4K at the cinemas and I’m like ‘Who knew?’ it’s extraordinary. I hope it gets a release, but I haven’t seen The Reckoning so I can’t really talk about it too much – I haven’t seen Neil, I haven’t seen anyone, like you I haven’t seen anything. [laughs] And I do want to watch it with him and I’m hopeful for FrightFest if that doesn’t get cancelled, but we’ll have to wait and see. Watch this space.

We’re nearly out of time, but I always like to pick a film at random from someone’s career and I love Equilibrium – it’s a film that doesn’t get talked about enough now and I think was maybe overshadowed by The Matrix on release, but it must be strange to have a film in your catalogue where you’re almost completely removed from the rest of the filmmaking process, by playing this Big Brother like icon?

I didn’t know I was in it, my sister saw the film and rang me in Ibiza. It was released two years after they finished but I didn’t know I was in it, because Kurt Wimmer the director and I got on really well and I was supposed to play a character in it and he really liked my voice, so he said “Listen, I don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t have the money yet, but can you come in and read some stuff for me?” because a lot of it was script-centric and he was obviously finding his way, liked my voice and my delivery, so he kept asking me back to do some reading.

He said “Can you come to Berlin, I just want to put an autocue in front of you?” so he puts the autocue in front of me and carries on filming and then he got me to stand up and he did say “Look, come to Italy and can you just stand in this podium in Mussolini square and deliver this speech.”

I thought ‘Is this going to be in the film, am I in this film?’ and anyway I didn’t hear anything for two years and then my sister rang up and said “I love your new film Seany!” and I went “What’s that?” and she said “Equilibrium” – I said “I’ve never heard of it!” because it was [originally] called something else and it came out and then who knew that I’m on every zeppelin, that I’m the father that it’s all about and that I start the movie and I didn’t even know I was in it! [laughs]

But again, I have to say I’m incredibly proud, by working with people like that and them accepting me and then putting in film that’s like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World meets 1984 and the gun kata is like legendary, it’s extraordinary and I’m lucky enough to be involved with these young directors at the time, so I’m chuffed. And I watched it [Equilibrium] not that long ago and it’s a good movie actually.

Yeah it stands up really well.

Yeah and it was quite prophetic because it was before, like you said, a lot of those other kinds of movies.

Sean Pertwee, thank you so much for your time and fingers crossed for the future.

Thank you, you’ll be the first to know!

The Dog Soldiers 4K digital release is out now and will be re-released in surviving cinemas October 23rd. #DogSoldiers

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