Was just watching David Thewlis as Johnny in Mile Leigh’s 1993 film Naked from 1993. Can still remember the first time I saw it. Scared me half to death.
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Here’s a chunk of the interview we did in 2007:
Like Ralph Fiennes in ‘Spider’, one can sense something of Beckett’s mad mutterers in Thewlis’s role as Johnny in ‘Naked’ (he later played Clov in Conor McPherson’s adaptation of ‘Endgame’). That film, like most Mike Leigh projects, evolved through a long process of workshopping and improvisational rehearsal sessions, rather than working from a script.
“There isn’t a finished script ever with Mike,” Thewlis says. “You work with Mike on a character based on someone real, who is not you. It’s an identifiable character who I knew.”
Several of the reviews at the time mentioned Mark E Smith.
“I used to listen to The Fall for research, but it was based on someone you wouldn’t know. I won’t say his name, ’cos he’d kill me if he ever found out. And Mike has this policy of never mentioning who it was. But it’s based very closely on these people, it’s not an impersonation of them, but every time you’re faced with a dilemma in an improvisation, you go, ‘What would he do? Would he stay or go?’ And there were things to do with some research I was doing at the time, it became sort of millennial with this conspiratorial stuff about the barcodes and 666 and stuff, they just sort of happened.
“But I’d be out in town in character, which Mike would often send you off to do, you’d spend four hours wandering around London on your own, not as yourself at all, doing things you would not normally do, causing scenes you would not normally cause, being braver than your natural self, standing in the street and shouting like a maniac but getting away with it because you don’t have your inhibitions ’cos you’re going, ‘It’s not me.’
“And you’re spending more of your waking hours as this character than as yourself, so it becomes quite overwhelming. And during that time I’d have a Hare Krishna come up to me wanting to have a word, and whereas I’d normally be, ‘I haven’t got the time mate,’ when I was him I was like, ‘Yeah come on, let’s have a fucking word! I’ll have a very big word wiv ya! Do you wanna go for a coffee? How long have you got?’ And people handing out leaflets, I’d talk to every one of them, I’d talk to down-and-outs, I’d talk to policemen, anyone who wanted to fucking talk, I’d talk to them.”
Did he absorb any of that role into his own character afterwards?
“Not so much afterwards…well, maybe in the long term it did make me a little more confident, because once you’ve stood in the middle of the street and shouted, you do lose certain inhibitions I guess. And there’s still a bookshop in Marylebone High Street in London I can’t ever go into. I think I fucking wrecked it, I flipped out in there, I cleared the shelves.”
I always thought the published screenplay of ‘Naked’, transcribed from the film, was akin to the reverse negative of a comedy routine, not unlike the transcriptions of Bill Hicks’s shows.
“It’s funny, I wasn’t aware of Bill Hicks at the time I was making the film, but I’ve come across him since and there are parallels with the things being talked about, the spleen.”
Also Lenny Bruce in his final days, when the comedy took a back seat to obsessive monologues about his obscenity trial.
“He was a little influence on it as well. Or moreso Dustin Hoffman’s performance in ‘Lenny’ in a strange way. I didn’t realise it was at the time, but when he’s talking to the judge and going, ‘You need a deviant, you always gotta have the deviant,’ that emphasis, I think that sort of went in there somewhere. Someone losing his mind and drowning in society. I’ve since got to know Dustin Hoffman and I think I told him that, ’cos he really loved ‘Naked’ and was going on about it.”
Read the full interview at: