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Daniel Mays Interview

Essex-born actor Daniel Mays stars in Shifty, a low budget film about a drug deal whose best friend has just come back to town. View’s Matthew Turner recently had a chat with Mays about watching people wade through toxic sewage, stuffed cats, and his latest film.

What's the film about and who do you play?
Daniel Mays (DM): The film is ultimately about friendship and I play Chris, who returns to Essex, his old stamping ground, to meet up with his best friend, Shifty, the lead character, played by a brilliant actor, Riz Ahmed. My character's been away in Manchester for four years, trying to rebuild his life and start again. And he returns to Essex, he meets up with Shifty to basically discover his old mate has kind of fallen ever deeper into the murky world of crack cocaine dealing – he's become the most prolific dealer in the area. And the story charts 24 hours of them reconnecting with each other.

Chris shadows his mate and then you get introduced to all the various clients and customers within the area. And due to the sort of unpredictable life that Shifty's leading, things quickly spiral out of control. I think ultimately, it becomes what we've described as a battle for Shifty's soul. And Shifty has to sort of face up to this, you know, he has to face some home truths and some stark choices of this dangerous future that he's heading towards. But then equally, alongside of that, Chris has to basically face up to the demons of why he left in the first place. So I mean, you know, it's ultimately a kind of buddy movie – it's about friendship, but for me, there's a lot of deeper issues about wasted potential and the wrong choices that we make in life. And for my character especially, it's about seeking that redemption in some way and having closure on the terrible incident that he's haunted by, four years previously.

What attracted you to the part and at what point did you get involved?
DM: My agent phoned me and she basically said, 'It's good news and bad news.' She went, 'The good news is you've been offered the lead in a new British film, which is fantastic.' I was, like, 'Great,' I said, 'What's the bad news?' She said, 'Well, you're not going to get paid, it's going to be shot in three weeks.' So I said, 'What's the budget?' and she went, 'A hundred grand,' so I was like [draws in breath].

I always look at the stuff that comes my way though and when I read it, you know, I come from Essex, I grew up in Buckhurst Hill in Essex and my godfather lives there too, so obviously I knew that area and when I read the script it was a combination of the sort of brilliance of the script, plus – I knew it was based on [director] Eran's own experiences - but it was clear that the way he'd written these characters, they were just incredibly defined, they were believable people to me; I sort of recognised a lot of the characters in the script.

And it did, it offered up an amazing acting opportunity, actually, to take on a lead part and to kind of flesh this guy out and bring him to life and it was the prospect of playing someone who on the surface of things is a really sympathetic character - he's likeable, he's friendly, he's funny, he's kind of like your average Joe and yet, the challenge behind it was how does the guilt affect this person's life? Because he makes out that he's got the life of Riley in Manchester – he's got a mortgage, he's in recruitment and yet when you strip away the surface of things he's kind of in meltdown, he can't hold down a relationship, I imagined that he couldn't sleep at night. And I just thought it really tapped into somebody I hadn't really played before.

But yeah, it was the potential of the script but also it was meeting them as people. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to get involved with something so low budget if I didn't feel confident in the people that were making it. And Eran sat down and he told me his dreams about his first feature, he told me about the Microbudget Scheme, which I thought was really impressive and Ben Pugh and Rory were great producers, their professionalism was outstanding. I mean, any film, regardless of budget, if it's run badly, can be a horrendous experience, but they were at the top of their game, as was everyone on the crew. So I think it was a combination of the script, the prospect of playing the character and the opportunities that threw up and of course them as people – it was sort of too good to turn down.

What was it like, working with Riz?
DM: It was great working with him. First and foremost, I think he's a phenomenal actor. He brings a lot of quality to the table and I really enjoyed working with him – I got on with him as a person and I think that because we both got on really well, that that has kind of coloured the sort of performances that we've given in the film. It's that thing of like, you know, you've got to try and have chemistry with someone, you can't force that, do you know what I mean? You've either got chemistry or you haven't, you know. And he just underplayed it really well. I think he's got a really great career ahead of him.

To read part two of our Daniel Mays interview, click the link below.

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Content updated: 15/12/2017 14:11

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