indieWIRE Talks With Pete Postlethwaite
by Cheri Barner
In the midst of class struggle and economic depression, Pete Postlethwaite stars as an oblivious and proud bandleader of the small British mining town’s brass band in the film “Brassed Off“. As the town’s mine faces eminent closure and local moral sinks lower, Danny (Postlewaite), who suffers from black lung disease, sees new hope in the arrival of Gloria, a talented flugelhorn player. At the film’s premier during the Sundance Film Festival, indieWIRE’s Cheri Barner caught a few moments of Postlethwaite’s attention to talk about the film, shooting “The Lost World“, what he looks for in a director, and politics.
indieWIRE: As an actor, do you think that art has a place in a world that is more concerned
Pete Postlethwaite: Well, art has such a dirty name at the moment, doesn’t it? When you see the human condition elevated through struggle, that’s art. When you see people coming through under extraordinary circumstances, that’s art. I think art can enhance peoples lives. You see these miners who do the dirtiest, shittiest, hardest job – they’re really wild, butch guys who
like a drink, and then you put an instrument in their hands like a coronet, or a flugle, and you
just see these angels that bear this mellifluous sound. The music we play in the film is pretty
traditional, but really the music they now play in competition is like Bartok and Shosticovich.
Modern pieces you wouldn’t believe. They are incredibly talented.
iW: Did you do a lot of preparation for the part?
Postlethwaite: Yes, particularly with bands. I’m not musical at all. I don’t read music at all.
iW: So how did you perfect your baton?
Postlethwaite: Just practiced, and practiced and practiced. And also at one point I found a way in which was that each piece of music was a story, a different story. So as an actor I could relate to telling a story, or almost like giving a soliloquy. And I would listen to the music over and over again, so I knew when each (movement) should come in. And I was given an amazing amount of support from the band and their staff.
iW: After “In The Name Of The Father” and “The Usual Suspects” you became well known in the states, yet you chose to do this film and a risky “Romeo And Juliet” as a follow up…
Postlethwaite: “Romeo And Juliet” is doing well though isn’t it?
iW: But you couldn’t have known it would do so well.
Postlethwaite: Well, before I met Baz Lurman, no. But then when you talk to Baz, and see where he’s going and what he’s thinking of. At the same time I just finished doing “The Lost World.”
iW: So you aren’t aiming yourself toward small pictures?
Postlethwaite: No, not necessarily. There are bad small pictures as well as big.
Just because a picture’s small, doesn’t mean that it’s good. Nor does (it follow that)
just because a blockbuster is a blockbuster, should it be bad. We try to divide all the
time which is better, theater or film? Which is better, working in England or working in America? And they can equally be bad and they can equally be good. Why do we try and divide, to drive a wedge through these things? You know, there are good scripts and there are bad scripts, and if you’re lucky enough to be offered good scripts and good parts, then I’ve no axe to grind.
iW: What do you look for in a director?
Postlethwaite: Truth, honesty, and love, really.
iW: And you have found that to be the case in your own work?
Postlethwaite: Yes, and I’ve done quite a few films. I’ve been lucky, and ninety
nine percent of the people I’ve worked with have been like that. If it comes down from the top, you get this family atmosphere that’s just stunning. And that can happen on big films, it happened on “Lost World”, there was a terrific atmosphere on that film. Stephen Spielberg creates that same atmosphere. People who care about what they’re doing do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s staking out a baby T-Rex or nailing down the Tory government, so long as you do it with love…
iW: Your carreer in film seems to be built on playing inarticulate characters…
Postlethwaite: Maybe sometimes it’s our job to express the inexpressible, for the people who cannot express it. Though these guys (the miners in “Brassed Off”) express it through their music, that’s for sure. I think it’s because my roots are very basic and working class, and because I look like the side of a bloody mountain. I’ve never seen myself as an intellectual or particularly erudite, but I listen, and I read, and I look.
iW: How did the miners react to the film?
Postlethwaite: Unbelievable, not just for me, but for the whole film. They’re
with us a hundred percent of the way, and so is the community. It might not have been like that,
they might of felt we cheated, or done them over, or whatever. But no way. We are still in
close contact. Other bands call them film stars now.
iW: What was the reaction when “Brassed Off” was picked to lead off Sundance?
Postlethwaite: We were very pleased, proud, thrilled to have opened the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a great accolade. Very perspicacious of Geoff Gilmore to actually say that it is the flagship picture. He smiles again and I know that he’s teasing me, but then he becomes very serious. It proves that the film is not just about an obscure local community in Yorkshire, it’s about every disenfranchised group that you can imagine. But told with such love and fun and sensitivity
that, I think, it raises itself almost to the standard of art.
iW: Were the politics of “Brassed off” a factor that drew you to the film?
Postlethwaite: Yes, it’s what I believe.
iW: Were you expectingthe positive reaction the film has gotten outside of England?
Postlethwaite: No, we weren’t even expecting the response that we got in England, because anything that deals with something that is anti-Thatcher, anti-Tory, anti-establishment is normally completely denigrated, even before it’s out. Anything that is left is bad, and anything that is right, is all right. So were weren’t expecting it, we were thrilled. It’s twelve weeks now in the top ten in England, playing to full houses. That’s word of mouth, as well of reviews.
iW: Were you worried that your film might get banned?
Postlethwaite: That’s a slightly different kettle of fish. No we didn’t think that.
But we did feel we would be very easy for the right wing press to do a hatchet job on, and indeed some of them did, but that’s what we expected. The same thing happened with “In The Name Of The Father,” that film was damned in England before we’d even begun shooting. So there we are, what can you do?
iW: Are you worried at all that your politics will effect your career?
Postlethwaite: Yes, I hope it does. I don’t belong to any particular party so if people want to see me as politically motivated, that’s only one section of me. They are only seeing one part of me. I have no embarrassment. I feel that right wing politics in a very, very broad and general way, I find disgusting, despicable, anti-human being, and completely money oriented. And I think it’s horrible. And I think what is done to other people in the name of those people is outrageous. And whenever I get a chance to say something about it I will.