Age: In his 20s
Hometown: London, England
Why He's On Our Radar: He plays the lead in Andrew Haigh's astonishing feature "Weekend." The gay romantic drama was very much below the radar when it debuted at the SXSW Film Festival in March, but quickly broke out as one of the event's major discoveries. Since, the film has gone on to make the festival rounds Stateside, including attracting a huge turnout in New York for the BAMcinematek opening night and more recently screening at the Provincetown and Frameline film festivals to continued acclaim. The film beat the distribution odds by quicly securing U.S. distribution from IFC Films and will continue making festival runs at Outfest and Newfest this month.
So why the hype? "The chemistry came together," a very affable Tom Cullen told indieWIRE in P-Town last month. A stellar script and – as Cullen is quick to point out – "genius" direction from Haigh and still more shout outs for the crew including DP Urszula Pontikos ("like the third actor in the film," Cullen said) – has, so far, translated into adulation from audiences. But the film owes much of its dynamism to its two actors Cullen and Chris New who play Russell and Glen. The pair meet in a bar and have a drunken tryst that takes on a weekend life of its own. Intimate, tender, loving and maybe even graphic and infuriating, the duo pull off a raw and honest portrayal of a short-lived but burning love affair. Warning: The film is probably not going to win fans in the Tea Party crowd.
What's Next: In his still relatively short career, Cullen has gone from playing "masculine" types such as a "working class fucked up soldier" (in his own words), to a "salt of the earth farmer" and a boxer in a comedy. After a quick trip to the U.S. to promote "Weekend" in New York and Provincetown in June, Cullen told iW he was off bound for Budapest to film an eight-part drama called "World Without End" with Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson and Peter Firth. "It will be a riot and with some incredible actors, I'm totally excited about it," he crooned.
indieWIRE Asks: How did you get mixed up with Russell (laughs) and how did you fit so well in his skin? Was there a formal audition process?
I had a formal audition in the first round. Andrew didn't have a full script to give us, but had the first 20 pages and just fell in love with it. His dialogue was just brilliant…
The back and forth between Russell and Glen is so great and free flowing on screen, so I wondered how much of it was ad-libbed?
That was very interesting as well. We shot it in sequence. Chris and I were living together.
So you were friends before the film?
No, we had never met, other than the audition. We'd go through the script, strip things down and then we'd go home and work again, and then in the morning shoot straightaway. So it was free. It was transparent and we didn't know where it would end exactly, as opposed to if we had done formal rehearsals. It still had a real life and energy. We could just play… We didn't know where it would end. Great acting exists here (gestures as to a soul) and not living in your head. It's about the reaction from somebody. There were long six or seven minute two-shots. I thought, Andrew, please get some coverage so if I'm crap, you can just cut away (laughs).
But I think that's one of the film's greatest strengths, it comes across almost as voyeuristic or like spying on these two people, and it's wonderfully shot to make it like you're observing them. It's soft and subtle. It's not punchy, it's observed – very real.
As an actor it's not something I've ever played before. I've played very masculine high-status guys. In my career, I want to always be pushing myself. And Russell was somebody who's so honest, so damaged in many ways, and very lost. Very low-status. And that's somebody who I wanted to get myself around. I'm guarded and it was a challenge to strip that away.
I'd imagine that would have been intimidating to take on a character like this… to go through some of the emotions that these two experience…
It's being completely honest and showing your fears, faults, loves and saying look… Here's my heart, what do you reckon? Do you fancy a little bit of it? Nobody really does that do they? Because life is really fucking hard.
I think that this could have gone the wrong way, but audiences have taken to the film so far, so it's succeeding and the right elements must have come together, but it could have not worked that way in a different scenario.
Well yeah, when we were filming it, I was intrigued how it was going to turn out, because it felt like a piece of theater, and it just has this lovely pace to it, and that's Andrew Haigh, he's a genius.
Some of those scenes are very intimate, was there a lot of direction going on or did you just go with the flow?
I guess Andrew in the auditions saw something in Chris and me that was Russell and Geln. We talked a lot about those scenes, but we were able to really make these characters exist inside us, so when we did the scenes, we knew where we were going to go. So it was just going through the scenes. We'd hit difficult corners and in those moments, Andrew would direct us and push us.
But I think Andrew is one of those people that you don't realize he's directing you until five weeks after you finish shooting. And you think, "Oh God, I've been completely manipulated" (laughs). "I thought it was completely me…" It was a really lovely relationship between Chris, Andrew, and the DP who became sort of the third actor. I've never had a more enjoyable experience. Purely because this working relationship was great, but working with Chris was [amazing] because we just didn't know where it would all go… And I think that is very apparent in the film, it comes across very natural.
Was this the first time you played a gay person?
It's never really crossed my mind because for me, sexuality doesn't mean anything – fuck it. This is a love story. A story about two poeple who connect and something that happens between them. We've all felt it – gay, straight, bisexual, curious, questioning, or whatever these silly names we give to this. It's a love story between two people and in this case it's between two men. It was a great experience and Chris is going to be one of my best friends for the rest of my life. And [his character] Glen was someone I loved implicitly. Or I loved something about him…
What sort of other characters would you like to take on?
Like I said earlier, anything that will interest me or stretch me. I came to acting quite late. I tried not to be an actor.
You tried not to be? It was something you felt compelled to do but said no initially?
Yeah, I found myself in my 20s fat and not happy with my life and one day, I thought. 'I'm going to get on with it and this is what I'm going to do.' For me, I can't live without acting or drama and writing – I also run a theater company. I've never been happier… Anything to push me and make me feel alive and to see how far I can go. Anything that will fascinate me. Theater is absolutely something I [love]…
I look to James Franco with complete admiration. He makes interesting choices. Whether right or wrong, that is up to someone else to decide, but I think what he does is brilliant.
He has a real work ethic, that's for sure…
God he's amazing isn't he?