Paul Popplewell: From 24 Hour Party People to Journeyman

The stalwart British actor runs us through some of his scene-stealing career moments.

As told to

David Jenkins

Though you might not recognise the name, you’ll definitely recognise the face. Paul Popplewell has been creating memorable supporting characters in British film and television for more than 20 years. We spoke to him about six of his defining moments, from a hard-hitting BBC feature right up to Paddy Considine’s second directorial effort, Journeyman, and Mike Leigh’s forthcoming historical epic, Peterloo.

1. Criminal (1994)

“I landed that part when I was 16. I was at sixth form college. The guy who headed the college also ran the youth theatre I used to attend on like weekends. There was this director from the BBC who was pretty much doing the casting herself, She had met actors from agencies in the traditional way and hadn’t found anyone. Then she started doing drama schools in London and hadn’t found anyone. So she headed up north along the M62 because the film was set in Bradford and based on a true story. I got a load of recalls and went to Bradford for three of them.

“Basically I just landed this central role in a TV movie. This was in the days when the BBC used to do loads of and loads of single-serving dramas and they were called Screen One or Screen Two and they’d go out weekly. It about a boy who with undiagnosed autism and from a council estate background. He left home at 16 and he gets a flat. But he can’t look after himself and gets bullied by younger kids and that leads to petty crime talking like nicking a bit of lead from a roof. He once got arrested for stealing a kettle from a builder’s hut. When he was asked why he said he wanted a hot drink. He basically ended up burning down his flat and then landed himself in jail. Then he killed himself when he was 17. It’s a sad story. But that’s how it began for me really.”

2. I Want You (1998)

“I think I’ve done about six with Michael. He is a good friend of mine. I love him to bits but I didn’t get to know him properly until about 2001 when we did 24 Hour Party People. The first time I met him was around 1994 or 1995 after I’d done Criminal. I met him for a film that he never ended up making. It was about car thieves. We didn’t have that casting conversation in the end, but it obviously put me in his head because a couple of years later he offered me a very small part in a film called I Want You. That was on the south Coast and that was with Rachel Weisz. And that kicked off the working relationship. A couple of years later he offered me 24 hour party people and thats when we really got to know each other and became pals. Since then since then he’s offered me bits and bobs in the films he’s done, like voiceover work in In This World.”

3. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

“24 Hour Party People was legendary. We played very hard and we worked really hard. There were a lot of long days. [Michael] Winterbottom had lots of camera set-ups, and Robby Müller was the DoP but he’d have other cameras dotted around. There were no marks or no continuity – it was running for around eight hours solid a day without a lunch break. A lot of improvising, a lot of doing what you want, going where you want. He shot hundreds of hours of that film if I remember rightly. How he ever gets through it in the edit is beyond me. He’s obviously edited it in his head as he goes along.

“I met Paddy Considine for the first time on 24 Hour Party People. We only had one scene together and it didn’t make the edit. It was the ’70s and I was in a group of Man United fans with and he had his Man City scarf. He was chasing me around Maine Road and it was on a match day. We were shooting in 2001 and we didn’t match with the background. What we were wearing didn’t match with what everyone else was doing cause we all had flares on. We did get told off by the police who thought we were trying to incite a riot. But Paddy and I really hit it off, even though I didn’t see him for some time after that. I bumped into him backstage in the guest area at the Leeds Festival in 2006 – we embraced, had a good catch up and he told me he was making a short film and asked me if I wanted to be in it. And that short film was Dog Altogether, which later because Tyrannosaur.”

4. Tyrannosaur (2011)

“I play a character in the film called Bod, who is an angry neighbour with a big dog. There’s a bit where he comes running out to confront Peter Mullan’s character, Joseph, with this dog lead tied around his waist and his Staffy on the end of it. That came about when we were shooting a scene one day that didn’t even make it into the film. Paddy and I were stood outside chatting, and he was like, ‘you know when you walk in with the dog, I want something but I don’t know what I want yet. I want it to be memorable.’  And then, no word of a lie, this guy just walked past us with his dog and the chain around his waist, and Paddy just went up to him and asked, ‘is that how you walk your dog mate?’ And this guy just turns around is like, ‘yeah.’ And paddy just turned back to me and said, ‘That’s what you’re gonna do.’ It was meant to be. He does that a lot, Paddy. He brings in the environment. I think he got that from working with Pawel Pawlikowski on Last Resort.”

5. Journeyman (2018)

“I was in Devon with my family having a little bit of a break and I got a text from Paddy saying, ‘I’m sending you a script – I want you to have a read’. Eventually it arrived in my inbox and it was the role of Jackie in Journeyman. The story was slightly different in that draft, but it was basically the same thread about a boxer who suffers an injury. My role was a good dependent mate who helps, but I was really blown away by it. He was like, ‘Are you up for it?’ We got together a few months later in Sheffield and did a bit of workshopping as he was undecided on whether to do the central role of Matty. We did some scenes together, filmed them and watched them back, then we both decided we could do it. We were gonna shoot it that year as I remember, in 2015, but it kept getting pushed back and we ended up shooting it in the spring of 2016. So that’s how it sort of came about for me.”

6. Peterloo (2018)

“I can’t really say a lot about this one, but I can confirm I did film some stuff. Whether I’m in it is up to Mike Leigh. I’ve not seen it but there is a cast and crew screening soon. I can’t say what it’s about and no one sees the script but Mike. I’ve wanted to work with Mike for a while now. I met him years ago for a part in a play that I never got. Although he did offer me a bit later on, but it wasn’t really for me. This came along and I was very keen to be in so yeah its really good to work with him. His process is really interesting. But that’s as much I can say. I’m very glad I did it.”

Journeyman is released 30 March. Read our review here.

Published 29 Mar 2018

Tags: Mike Leigh Paddy Considine Paul Popplewell

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