Spall’s well . . .
week’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival before a commercial release in March, the picture was shot in a snowy Dublin two years ago.
“Oh you’ve seen it,” he says excitedly. “I haven’t seen it yet. I had a real hoot doing that. There was a massive snowfall when were there and there’s no cold like Dublin cold. I can still feel it now.
“I love the city. Everyone goes a bit gooey when they think of Dublin. It’s a great place to film and there are such fantastic crews.”
So, life is busy. It could have been otherwise. Not every actor gets to flit from Ireland to the US to Canada in the course of a year. That insecurity scares away many young folk who harbour theatrical ambitions. But Rafe grew up, of course, in an unusual household.
“Whether I am an actor because of my dad or not is an unanswerable question,” he muses. “I think I would always have ended up doing this. But I think it is significant that I saw my dad making a career out of it. In my innocence, I thought being an actor was a legitimate way of making a living. In reality, it’s the most insecure way to spend your life. I had this very different example before me. So, I felt it was possible.”
He explains that his dad never tried to talk him out of acting. But, after encouraging the boy to join the National Youth Theatre, he did ask Rafe to perform his audition piece in the
“In my innocence, I thought being an actor was a legitimate way of making a living. In reality, it’s the most insecure way to spend your life”
front room. The younger Spall chose one of Mark Antony’s speeches from Julius Caesar.
“I’m sure he would have encouraged us to do anything in life,” he says. “But that was a daunting experience. You’re doing a Shakespeare speech to one of the country’s great actors and he just happens to be your dad. If I hadn’t been any good he would have been obliged to tell me. ‘Ahem, have you ever thought about writing?’”
Rafe is touchingly keen to talk about his dad. He describes him as “his hero” and confesses that they talk on the phone every day. One can only imagine how traumatic it must have been to learn that the older Spall had contracted leukaemia. Tim was diagnosed in the mid-1990s. The initial prognosis was less than encouraging, but he seems to have come through it unscathed.
“I would have been around 14 or 15. I understand that he wasn’t given a wildly positive prognosis,” Rafe says. “But he got better, and children have an extraordinary way of coping. You tell them awful news and a few days later, they get used to it. I got on with it. I blocked it out of my mind. If we’d lost him, it would have been absolutely catastrophic.”
Rafe was disappointed not to secure a place in Rada. But he never seems to have been short of work. Look hard and you’ll spot him in Shaun of the Dead. He reappeared in the same team’s Hot Fuzz. But he reckons that he didn’t feel entirely secure in his profession until 2011. In that year, we saw Rafe in both Anonymous and One Day.
Then he was cast as the most foolish space traveller in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. That film proved to be both a commercial and critical disappointment. To almost everyone’s surprise, Rafe’s next film, Life of Pi, ended up taking at least 25 per cent more (Ang Lee’s movie is still playing) than its supposedly more commercial predecessor. Spall, who plays the writer who hears Pi’s story, secured the role in unusual circumstances.
“He had shot my entire part with another actor. I believe it was Tobey Maguire,” he says, diplomatically. “And then they wanted to go in a different direction with the character. I was thus in the strange position of being able to watch the whole film. So, I knew we had something special. Mind you, nobody thought it would take ¤500 million. It’s an art movie, really.”
Life has got complicated for Rafe. Married to Elize du Toit, a star of Hollyoaks, he recently welcomed a second child into the world. The couple live in Maida Vale, some convenient distance from London Zoo and Lord’s Cricket Ground. Having spent most of the summer shooting in Canada, he has had to strive to “make it work”. But he now has a 10-week break before embarking on Owen Harris’s Kill Your Friends.
For now, there is the gamble (for him and Working Title) that is I Give it a Year. On every bus, featured on every chat show (and these pages), the film is certainly hard to avoid.
“Things have got a bit more exciting in recent years,” he confirms. “I am very aware that I Give it a Year is a big deal. It’s all very strange and if this doesn’t do well, then I may not get the chance to be in a romantic comedy again.”
He shrugs philosophically. “But hopefully I will always get to do this job.”