Rafe Spall on his mixed-up pedi­gree and his rom-com role,

Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

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f you scrunch up your eyes and look side­ways at Rafe Spall you can de­tect traces of his fa­ther in that slightly mourn­ful face. But few peo­ple would, with­out prompt­ing, im­me­di­ately iden­tify him as the sec­ond child of Ti­mothy Spall. He has lost a fair bit of weight over the last year or so. But, even when tubby, Rafe seemed like a very dif­fer­ent class of ac­tor. Ah, yes -- class. That’s the word. We’ve brought Rafe to Ire­land for pro­mo­tional du­ties on I Give it a Year, the lat­est ro­man­tic com­edy from Work­ing Ti­tle, but he still can’t es­cape the great Bri­tish ob­ses­sion.

It’s a funny thing. Thirty years af­ter Tim emerged in Auf Wieder­se­hen, Pet he still comes across as a work­ing-class ac­tor. Rafe seems, in con­trast, un­shak­ably mid­dle class.

“I know what you mean,” he says with­out any signs of ir­ri­ta­tion. “I grew up in an un­fash­ion­able part of south Lon­don. My par­ents are both from work­ing-class back­grounds. But it is im­pos­si­ble to be the son of an ac­tor and be any­thing other than mid­dle class. I went to a state school. My par­ents would never have sent me to a fee-paying school. But I sup­pose I am as mid­dle class as the next guy.”

Noth­ing wrong with that. Over the past decade, Rafe, now 29, has man­aged to map out ter­ri­tory in the fron­tiers be­tween charm­ing lead per­former and flex­i­ble char­ac­ter ac­tor. He was a bum­bling Shake­speare in Roland Em­merich’s un­re­li­able Anony­mous. He was bril­liantly sin­is­ter in the un­der­rated The Scout­ing Book for Boys. He had a mi­nor hit on TV with Pete Ver­sus Life.

I Give it a Year is, how­ever, some­thing of a ca­reer boost. Unashamedly ges­tur­ing to­wards the come­dies of Richard Cur­tis, the film de­tails dif­fi­cul­ties in the mar­riage of an ap­par­ently ill-matched cou­ple. Rose Byrne plays Spall’s other half. Re­li­able sup­port­ing play­ers such as Stephen Mer­chant, Olivia Col­man and Anna Faris are along for the ride. Spall hasn’t done badly for him­self to date. But he now finds him­self star­ing from posters at ev­ery sec­ond tube sta­tion. Work­ing Ti­tle Films, cre­ators of Cur­tis hits such as Four Wed­dings and a Funeral, are the masters of this genre.

“We have gone right into the ci­tadel which is Work­ing Ti­tle,” he agrees. “We are in the belly of the beast. I have been a mas­sive fan of those films for a long time. And they took a chance on me as an un­proven lead­ing man. Peo­ple hold th­ese films very close to their hearts. I

Itrust I won’t dis­ap­point them.”

Though many of the Work­ing Ti­tle tropes are in place – com­edy wed­ding, pretty Lon­don lo­ca­tions, silly best friend – the pic­ture does veer in some un­ex­pected di­rec­tions. Far from be­ing a cosy cou­ple, Byrne and Spall seem, from the out­set, to cor­dially loathe one an­other.

“In some ways it’s a sub­ver­sion of a ro­man­tic com­edy,” he says. “But, putting it plainly and sim­ply, it’s very funny. The dif­fer­ent ap­proach was mas­sively ap­peal­ing. There is no clear an­tag­o­nist. You don’t know who to root for. No one per­son is at fault. Peo­ple have had dif­fer­ent views watch­ing it.”

By happy co­in­ci­dence, Spall ar­rives in Dublin a few weeks be­fore his per­for­mance in a domestic pro­duc­tion is put be­fore pun­ters. He stars in Alan Bren­nan’s Earth­bound asa lonely com­puter pro­gram­mer who be­lieves him­self to be an alien dis­patched to Earth while his home planet falls to hos­tile in­va­sion.

Show­ing at next

Game boys: Rafe Spall, left, and Stephen Mer­chant in I Give it a Year. Be­low: with co-star Rose Byrne

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