Rafe Spall on his mixed-up pedigree and his rom-com role,
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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.
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Game boys: Rafe Spall, left, and Stephen Merchant in I Give it a Year. Below: with co-star Rose Byrne