‘His case is a tip­ping point’

Rafe Spall on how film needs to change af­ter Har­vey We­in­stein

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

One might rea­son­ably imag­ine that, as a vet­eran of all three in­stal­ments of Edgar Wright’s Cor­netto tril­ogy and the star of the in­com­ing creep-out The Ritual, Rafe Spall would be some­thing of a genre afi­cionado. But no.

“I’m not a fan of hor­ror at all,” says the 33-year-old. “I en­joy watch­ing the silly ones; some­thing comic I can sit through on an air­plane. I don’t re­ally like the ones that are just hor­ror. But this film isn’t that. It could ex­ist with­out the hor­ror el­e­ment.”

The Ritual was largely shot in the Carpathian Moun­tains where stout boots were a must and the ac­tor racked up what he sus­pects is a record-break­ing six lay­ered pairs of trousers just to stay warm.

“There were bears in those woods,” he says. “There was a man with a gun hang­ing around in case the bears came out. I didn’t see bears in the woods, but I did see a bear raid­ing the bins by my ho­tel. There were metal bars on the bin store and it just ripped them open with its paws. There were also wolves in the for­est. And we had an earth­quake. Not a place I would nec­es­sar­ily go on hol­i­day. But if you want proper wilder­ness . . . ”.

Adapted from the Au­gust Der­leth award-win­ning novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual sees Rafe Spall and his old col­lege mates head off around a hik­ing trail in a re­mote Swedish for­est. Even be­fore the gang en­counter a rit­u­ally dis­em­bow­elled elk hang­ing from the trees and freaky pa­gan mark­ings, this classy folk hor­ror brings in­ter­est­ing tex­tures to a rather vogu­ish genre.

Spall’s char­ac­ter, Luke, as the most child­ish man-child of the group, is the one cheer­ing for the lads to go on tour, prefer­ably on a non-stop stag party.

Mod­ern mas­culin­ity

“Luck­ily, my friends are all mar­ried, be­cause I hate stags,” says Spall. “I might get a sec­ond round when the di­vorces come in. But that dy­namic is what in­ter­ested me: mod­ern mas­culin­ity, male friend­ship in groups, how those groups drift apart. My char­ac­ter is that sort of per­son try­ing to rekin­dle past glo­ries. Very lad­dish. Wants to get the boys back to­gether and go to Ibiza and have a ter­rific time not be­ing a grown-up. He’s a wanker, to bor­row a phrase.

“And then he gets in a sit­u­a­tion which chal­lenges his re­ceived ideas of what mas­culin­ity means. What does it mean to be a badass? No more than be­ing a girl is about be­ing a princess and mar­ry­ing prince charm­ing. It’s not real.”

All the char­ac­ters are about the right age to have grown up dur­ing the years when lad cul­ture went main­stream: that ter­ri­ble Brit­pop-sound­tracked era when FHM and Maxim graced ev­ery news­stand.

“The fact that when I was a kid walk­ing into a newsagents, there was a naked wo­man on half the mag­a­zines, which then led to a mas­sive pro­lif­er­a­tion of pornog­ra­phy: that’s got to come out in the wash some­how,” says Spall. “There’s now an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of young men and women whose first exposure to sex was de­praved. Pornog­ra­phy is about the bru­tal­i­sa­tion of women. Those im­ages en­cour­age misog­yny. Look at Har­vey We­in­stein. There are peo­ple who think women are theirs in some way. I only hope his case is a tip­ping point. That men re­alise there will be reper­cus­sions if you think and be­have that way.”

He pauses, apolo­get­i­cally. “But I di­gress.”

In an in­dus­try where most men are choos­ing to re­main silent on the for­mer Mi­ra­max boss, it’s re­fresh­ing to hear such a view­point. Then again, Spall, a down-to-earth, dryly hu­mor­ous, Crys­tal Palace sup­porter is not your av­er­age thes­pian.

His dad, Ti­mothy Spall, had al­ready ap­peared in Quadrophe­nia and was a TV reg­u­lar on the wildly pop­u­lar Auf Wieder­se­hen, Pet when Rafe – named af­ter the epony­mous hero of Fran­cis Beau­mont’s Knight of the Burn­ing Pes­tle – was born.

Aged 15, as a not en­tirely suc­cess­ful GCSE stu­dent at a south­east Lon­don com­pre­hen­sive school, Spall de­cided to fol­low in his fa­ther’s foot­steps. They’ve since worked to­gether in the 2007 adap­ta­tion of A Room

with a View. “Once he as­cer­tained I wanted to go into it for the right rea­sons, he was very sup­port­ive,” says Spall the younger. “I didn’t go to drama school. I learned on the job and by watch­ing my dad shout­ing at the TV.”

Opens doors

Was the sur­name a curse or a bless­ing? “It def­i­nitely opens doors,” he says, frankly. “Don’t lis­ten to any man or wo­man who says oth­er­wise. If you’re call­ing in a list of ac­tors and you see that Ti­mothy Spall’s son is on the list, you take no­tice. It’ll get you in the door, but when you get through the door you still got to do the busi­ness: nepo­tism might get you an op­por­tu­nity, but it won’t get you the job.”

The tall, svelte-look­ing Spall claims that his weight still goes up and down (“There’s a mar­gin of about 20lb”). He is, nonethe­less, ap­prox­i­mately 30kg lighter and only vaguely recog­nis­able as the younger Rafe Spall, who played Si­mon Pegg’s chubby co-worker in Shaun of the Dead, or Eli­jah Wood’s stur­dier hooli­gan chum from Green Street.

“Peo­ple al­ways ask about it and I un­der­stand why,” he says. “We live in a cul­ture that’s fas­ci­nated by weight and weight loss. I’m re­luc­tant to talk about it in a way. I’m a symp­tom of that cul­ture. I used to be fat and then I got thin and got suc­cess­ful. What mes­sage does that give? A bad one.

“I had an idea in my mind that I wanted to pay lead parts. And I worked to­ward that. If you have a cer­tain body shape, you get cast as char­ac­ters who have that body shape. And I had to lose some weight to broaden the range of parts that were avail­able to me. And it was bloody hard work.”

That trans­for­ma­tion has, de­spite his own reser­va­tions, paid off, with lead­ing ro­man­tic parts and Hol­ly­wood call-backs. A fam­ily man, he has three kids and got mar­ried to the for­mer Hol­lyoaks star El­ize du Toit in 2010. To date, Spall has fea­tured in such big stu­dio prop­er­ties as The Life of Pi, Prometheus, Steven Spiel­berg’s BFG, and The Big Short. Next year, he’ll be wrestling di­nosaurs in Juras­sic World: Fallen King­dom.

“Do you know what? The work in front of the cam­era is ex­actly the same. If doesn’t mat­ter if you’re freez­ing in the Carpathian Moun­tains or in front of a di­nosaur pup­pet. The only thing is that the cof­fee is a lot bet­ter with the di­nosaurs.”

■ The Ritual is out now and is re­viewed on page 10

Look at Har­vey We­in­stein. There are peo­ple who think women are theirs in some way. I only hope his case is a tip­ping point. That men re­alise there will be reper­cus­sions

Rafe Spall ‘There were bears in those woods.’ Above right: Spall in The Rit­ual

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