On set of the real-life siege thriller as Jamie Bell goes full Lewis Collins.
A SMOKE GRENADE’S throw from Hyde Park, Kensington’s Price’s Gate is about to relive its violent past. A pistol-brandishing terrorist emerges onto its elegant, white-faced 19thcentury terrace, screaming threats as extras scurry to safety below. The anachronist effect of this set-up from action-thriller 6 Days is of a Regency-era version of Zero Dark Thirty. Only two unmarked SAS transit vans and an array of dodgy ’taches remind us that we’re in May 1980 at the height of the Iranian embassy siege. “It’s an almost spiritual thing filming in the real place,” says director Toa Fraser. “It’s hard to replicate.”
While the film’s interiors were shot on Auckland sets, everything else in 6 Days unfolds where it happened. And for one of those scurrying extras, it’s all eerily familiar. “They’ve given me a job as a media person being evacuated,” explains Rusty Firmin, a key member of the SAS squad during the siege now moonlighting as an extra. An advisor on the project, Firmin worked his on-screen alter ego, Jamie Bell, hard before filming started. “He was very specific about the position of my feet when I went to shoot,” recalls Bell. “Everything I do is coordinated in a dance way. He’d say, ‘Rusty doesn’t dance, pal.’”
Filming near the actual Iranian embassy has, says Bell, been “intense”. “I went to look inside and this guy told me to get away,” he recalls. The sensitivity is understandable: six Khuzestani gunmen held its staff hostage for almost a week, while a police negotiator (Mark Strong) bargained with them and, outside, the BBC’S Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish) reported to a rapt world. Next door, Firmin’s team awaited the order to assault.
Despite the MP5S and stun grenades, 6 Days swerves the gung-ho SAS porn of Who Dares Wins. “I wasn’t interested in a film about glorifying violence,” says Bell. Nailing the authority of an SAS leader prompted soul-searching too. “I’m 5’7” and have a history of ballet dancing,” he laughs. He needn’t have worried. “If I was to pick anyone to play me,” says Firmin, “I’d pick him.”
Top: Police negotiator Max (Mark Strong) gets negotiating; Middle: Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish) reports as events unfold;
Bottom: Jamie Bell takes notes from director Toa Fraser;
Main: Rusty Firmin (Bell) leads the charge to take down the Khuzestani gunmen holding staff hostage at the Iranian embassy in London, 1980.