“It’s a slightly stut­tery love let­ter”

Ben Wheat­ley on go­ing back to his low-bud­get roots with Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Empire (UK) - - PREVIEW - CHRIS HE­WITT

HAVE A GANDER at the cast list of Ben Wheat­ley’s last two movies, High-rise and Free Fire, and you’d be for­given for think­ing that he’d gone all Hol­ly­wood on us. Whether it was Tom Hid­dle­ston or Brie Lar­son or Ar­mie Ham­mer or Jeremy Irons, you couldn’t move for A-lis­ters, Os­car-win­ners and gen­eral megas­tars. It was all a long way from Wheat­ley’s mi­cro-bud­get ori­gins, shoot­ing films such as Down Ter­race, Kill List or A Field In Eng­land in the blink of an eye.

And while he was hav­ing an ab­so­lute blast, and will work with big names again, there was some­thing miss­ing. Some­thing Neil Maskell-shaped. “I re­ally wanted to work with Neil Maskell again,” says Wheat­ley of his Kill List star. “I’d had a tiny tease of Maskell in High-rise, but I thought, ‘It’s just not enough. I need more Maskell.’ He makes me fuck­ing laugh a lot. It’s a slightly stut­tery love let­ter to Neil Maskell.”

That love let­ter is Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, a script, and char­ac­ter that Wheat­ley cre­ated specif­i­cally for Maskell. It’s been shrouded in mys­tery ever since it was an­nounced back in Jan­uary, but Wheat­ley is fi­nally ready to lift back the veil. “It’s a fam­ily drama about a bunch of peo­ple who go to cel­e­brate New Year’s at a lovely house,” he says. “It’s all or­gan­ised by Neil Maskell’s char­ac­ter, and goes pre­dictably, hor­ri­bly wrong. And hi­lar­ity en­sues.”

When the film was made pub­lic, while Wheat­ley and his cast and crew (in­clud­ing Sam Ri­ley, Hayley Squires and long-term DP Lau­rie Rose) were al­ready in the mid­dle of film­ing, it was known as ‘Colin, You Anus’. Sadly, Wheat­ley con­firms that was never a vi­able op­tion (“I was told in no un­cer­tain terms that I can­not get away with that”), and that it is, as had been ru­moured, a pun on Co­ri­olanus. Does that mean he’s tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from one of the Bard’s most vi­o­lent plays? “In the loos­est pos­si­ble way,” he laughs. “It’s not some­thing for schol­ars to mull over, but the very barest bones of the struc­ture of Co­ri­olanus are un­der there, I guess. I ba­si­cally got rid of all the vi­o­lent stuff and kings and princes — it’s a fam­ily try­ing to have a happy, fun time, and fail­ing.”

None more Wheat­ley, then. And if that doesn’t sound high-con­cept enough for you, the di­rec­tor has some­thing up his sleeve: “Neil Maskell does all his own stunts,” he con­firms. “He does all the walk­ing. And that’s all his own face.” Call this ‘Thrill List’. HAPPY NEW YEAR, COLIN BURSTEAD PRE­MIERES AT THE BFI LON­DON FILM FES­TI­VAL AND IS OUT LATER THIS YEAR

Top: Ben Wheat­ley, di­rec­tor of ‘Colin, You Anus’... Above: Long-time Wheat­ley col­lab­o­ra­tor Neil Maskell as the ti­tle char­ac­ter.

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