The leading cast of slick British thriller ‘The Rise’; Iwan Rheon, Gerard Kearns, Luke Treadaway and Matthew Lewis are sat before me in this intimate ‘Bellini Bar’ in the stylish Hospital Club in Covent Garden. First time director Rowan Athale also joins us.
This group of talented twenty-something actors appear brimming with self-assurance, and why not? Their faces will certainly be familiar and each has plenty to boast about. Luke Treadway just finished impressing audiences with his portrayal of Christopher Boone, a fifteen year old with Asperger’s, in a London stage adaptation of the modern literary classic The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.
He also takes the lead here as Harvey, a young ex-con wrongly accused of a crime staged by a local drug dealer, and eager to seek his revenge. He persuades his best mates to get in on the plan, and they succumb to the promise of a better life away from this grim Northern town of thwarted ambition and barely decipherable accents. They are all of course cheeky lads, essential for an English heist movie, and eagerly engage in relentless guy-banter (in reality, this isn’t all that different.)
There’s Dodd, played by Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter) who claims his inspiration for his character was based on a mate; Dempsey, played with effortless charisma by Iwan Rheon (Misfits, Game of Thrones) and sensitive Charlie, (Gerard Kearns, who gave a memorable performance as Ian Gallagher in Shameless, back when it was well in its prime). The energetic narrative is framed by an interview between Harvey and detective D.I West (the ever great Timothy Spall).
Firstly, it’s been released in America under the name ‘Wasteland’. I’m intrigued as to how it’s doing over there, as this isn’t exactly Richard Curtis fare. Athale is positive, and remarks it has been “good yeah, it’s amazing how well it’s doing for British film like ours to get. Often it’s hard to get releases over there because they don’t conform to a certain idea of British film, so the fact we managed to get released was fantastic.” How did this film come about? What was his inspiration? The obvious comparisons to make are to ‘Lock Stock’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’. “Well, they are great films to be compared to, so I’ll take that one!’ The inspiration came from the entire history of British cinema, particularly genre film. I like the page turning aspect of genre scripts.”
What would he say to the prospect of the ‘heist’ movie being a bit overdone and redundant nowadays?’ “It depends which way you look at it, I think you can say that about any genre, such as horror film. The thing is, teenagers aren’t watching the ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’, and they’re not watching ‘Reffifi’. Genre film will always be made for a new generation. Just because there are good films of a genre that existed in the past it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have some that are contemporary for them.” So what other genres will he take on? “Any, as long as the film is character driven, that’s at the centre of it. I mean, I like a strong narrative, a strong storyline, but at the base must be character. Even a fifty million dollar set piece it’s nothing if you are not compelled by those in it.”
Speaking of characters, I ask Luke what he makes of Harvey, he is a protagonist who is hard to empathise with and warm to. He is cocky and presumptuous and occasionally irritating. “I suppose he wasn’t likeable. But the thing about characters is the chink in the armour, what makes them interesting morally” Luke says. Athale chips in, “likeable characters can’t really exist in this genre, one full of anti-heroes. You see the truth. We’re not all completely likeable, and this comes through in their performance”. Iwan concurs, “I think with Harvey there are moments when you just think “what are you doing you idiot? And that’s what is compelling about him”.
Who inspires these sprightly young actors? For Luke it’s James Dean, Marlon Brando, Ben Kingsley and Paul Bettany. Iwan mentions Richard Burton, and there are murmurs of agreement. For Gerard it’s Daniel-Day-Lewis – he recalls watching Empire of the Sun as a small boy – and of course an actor more close to home, David Threlfall who plays Frank in Shameless. He’s “inspired by actors who really retain the essence of what they really want to do, and they won’t compromise, and if they do it’s very little, until they get the project that they really want. I like that, it’s so much more exciting when you really get to craft it.”
‘The Rise’ was mainly shot on location, and it looks like it would have been a fun few weeks. The highlight, they all agree, was one scene where the four are moodily playing golf in a deserted car park. It’s all greyness and concrete rather than flourishing grass. “It was when we were all arguing and conflicted about whether we should do the job.” says Gerard. “It was relatively early in the shoot, it was day 3” recalls Matthew. “It was good being distracted physically when doing a scene, it makes it flow much more naturally” adds Gerard. That must be why countless actors are filmed contemplatively puffing at a cigarette. Dobbs becomes a skilled archer during the film. Is Iwan a pro now? “Well I try and get really into what I do” he jokes, before admitting he really isn’t. “I do a bit in Game of Thrones, too”. Luke shouts out “you’re typecast mate!’. “Yeah, he’s a shit actor but he can bloody shoot an arrow” Iwan responds.
We discuss the bittersweet ending, and without giving too much away, it’s more realistic and less glamorous than its predecessors. Gerard pipes up enthusiastically ‘that’s what I love about it. It isn’t two million from robbing a bank. It’s like, let’s get enough money to start a business. There’s so many people who are really struggling in that kind of position, who that would be a great kind of life changing opportunity. On the other end of the scale it’s so accessible for some people and I think Rowan got that across beautifully.” Do you think the film will reach out to the lost generation? “I fucking hope it does!’ exclaims Gerard. “Yeah, there might be a load of heists happening in the UK now. The sales of cross bows are going to go up” says Iwan. The interview ends with the guys disputing who would perform the best in a heist. Although their horizon is rather secretive at this stage, they all have TV projects on the go, and their cheeky faces will be gracing our screens again for some time to come.