Frank Harper has enjoyed an acting career that has spanned over twenty years but this week sees him sit in the director's chair for the very first time.
St George's Day sees the actor director, write and star in the gangster movie and I caught up with him to chat about his new project.
- St George's Day will be released into cinemas this week so can you tell me a little bit about the movie?
It is a gangster thriller which follows two cousins that are at the top of the food chain.
But they have a deal that goes wrong and they suddenly find themselves in a situation where they are out of the frying pan and into the fire - they are trying to escape Russians and the police.
Their quest to get themselves out of trouble takes them from London to Amsterdam and then Berlin.
But also it is a look at a culture and a lifestyle and a language really; that was always important to me because these guys have their own language. I think that sums it all up really.
- You have written, directed and starred in this movie so where did this project start for you?
I have been outside looking in to this particular culture since I was about sixteen and I went to work at a meat market in London.
An opportunity arose about four years ago to make a film and I just thought 'well maybe this is the right time to do it'.
So first of all I developed the script and then as the process went on I had a moment of madness and just said 'I think I will direct it as well'.
I was very fortunate because I had a fantastic crew and an amazing cast and we shot at over 100 locations in three different countries in six weeks for a million quid - it was an achievement for anyone who worked on the film really.
- As I said you have penned a script for the first time with this movie so how did you find that experience? What sort of research did you do into this genre and lifestyle as you were writing?
It was all really there as it was something that I have been observing since I was sixteen and I first went to work.
So I had lots of stories and quotes, of course you take a bit of license with them; there is a scene in the film that they refer to as twenty five summers and that was a conversation that I heard many years ago between two guys.
I actually went home and wrote it down straight away and I thought 'one day I am going to use that' (laughs). I started out with a very simple plot and then I just weaved everything around that really.
You have to do what I call 'silly American pitches' and they said 'what's your pitch?' And I just said to them 'think Football Factory meets The Italian Job' and that is how I pitched it.
But it is quite a complex film, especially the last third and you really have to sit and watch as there are a lot of twists to it. Hopefully it keeps people engaged - I am tapping wood as I am saying that.
- How have you found the early response to the movie?
We had the premiere last week and I think that people did enjoy it. It is so difficult to get a film made in this country and then to get a theatrical release - there is a lot of relief when you can sit down in a cinema and actually watch it.
This is something that I started four years ago and there were times when I wondered if it was ever going to get made. But my mum likes it - and she would tell me if she didn't.
- The movie marks your directorial debut so why was now the right time to make that move behind the camera? And why was this the right time to make that move?
I felt it was the right time because I when I had finished the script in some respects it was quite a personal film in terms of the language and subject matter.
I just thought that it would be better if I did do it myself but I didn't realise how much work is involved in that (laughs).
On the first day of pre-production I have never been asked so many questions in one day in my whole life - but I quickly found out that if I was asked a question that I didn't know I would say 'well what do you think?'
But I was very lucky as I had a fantastic cinematographer, I had a guy called Mike Southon, and I also had a really good cast - it was a very experienced cast.
It makes the job easier when you say 'action' and you have actors that are delivering straight away - it does make your job a little bit easier.
And I also think that directing is also a little bit about delegating and if you delegate the right jobs to the right people then the rest will take care of itself.
- Speaking of the cast you have brought together a great cast for the film that includes Craig Fairbrass, Vincent Regan, Jamie Foreman and Charles Dance so can you tell me a little bit about the casting process? Did you pen the script with any actors in mind?
The central core of myself, Craig Fairbrass; who plays my cousin, Neil Maskell, Tony Denham; who plays my brother and Vincent Regan I actually wrote those parts bespoke for those actors.
It worked because people have said that it comes across like there is a real charisma and understanding between them and that is because we have known each other for a long time and we are friends - so that really seeps through.
Then much to my surprise for some of the smaller roles I was hearing that 'Nick Moran wants to come in and do a day for you' 'Dexter Fletcher does and Ashley Walters wants to be in the movie' so I was really lucky.
But I really am out of favours with them all now as they really did work for mate’s rate (laughs).
- So how has your acting experience helped you as a director?
I have been doing it long enough now to know that when I was actually in the scene I knew whether that scene was working or not.
So once we got into the close ups and we got down to the nitty gritty of the acting I was confident enough in the actors that I didn't have to keep checking the monitor - you feel as an actor that scene works.
I am lucky as I have worked with some great directors over the years and there are times when something would happen and I would think 'well what would Shane Meadows do now? Or 'what would Nick Love do now?'
So I have been lucky in that respect that I have worked with directors who are actor friendly and that is what I tried to do with the cast - I tried to be an actor’s director.
- You have already mentioned that you shot on a hundred different locations in six weeks on a budget of £1million - that is a tight time frame and budget so how did you find working under those constraints?
Stressful (laughs). It was at times absolutely exhausting to the point where everyone... I was lucky to have a very loyal crew and a very loyal bunch of actors and every day the pulled out of the bag.
I think we did hit a wall and then we had to go to Amsterdam but I think that that re-energised people - suddenly we all thought we were going on holiday as we got on the ferry.
Then the first day in Amsterdam was a day off, which in the schedule had about eight exclamations marks after it.
When people have got enthusiasm for a project and believe in it they tend go the extra yards and I think everyone did on this film. But it was tiring and it was exhausting but the adrenaline gets you though it I think.
- Now that you have had a taste of directing how much is this an area of the industry you would like to explore some more?
I would like to direct again as I really enjoyed it and I got a lot from the whole process. I went on a steep learning curve and I do think that it will be easier next time around.
- You have enjoyed a career that has spanned over twenty years so how does the way that you choose your projects differ from at the beginning of your career?
When you first start you take anything and everything. But I was quite lucky because some of the stuff that I fell into was working with Shane Meadows on his first two movies and then Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels - my first actual part in a feature film was In The Name of the Father with Daniel Day Lewis.
So I was quite lucky that from very early on in my career and the movies that I was involved with turned out to be good features.
First of all it is about the script and I learnt from St George's Day that you need a very tight script - that is the first thing that I do look.
But I do find in this country that we don't develop scripts enough and that is one lesson that we should take from the Americans because they are constantly developing their scripts.
So if I like the script then you go in to meet someone and you pretty much get a vibe whether you want to work with someone or not.
- Finally what is next for you?
Well I have another script that I have been doing a lot of research on over the last few months and I have got to a point where I have a first draft.
So I am going to carry on with that and hopefully we might be able to film it next year.
St George's Day is released 7th September
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw