Interview : Super villain ‘Sean Cronin’
Sean Cronin is a super villain. There is no denying that. Thankfully this is just the type of role he’s famous for playing on the big screen. Sean has starred in blockbuster movies such as The Mummy, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He also stars in the new J.K Rowling movie adaption, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, that hits cinema screens in November. In his latest movie, Kill Kane, he stars alongside Snatch star Vinnie Jones. We chat to Sean about his diverse career, his new movie and upcoming projects, Fantastic Beasts, diversity in the movie industry, role models and lots more.
WE’D LOVE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR NEW MOVIE ‘KILL KANE’ AND THE ROLE YOU PLAY
“Kill Kane” is a low budget British gangster flick staring the infamous Vinnie Jones playing the goodie and me playing the baddie. It was an interesting and funny experience because Vinnie always plays baddies, but in “Kill Kane” he plays a schoolteacher. Trying to get Vinnie to talk like a schoolteacher was amusing to say the least. I play Kane, a horrible, ruthless and nasty killer with a kind of sophisticated side, he’s no cockney, and he is calm and collected, but also clearly insane. He’ll be all right for a minute and then he’ll explode. He is a very cold-hearted contract killer with absolutely no qualms or feelings.
Amazingly the feature was shot in 9 days, something unheard of for a feature film, which normally takes 30 to 40 days to shoot minimum. The budget was also very low, but we pulled it off. The young director, Adam Stephen Kelly, had the most difficult task to manage two of probably the most horrendously villainous characters in the universe, yet he dealt with us both incredibly well and the film was great fun to shoot.
YOU’RE A FAMOUS VILLAIN ON THE BIG SCREEN. IS THERE A ROLE YOU’VE ENJOYED PLAYING THE MOST?
I played the Masked Syndicate Man in “Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation”, which was a lot of fun. Firstly Tom Cruise was incredible to work with, he was so nice it was a real pleasure. He looked after his cast and crew really well. Simon Pegg steals my face in the film so it’s me playing him, playing me – quite an interesting concept. On my first day on set I saw someone with my head under their arm, which was a bit weird. I was also electrocuted 35 times on the set, even though you only see it once in the finished film. I thought I’d finished the scene, I went home but they kept calling me back saying, “Sean, would you mind coming back? We need to electrocute you from another angle”.
Another funny story was when I had a full English breakfast one day and we had a fake mirror scene, where Tom was behind me, but I kept on forgetting that he was there and I kept passing wind until Tom tapped me on the shoulder and said “Sean would you mind stop blowing off?”
It was amazing to work on a 200 million-budget film, as opposed to a low budget film like “Kill Kane”; it really is both ends of the spectrum.
IS THERE A SOFTER SIDE TO YOU? CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE YOU PLAYING A KINDER CHARACTER ON THE BIG SCREEN IN THE FUTURE?
Don’t be ridiculous. I’m a super villain.
“Another funny story was when I had a full English breakfast one day and we had a fake mirror scene, where Tom was behind me, but I kept on forgetting that he was there and I kept passing wind until Tom tapped me on the shoulder and said “Sean would you mind stop blowing off?””
HOW IS THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING A DIRECTOR DIFFERENT TO BEING IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA AND BEING DIRECTED? WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST?
I love playing a villain and that’s where I got the bug for film, but what is so wonderful about being on big sets is watching how everyone collaborates to one creative end, to make a beautiful piece of believable cinema, it really is a wonderful thing.
Although I love acting, directing is a kind of a higher calling. You take that idea from a page and turn it into a movie. There’s nothing like it, it’s much harder work than playing a villain. When I play a villain, I get picked up in a nice car, be extremely horrible to somebody, invariably kill everybody and then I’m at home in time for tea. When you’re directing, you’re first in, last out and responsible for everything and everybody, so it’s very difficult and very demanding job, but extremely worthwhile and fulfilling.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO WORK IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
I was in a rock band for many years called “The Marionettes” and we did world tours with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, so I was always very theatrical and always a bit of a performer, but I got stopped in the Portobello Road about 20 years ago and was told that I looked very evil and I was asked to play a part of a high priest in “The Mummy”. I found myself down at Shepperton Studios shaved from head to foot, painted gold and wearing a nappy. That’s when I got the bug to get into film. It’s one of the most difficult but rewarding industries in the world. You meet somebody new every day, you’re doing different stuff every day, there’s never a dull moment when you’re making movies.
THE TRAILER FOR SEAN’S LATEST MOVIE ‘KILL KANE’ STARRING VINNIE JONES. IT’S OUT ON DVD NOW!
WERE YOU ENCOURAGED TO FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS BY YOUR FAMILY WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
I had a strange upbringing. I’m an only child of a single mum who, God bless her, at that time she was an alcoholic, so nobody had any influence over anything I did, apart from me listening to David Bowie and Bob Dylan in my bedroom. It wasn’t one of those traditional “don’t do that, don’t get a job in film, you won’t make any money” childhoods.
WOMEN REPRESENTED 11.4% OF THE UK’S TV/FILM DIRECTORS AND ONLY 16.1% OF THE UK’S TV/FILM WRITERS IN 2012. WHY DO YOU THINK WOMEN ARE SO POORLY REPRESENTED IN THE INDUSTRY? HOW CAN WE CHANGE THIS?
I don’t think it’s a question of that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or a female, if you are ‘real’ it will shine through. In the same way that we’re all striving for diversity, particularly at the moment where black actors are not being properly represented at the Oscars, I genuinely don’t think it has anything to do with whether you’re black or white, it’s just these are the films that are prominent and outstanding at the moment.
I think the same with females; I know many fantastic female directors and I don’t think of it in any other way. Everyone should get the same equal opportunities, equal pay. If your talent shines though, then it will shine though, even if you’re a 15-legged lesbian elephant.
AND DISABLED (VISIBLE DISABILITIES) ACTORS/THEMES ARE FEW ARE FAR BETWEEN ON THE BIG SCREEN TOO. IS THE INDUSTRY WORKING HARD ENOUGH TO ENSURE DISABILITY AND DISABLED ACTORS ARE MORE REPRESENTED, AND IF THERE IS A DISABLED CHARACTER, THAT A DISABLED ACTOR PLAYS THEM?
It’s quite an interesting question for me because I’m about to direct a film called “Give Them Wings” which is a semi biopic story of Paul Hodgson, a disabled football fan from Darlington. Paul was dealt a terrible hand of cards when he was struck down with childhood meningitis at the age of 11 months. He was told he would never move or speak, yet this man has written many books and is an award-winning film producer in his own right, and I’m very honoured to be directing his life story. When we first got the script it was a bit of a claustrophobic TV documentary drama so we have adapted it for the big screen and given it more of a feel good ending.
One of the problems with cinema is that people will not go to the cinema to be depressed, they want to be entertained, so although we may not be sticking exactly to the correct story, it is being adapted for the big screen and we are also going to shoot an exact representation of his story which will end up being a TV documentary drama.
I don’t think of using a disabled actor to play a disabled character. I choose the best actor for a character. If he happens to be disabled, then that’s fine. In “Give them Wings” we have a wonderful actor called Mark Stobart, who not only looks like Paul, but has a very similar natural accent and just plays him brilliantly. Even though Mark is not disabled, he plays him so well and Paul himself doesn’t want anyone else to play the part. Having said that, if someone came along, that fitted the bill then of course they would be considered, but for me it’s about who plays the part best, not do we give him the part because we feel sorry for him. That’s not the way that it works for me.
“I got stopped in the Portobello Road about 20 years ago and was told that I looked very evil and I was asked to play a part of a high priest in “The Mummy”. I found myself down at Shepperton Studios shaved from head to foot, painted gold and wearing a nappy.”
DIVERSITY, OR THE LACK OF IT, IS A HOT TOPIC IN THE WORLD OF FILM AND TV. WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK DIRECTORS PLAY IN INCREASING THE DIVERSITY WE SEE ON OUR SCREENS?
Like I said before, if a black actor is required to play Nelson Mandela, then of course it will be a black actor. It’s not about putting token black people in or token white people in or anything just to appease and be politically correct. If they are right for the part then they will get the part. It’s funny, I saw a video the other day on Facebook with lots of different clips of Caucasian people playing mixed-race, Indian and different ethnic groups and that for me are obviously silly. Cleopatra was not from the East End of London; she was Egyptian. I believe in making believable real cinema and the characters that are required to play those parts, whoever those parts may be, should be the right people to play them, not put a black person in because it’s politically correct. Political correctness is completely out of control.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING, DO YOU SWITCH OFF EASILY?
I find it very hard. I direct films in my sleep. In fact, in an ideal world it would save an enormous amount in our budget if I could just download the film straight from my brain onto a USB and upload it. Bang! We’re done.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER?
Just the sense of achievement, I’m a single father of two small children. I’ve been nominated for 25 awards over the last 5 or 6 years. I’m just proud that I am able to make a living, sometimes only just, either from being behind the camera or in front of it. Every individual project I work on at that time is my pride and joy because when you’re working on something you completely absorb yourself, so when I look back at what I’ve done before, I find it very hard to differentiate or judge one as better than the other because I remember the emotions and the pain that I went through doing each and every one of them. So I’m just happy to be alive and making movies.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN?
My all time favourite villain and biggest influence is Oliver Reed. I met Oliver on set once and he taught me the trick that I use to this day, and that is, never to blink on camera. It’s probably the reason why I’ve gone from being a villain to a super villain!
My other piece of advice is, when you’re directing or doing anything in film, or in fact anything in life, is never give up, never surrender. Never listen to the haters, but take criticism well, because if you think it’s great, it probably isn’t. If ten other people think it’s great, there’s a good chance it is. It’s all very well being vain and narcissistic about the work that you’ve done or watching yourselves in films, but you need to look at the best and strive to be better.
“If a black actor is required to play Nelson Mandela, then of course it will be a black actor. It’s not about putting token black people in or token white people in or anything just to appease and be politically correct…Political correctness is completely out of control.”
YOU MUST BE VERY EXCITED ABOUT BEING A PART OF THE UPCOMING ‘FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM’ MOVIE. CAN YOU LET US IN ON ANY SECRETS ABOUT YOUR ROLE…THE MOVIE…?
I’m afraid I’m under a non-disclosure agreement, so I cannot reveal anything about “Fantastic Beasts” apart from that it was a fantastic film to work on. Eddie Redmayne is a true gentleman and an absolutely lovely chap. J.K. Rowling had a condition that the film would only be commissioned if everyone on set was treated well and that’s what really happened, everybody was treated like royalty. It was a fantastic experience and it’s going to be a great film. It’s a wonderful lead-on from the “Harry Potter” franchise and all I can say is that it’s set some time before the “Harry Potter” books were set.
IT’S INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY ON THE 8TH OF MARCH. IS THERE A FEMALE WHO IS AN INSPIRATION FOR YOU?
J.K Rowling is a wonderful influence for me. She’s somebody that has struggled against adversity. When she wrote the first Harry Potter books, she was a single mum on benefits and has really struggled to write and be creative. Now she’s worth billions and is the owner of one of the biggest and best franchises cinema has ever seen, so I would say J.K. Rowling is a huge inspiration for me.
WHAT DOES THE REST OF 2016 HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU?
I’ve almost wrapped on a TV Pilot I directed at the end of year, which is moving into postproduction. I can’t give too much away, but it is a sort of “American Pie” meets “The Truman Show” aimed at a younger audience.
I’ve got about 10 to 15 villain screenplay offers on the table, so you will still get to see my mean face on screen, but I’m getting more into directing now. We have two brilliant features being planned “Bogieville” and “Irongate”, and I am directing both of these gems, hopefully this Summer.
“Irongate” is quite an antipode from other projects I have done before. It’s a dark but romantic period drama set in the shadow of the Crimean War in 1852, centered on a female character, created by the legendary Tony Waddington. The characters are fictional, but all the events happening around it are real.
“Bogieville” is a road vampire movie, written by Henry P. Gravelle, a very talented writer from New York. As well as directing this film, I also play the lead vampire in it, Madison, who wreaks havoc on a sleepy town.
Another film I’m directing is ‘Give them Wings’, a true semi-biopic story I mentioned earlier of Paul Hodgson a legendary writer, who was born with childhood meningitis. It was his story, the story of his fight, and how he fought back against the odds and won. It’s a very heart-warming and inspirational tale.
Kill Kane, starring Sean and Vinnie Jones, is available to buy on DVD now.