With his new film Mister John now in Irish cinemas, Aidan Gillen tells Ruth Aravena about shooting the movie in Singapore, his love of independent film and what people call him in the street.
Ruth Aravena: Well done on Mister John - a really great film. What was it exactly that made you want to get involved?
Aidan Gillen: I'd seen [directors] Joe Lawlor and Christine Malloy's previous film Helen and was quite intrigued by it. I'd known them from way, way back - from when I was a teenager - but I hadn't seen them in a while. They used to work a lot in theatre, visual art and community-based projects, but I thought that Helen was a really unusual, striking and adventurous film and I thought that I would like to be part of whatever they did next.
It was also an interesting character and an interesting script. There wasn't really much to latch on to for an actor - not a tonne of dialogue, not a tonne of plot - it was a more atmospheric film that I knew they would be in their element making. I'd also worked with the director of photography before, Ole Birkeland, who is a really great cinematographer. They were also shooting it all on film which is a rarity in the mid- to low budget end of the scale.
Your character in Mister John, Gerry, seems quite complex; there's a lot going on in his life. How do you as an actor go about preparing for that role?
I think there are probably things that I saw in there that I probably related to. I think often as an actor you're trying to hide things as much as you're trying to create things or bring things to a part. I felt I had quite a lot of it going on already so I just wasn't going to hide it.
You've acted in series, movies and on the stage. Do you prefer acting when you're able to play the character out longer like in a show?
Well, say like with this film, Mister John, I liked the intensity of the production in that you're in almost every scene and there's no days off. You're in Singapore, which is very far away. So you don't really have anything else to do but do the film, think about the film, think about what you're doing next. So I was lucky that I was able to have the freedom to go and do that. Yeah, I prefer the intensity of something that is as involved as this is.
In your own time, what kinds of films do you enjoy watching?
I like stuff across the board. Yesterday I went to see Rush. It was exciting, but the day before I went to see The Great Beauty, the Sorrentino film. I do prefer more personal, less commercial films. They're more for me.
And are those the kind of films you're attracted to more as an actor?
Yeah, if I could be doing that kind of stuff all the time I would be, but you can't be doing it all the time. Like I did a couple of things with a director called Jamie Thraves and those were some of the best experiences as an actor, or with Joe and Christine doing Mister John. But they're really at one of the scale and to make a living you have to do a bit of this and a bit of that.
You're really into music. Do you ever feel that music has influenced you in how you approach roles?
Yeah probably, in the way that the kind of bands you like and the music you listen to and the kind of films you like inform the kind of person that you are. Particularly if you're working in the music/film world, it's going to be all over you, I'm sure.
So say for Mister John, was there a particular music genre that you were choosing to listen to at that time?
I wasn't listening to much music over there at all. You know, when we were doing this it was more of a case of trying not to be familiar with what was going on and just see what happens.
Had you ever been to Singapore before filming Mister John?
No, no I hadn't.
Did you find that being there was a big culture shock?
It was enough of a culture shock to register but it feels quite Western for an Eastern place. The longer you stay there the more it seeps into you. We did try to capture some of that feeling: 'Let's not get too familiar with what we're going to see here and what's going to be happening'. And the whole sex industry thing, that's not something they were thinking about when they were writing it but when you're there, it's there. There isn't any major stance taken on it like 'oh that's terrible' or we think it's this or that because the film is seen through the eyes of Gerry and Gerry doesn't know what's going on. He's just baffled and confused and not getting involved in that.
So you took a very relaxed approach to Gerry?
I was trying to put as much of myself in there as I could. I think there is a risk taken there if you're not fuelled up with lots of flashy performance stuff and you just kind of play it low key and not say a lot. There's not a lot of dialogue in the film; there was more but they took it out. The camera's in your face all the time and I know I tend to like to hide behind things like a flashy prop or movement or fast talking but there wasn't any of that.
Do you think it's harder to act without the dialogue?
You probably should be able to do it if you're a good actor. I'm sure that's what good actors do. It's all part of the same thing: you should be able to act without speaking.
You've played so many iconic roles at this point in your career, is there one character that people shout at you when you're walking down the street?
The first time I was called character names in the street it annoyed me but now I really appreciate it because it means that people believe you are the person. Years ago it was Stuart from Queer as Folk; then there was a lot of Carcetti from The Wire. There's a lot of John Boy (Love/Hate), a lot of Little Finger (Game of Thrones).
Your career has gone from strength to strength did you always see it going in this direction?
Probably since about [age] 19. It's been good because it's been varied. It twirls around: I do a bit of this over here, do a bit of this over there. It hasn't ever gotten dull for me, which I'm really happy about. I do put quite a good bit of thought into what I do. Not in a list-making way, but if there's something that I see that I think I might be able to get involved with I will go after it. It's not always the most obvious thing - I hope.