Joe Anderson
"I just feel like such a self-indulgent wanker talking about myself all the time… I struggle with that quite a bit."

27 March 2010

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The Crazies

With roles in Control, Across the Universe and Amelia under his belt, Joe Anderson has been hitting all the right notes both here and over in Hollywood. Now in rainy Newcastle, Joe talks exclusively to Pure Movies about dyslexia, Joy Division, and his new film The Crazies.


Pure Movies: Hi Joe, how are things with you at the moment?

Joe Anderson: I’m in sunny Newcastle at the moment. Absolutely freezing, horrible weather – pouring with rain – but a good fun place. I’m shooting a film called Flutter – about gambling and dog racing. It’s due to come out next year sometime I should think. I’m playing a guy called John who’s an avid gambler with greyhounds. He and his wife have been living this life for a while, but then John meets a female bookie who just turns up at the track one day and he’s never seen her before. He’s down in betting terms and has lost quite a bit of money, and this bookie offers him and his mates a way of betting on things other than dogs. It’s more on themselves, and the stakes have to be on personal things like wedding rings, which really kind of mess up his life. This woman is kind of evil and it spirals out of control – he ends up growing an ear on himself for 100 grand and it gets pretty dark and twisted. The director is a guy called Giles Borg who just did a small film called 1234 that was out recently, and we’ve got Ricky Tomlinson and Luke Evans – Billy Zane is in it as well – he plays a dentist in the movie. It’s an interesting cast – quite diverse obviously!

Quite a change from Hollywood then?

Yeah, but a good one – It’s nice to be back here again doing something in my own accent.

Is it tough being a Brit in Hollywood?

No, no – the intention was always to go over early so that I’m not ‘a Brit in Hollywood’ and try and nail the millions of different accents there are out there, and not just be that English guy that comes over and does that generalised American accent. I really wanted to be specific – Gary Oldman for example can just do any accent and he’s amazing at it, but Gary still talks like Gary and he’s from Ealing – just round the corner from me. So I was like “well if he can do it then I should just be able to get out there, soak up the language and absorb it”. And I think it shows with a lot of English actors – they can try and turn it on and off, but you end up with a slightly nasally-cliché of an American as opposed to what they really sound like.

Vinnie Jones has always struggled with different accents…

Yeah, but Vinnie was something before he was an actor and he’s known for that. That’s the package that comes with it, and that’s great and that works but nobody knows who I am anyway, so why not do something different from me and do a character – try and change it every time so that I’m not doing the same thing.

Your father was an actor as well – did you always want to follow in his footsteps? Did you get into acting from a young age?

Really it spawned from my dyslexia  – I’m completely dyslexic, so academia was never really my path. I remember going through school and doing art, which was the only thing that I actually found fulfilling and I couldn’t really figure out why. Then I got into college and started messing around with photography and I realised that it was about getting the images that were in my head out in a way that didn’t have to be spelt correctly. You could just view it and it tells the story, so the logical step really was to speaking. Little did I know that on the first day of drama school they hand you the ‘Complete works of Shakespeare’, ‘The Complete Works of Sheridan’ and the ‘Complete Works of Johnson’ and you go “oh my goodness, I’ve got to read all of this stuff!”. But it was definitely a much needed catharsis, I think, from a lot of frustration over school and not being able to get it out in time in the exam or whatever – and I always felt that was a very unjust way of working. This (acting) is a much more fulfilling and it’s very free. Each time I do something I feel I grow as an individual – I really feel that, and my wife notices it from job to job. It’s something that betters me as a human being.

So you started acting much more because of your experience at school rather than the influence of your parents?

They weren’t (an influence) at all – my Father always told me to do something with a steady income. They weren’t famous actors and there were never any delusions of grandeur in my family. We didn’t go on holiday for many years because we just couldn’t afford it. My mum and dad would have loved to have seen me become a doctor or something. My dad was like “become an undertaker – there’s always work!”. I remember saying to them “hey guys, this is what I’m going to do” and they were like “what?! We never would’ve thought that” – they were never pushy parents.

Let’s talk about your new film that’s coming out called The Crazies – could you tell us a bit about it and your role in the film?

It’s a remake of a 1973 George A. Romero movie, which really sort of spawned a genre. I was really drawn to this idea of a small-town where everyone-knows-everyone, and something that actually could happen – we are living in these times where there are chemically engineered things travelling across the country in tankers and unmarked vehicles. There’s a spillage in the water and this sort of form of rabies infects the town one house at a time as it travels through the water system. I like the idea that it’s not a horror movie where your stuck in a cell or there’s a house that you can’t get out of – we’re out in the fields and surrounded by space in isolation, and a lot of it takes place during the day. I quite like that there’s bright sunshine, as we’re not doing that normal dark, creepy thing. There is some of that, but at the same time it’s a slightly different aesthetic for a horror film. The Town’s Sherriff, played by Tim Olyphant, and his wife who’s a doctor, played by Radha Mitchell, are the two sort of pillars of the local community. I play the Sherriff’s deputy, Russell Clank – I didn’t choose his last name – and we’re the sort of backbone of the local community. I love that idea that the people that are going nuts aren’t just mindless zombies that we don’t know. We know these people – it’s the headmaster of the school; it’s the guy down the road; it’s the baker; it’s the undertaker – all of that I just thought was much more appealing than the idea of running away from a shuffling, mindless zombie.

How did you prepare for the role?

It was one of those things where initially I was given a script, and of course I had to audition for the movie and I had to make a tape. I actually made quite a few tapes, and one of the things I did – my wife’s from Virginia and my brother-in-law is quite friendly with some of the cops down there, so I went and hung out with them now and again. They were in places like Kilmarnock in Virginia – very small towns – so it fit the bill perfectly, and I drove around with a couple of cops there for a few days and just sort of got to experience the day to day life of what being a cop was like in a small town. It was anything from pulling cats out of trees to following people on shoot-outs in some of the poorer areas. It’s strange in the south as the rich and the poor sit right on each other’s doorsteps and obviously that can create a bit of tension. It was amazing – we were driving through areas where the street signs were shot out, and the cops were saying it was a warning for the cops to not come to that area. But at the same time you know, you can be helping old ladies carry bags of shopping to their house, and that sort of range was just fascinating. I wanted to put my character somewhere specific, rather than just somewhere with a generalised accent, so I chose a sort of deep-south, Savannah, Georgia accent. That just helps because it’s far away from me, and I find it always harder to play things that are closer to me. Obviously an American accent is going to be a big step away from me, and all the other mannerisms help because it’s a little further away and it’s a little more to chew on, so to speak.

Did the original film influence the way you approached the role at all?

Obviously I watched it, but I watched it and probably made around 10 cups of tea throughout because I didn’t want it to imprint. Otherwise stuff will come through via osmosis, and I won’t even realise it’s happening but I’m copying something. And also, the film is different and there have been certain creative liberties taken – I think for the better. I had to watch it because of course, it’s a remake, and I’d be an idiot not to know what I was talking about. But at the same time, once I’d watched it I never watched it again and really just got involved in the truth of the piece we were working on. There are certain hark-backs of course in the movie, but really I approached it as if I’d never seen or heard of it before.

Are you a fan of the Horror genre as a whole?

Yes, absolutely I am. I remember having terrible nightmares because of Nightmare on Elm Street – it’s that disturbing thing sticks in the back of your head and will be there until the day you die. I’m a big fan of the sci-fi genre as well because it’s so alien to us – it’s not everyday we’re getting chased down the hall by a man with an axe, so to experience that through the cinematic medium – you don’t ever get a chance to do that in real life… and hopefully you won’t. The same with the sci-fi stuff – Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and things like that – I love disappearing into those worlds and zoning out watching a movie and letting my mind wander.

I’m a big fan, but I’ve also of late been getting really annoyed with the whole genre – why am I not being disturbed? I’m being disgusted a lot of the time, and I cringe a little bit, but I’m not really deeply being affected by what I’m seeing. So consequently I’ve set out to write my own psychologically disturbing thing for myself. It’s sort of a pet project that spawned out of doing research for things like The Crazies – just watching horror movie after horror movie, and asking “how I can change this and get back to where we were?” It’s such a great medium for a first time director as well because you can have a human aspect to it and use the cinematic medium to tell a story, but you have to get it right or there won’t be any jumps or anything. Also, it’s very easy to shoot something on a video camera and do a sort of Paranormal Activity type movie, but I think the genre deserves a little more respect than that to a certain degree. It’s an exciting challenge.

There’s a strong musical element to films you’ve done in the past – was this something you sought out, or was it more accidental that you ended up in films like Control and Across the Universe?

It’s an interesting one – I’ve played the guitar in bands drunkenly when I was a teenager. I always wanted to be the singer and was never allowed, but I never really intended to do anything musical. The first time I stood on the stage in front of people in terms of acting was in my 20s, and I was never a big child actor or anything like that. It’s weird – I think it was Across the Universe that started that, and it was strange because Julie Taymor (director) hired me because of the acting, not necessarily the singing. I’d never intended to do anything musical, but of course Joy Division is Joy Division, and if someone asks you to play Peter Hook you’re not gonna say “no”. There have been scripts for various musicals that have been made, and the moment you do a few, you get sent a lot. I probably wouldn’t touch a musical-based thing again unless it was something specific.

Have you ever met Peter Hook?

No, I was terrified –  I was like “oh my goodness, I’m going to meet Hooky – he’s going to tear me apart!” But I never got a chance to meet him. I know that Harry Treadaway, who played Stephen Morris the drummer, spoke to him on the phone a couple of times. I think it was very tough for them, in that it bought home a lot of the reality of what happened over those years and the fact that they’ve come full circle and someone’s making a movie about them. I remember we played to Debbie Curtis and the late Tony Wilson. It was extraordinary to watch the real Debbie and Natalie – Ian’s daughter – and Tony while we were knocking out seven or eight Joy Division numbers for them. That must be tough, because that’s her Dad and she never really knew him, and the film walks an interesting line with his character.

Do you have a favourite Joy Division song?

Oh my goodness… I quite like Dead Souls – I always liked to play it. It had that little build in it and it was always a good one. It was great because when we were shooting it all the extras were devout Joy Division fans who found out about it on the internet, and we’d play for them in between takes. The vibe was just awesome. On the first day the director had to make us shut up after a while, because we actually had to make a film and stop playing a gig. That give-and-take from the audience was just amazing.

And a favourite Beatles songs?

I like “The Taxman”! I just love the beats of “The Taxman”. I love the drums in it – it was way ahead of it’s time and very cool. It’s awesome.

It’s funny though, I was never a big Beatles fain – of course you can never escape who they are – but I was much more leaning towards the blues growing up and listening to early, early John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters – all that stuff. And I was a big Jimmy Hendrix fan. I don’t feel like I was raised as an Englishman – my father’s from Zimbabwe and my mother’s Irish. I never really felt like I had a grounding. I never played soccer or football or whatever you call it.

Apparently you’re quite the gymnast?

I don’t know where that came from. I mean, I can walk on my hands. I think it was one of those things that when I came out of drama school they didn’t have anything on me blurb-wise, so it was whatever was on my school thing. I did it a fair bit at school, and I would still like to be able to walk on my hands at 40.

Would you use that talent in any of your films do you think?

Maybe if the line’s not working, I’ll do a handstand! It’s another tool in the bag. It’s funny actually, when we were shooting The Crazies, Danille Panabaker has to run across these fields. It was four o’clock in the morning, it was freezing. I took off after her and both my quads just went “ping – ping!”. I pulled both my quadriceps and I thought, “oh ok, 27 years old – maybe you should warm up?” It’s just something that I keep up – I keep flexible.

Have you ever been in The Bill, Holby City or any of the other traditional British things that actors here often go through after drama school?

No, I’ve never really been on any of those sorts of things. When I came out of drama school my thing was that I just loved the one-off nature of film. I loved the fact that it’s basically just a pictorial book, or a novel you know? What I hated at drama school – I did a stint at Chichester Theatre – was the fact that doing Shakespeare and these things is great and it’s fun, but so many people have played that part before you. I wanted to walk some paths that hadn’t been walked before. So film was the obvious direction, but it’s one of those pipe dreams. When I came out of drama school I remember saying to myself “right, if I don’t get a movie in five years, then I might have a rethink and go and teach scuba-diving in Thailand,” or something. But within the first six months of leaving I’d managed to book a film, so I was like “fuck it, I’m just going to keep going and see where it ends up”. I figured if I only went up for film, then I’d only really get film. I didn’t go up for theatre or television stuff, and also I wanted to work in the States. I love the way that they make movies. I didn’t want to be the English actor coming over and then being stuck as an English actor, so any chance to play even a tiny role in an American accent – I would’ve jumped at it.

What are your thoughts on the Oscars this year? Who is most deserving of the awards?

Tough one. To be honest I feel terrible, I haven’t been keeping up with it. I haven’t been watching many movies – I’ve been rather self-absorbed in trying to get jobs and there’s projects that I’m chasing at the moment – “please give me the part, please give me the part!”

Certain performances in The Hurt Locker… I just loved that. And I’m sure Avatar with win some stuff for design. It’s an interesting thing with awards for acting – it’s nice to know people respect what you do – but being interviewed as me right now, I just feel like such a self-indulgent wanker talking about myself all the time… I struggle with that quite a bit.