The Chico Movie Examiner conducted an over-the-phone interview with actor Stephen Graham on Sept. 13. “Boardwalk Empire” fans know him best as the ruthless, Chicago mobster, Al Capone. Graham has also appeared in films like “Public Enemies,” “Snatch,” and the 2011 version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
In his new film, “Blood,” which was released to Blu-ray/DVD on Sept. 10, Chrissie (Graham) and Joe (Paul Bettany) are two cop brothers trying to live up to the legacy of their father, Lenny (Brian Cox) – a former police chief. The brothers are in the middle of investigating a murder in their small British town, when Joe takes things a little too far, and both of their lives are turned upside down.
Graham also briefly discussed about what can be expected of Al Capone in the new season of “Boardwalk Empire.” Check out the full interview below.
David Wangberg: In the roles in which I’ve seen you, you’re usually a gangster or a bad guy. What was it that attracted you to play a cop for this film?
Stephen Graham: I thought it was a great script, and I’ve worked with the director [Nick Murphy] before. I worked with Nick a while ago on a drama series called “Occupation,” and he’s a great director. I just really loved the script. I thought the script was fantastic. He wants it to be more of a kind of Shakespearean drama, and I really liked it. Paul Bettany is a really close friend, and it’s great to work with Paul – and to play these two brothers who find themselves in this situation, where he [Paul] loses control and to basically to watch how their lives descend and for my character, in particular, to [know] what’s morally right and what’s morally wrong. I thought it was just a great character to play, and I thought the script was fantastic, and I thought it was a great story – to be honest with you.
DW: So, you had worked with Paul before?
SG: Yeah, I worked with Paul many years ago [on] “Inkheart,” and we’ve been close friends since. It was actually Paul who got the script, and he said to me: “Look, I just read this great script, and I’d love for you to play my brother.” I had to read it a bit, and I said: “Are you sure we can play brothers?” He’s like: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not a problem; it’s not a problem.” It was great to work with Paul. While we made the film, we actually lived together – we shared an apartment together in Liverpool.
DW: When I was getting ready to watch the movie, I was a little confused as to how it would work with you guys being brothers. But you both did it really well – the chemistry between you guys was great.
SG: Thanks! And, as well, we have that backdrop – one person could look like the mother, and one person could look like the dad. So, we really managed to get away with it.
DW: I think you did, because you don’t see the mother in the film. So, you might have gotten away with it that way. But I have a friend, who has black hair, and his sister has naturally red hair – and no one else in the family has red hair. It works out in some way, you know? [laughs]
SG: Exactly! And as you pointed out, it was more about the chemistry of these people. It was about the relationship of these people being aesthetically real. So, hopefully, we managed to pull that off and create a great relationship between two brothers.
DW: Had you seen the original miniseries, “Conviction,” before doing this film?
SG: No, no, I haven’t. My friend was in it; it was local – I never got to see it. But it was a purposeful choice. While we were filming, I decided not to watch it – just in case it would have influenced my choices as an actor. I will watch it at some point, though.
DW: So you didn’t want to try to match the character in the miniseries?
SG: No, not at all. I decided – it was the director’s choice as well – we wanted to stay well away from the miniseries. We wanted the film to have its own identity. The miniseries is more about solving the crime. This one’s more about the aftermath about that one particular incident where the older brother kills the guy. It was more about the effect that has on the family.
DW: Yeah, and that’s what I liked about this movie. I mean, it did kind of feel crammed – in my opinion – it felt like it was kind of rushed. But it was still a good film just to focus on the aftermath of the terrible incident that happens in the movie. Instead of just looking into the investigation, it looks into how a person in the law enforcement can react to a situation like this.
SG: Yeah, and it was also about how it affects the family and how both brothers are trying to live up to their father’s reputation and how [my character] is trying to live up to my older brother’s reputation. It’s that kind of thing that I found interesting as an actor – for my character to constantly be going through this thing. It’s the last thing he thinks of before he goes to sleep; it’s the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up.
DW: Had you worked with Brian [Cox] before this, as well, or is this your first time?
SG: No, it was my first time. You know, Brian is such an iconic actor; he’s such a legend – both in England and in America. I’ve grown up with his films; I’ve grown up with the stuff he’s done on TV, so to be able to work with an actor like him, to me, was a pleasure and a privilege. And, sometimes, I have to pinch myself while I’m working with these actors. It took a long time, but it’s great to be able to work with fantastic people.
DW: Do you know if they’ll be doing an Americanized version of this film?
SG: I’m not too sure – I have no idea about that. It’s a good possibility – I remember the director talking about possibly doing an American version – but I’m not too sure, to be honest with you.
DW: Yeah, a lot of foreign films will be remade for America and have different actors – or maybe even the same actors from the original film do the roles.
SG: Yeah, I mean, that’d be great to possibly do it again with an American accent – that’d be fantastic. [laughs]
DW: I also wanted to talk to you a little bit about “Boardwalk Empire,” if that’s OK.
SG: Yeah, of course.
DW: I know it just returned this last Sunday [Sept. 8], and Al Capone looks to be a little bit more ruthless in this season than he has in previous seasons. Can you say anything about what people can expect from this new season?
SG: Yeah, with the introductions already of Frank and Ralph Capone, we get to see the Capone family slowly coming to their own by taking over Cicero and establishing themselves in Chicago. There’s a lot of stuff this season for Al Capone. It’s been a great season for me to play. The depths of where we’ve taken this character this year has been great, so you can expect a lot from Al Capone this season.
DW: Are you guys still in the middle of filming it, or is it done?
SG: We’ve got another three weeks left. I go back next week to New York, and that’s the end of episode 12, and that’s it for the season.
DW: So you don’t live in America, then? Do you live in the U.K. and just go to New York every now and then?
SG: Yes, that’s exactly what I do. I live at home with my wife and two kids, and when I’m needed to go and do “Boardwalk” stuff, I simply jump on a plane, fly over, do my stuff, and then come back home for a week – and then back and forth to New York.
DW: You also played in “Public Enemies” – you played Baby Face Nelson. So, you’ve played that character and you play Al Capone. Is there any other historical gangster that you’d like to portray in an upcoming project?
SG: Not specifically. For me, it’s the case of being very blessed to being asked to play these great characters. Martin Scorsese wanted me to play Al Capone, and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse – if you’ll excuse the pun. With Michael Mann, he wanted me to play Baby Face Nelson, and that was a great challenge – that was a great character to play. I’m just very lucky that I’ve managed to play these notorious American gangsters – which I’m nothing like in real life.
DW: [laughs] So, you’re not a tough guy at all like Capone or Baby Face Nelson?
SG: Oh, not at all. I’m a very soppy, very loving family man.
DW: That’s good to hear. And I read, in a recent article, that you almost gave up on acting. There are a lot of other struggling actors in Hollywood, New York, and all those other places. I was wondering what advice you could give to those in the position you were many years ago.
SG: I just have to say keep on keepin’ on, if you know what I mean – never give up, really. You just have to have faith and belief in yourself, and hopefully with a little bit of luck and a lot of dedication and talent, hopefully something will come about. Just never stop – never give up. Keep on keepin’ on – that’s all I have to say, really, for anyone who’s looking to make a career out of it. It’s not about being famous or success, really; it’s about putting the groundwork in, picking the right roles and getting the right opportunities and making your career possibly have longevity.
DW: What was it that made you keep on pursuing acting, instead of just completely giving up altogether?
SG: It was the faith and the belief that family and friends had in me – which they’ve always had in me. I come from a very strong family background, and I’ve got some great support from my wife and my mother and father. When I decided to stop, [my wife] said: “No. Maybe, they’re not setting on you. You’ve come this far; just keep on – don’t give up.” And, thankfully, I listened to her advice.
DW: What’s the next project you’re doing?
SG: There are a couple of things next year – I can’t really say. I’m hopefully producing a film next year with my friend, which we look to begin in January. There are a couple of other projects – I can’t say too much, just in case. But I’m just going to keep my head down and keep working.
This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Stephen Graham for taking the time to talk about “Blood” and “Boardwalk Empire.”