Peter Mullan - We should be grateful for what we have and not complain all the timeWritten by Eva Csölleová, Vítek Formánek
Honestly speaking, about three weeks before FebioFest 2016 we didn´t know who Peter Mullan is.Although he acted in films like “Braveheart”, “ Trainspotting”, “War horse” or “Harry Potter” one can´t know everybody and also doesn´t watch everything.But he won our hearts very quickly not only by his openness, with his views but also for the guts how he worked hard to get from street gang to become a recognized actor and director.What we like at him is the fact that he calls spade a spade, doesn´t talk any pre-chewed bullshits and he makes films that pinch into wasp nest, that try to change something.
You have seven siblings and your father was alcoholic and tyrant. Do you still have some positive recollections at your childhood?
Yeah, I have great memories at my brothers and sisters.My dad was a snob and we lived in quite posh house, have no idea how did he get it.So whole school got impression we are rich but opposite was a truth,We had no car, phone, not even carpets on the floor. Father was fighting in India during second World War and he came home as mentally ill person.He couldn´t fit into proper life.It was the atmosphere of fear at home and I don´t remember ever getting a hug from him.Situation worsened as we all grew older and he switched from psychological terror to physical violence. I remember finding my mum at the table with father threatening her with a knife. It brought me to conclusion to kill him so I made him a cuppa tea and put all sleeping pills into it. But he sussed it out and didn´t drink it. He died at the very day I started at a university. I was in a room when he stopped breathing and I went out for dance since I felt the life begins now.
You were also in street gang, weren´t you? Did it give you anything for your future life?
Yeah I was there for about a year before being booted, since I didn´t fit among them.There were guys wearing and using a knife but I had none of it, I rather read Carl Jung which obviously I couldn´t tell them.When I was thrown out I was 17 and worked my socks off to get out and get back to university.I think the life in the gang inspired me in my later films where I was able to well depict the life of such people around me.
What have you dreamt about at that time? Was a film escape from reality for you?When and why did you decide to start acting?
Hard to say if I dreamt about anything, I just tried to survive at that time.When I was at school and under age I saw Hitchcocks´film “ Psycho” which scarred the shit out of me.Then I saw a series called ”Alfred Hitchcock presents” and it was obvious that I wanna do that in my life.I also remember when I came from school and watched TV. From 1-4 p.m. there was nothing on, so there was only picture of a lady holding three balloons. I was watching it for three hours and imagined how I am a hero of my own films, I was James Bond or Clint Eastwood.My imagination worked overtime.When my mum came and saw me starring at the picture of that woman she asked me if I am okay and took me to psychiatrist.
Well, if you looked three hours at the lady who had only three baloons and nothing else and let your imagination work, we see nothing wrong with that?!
Aha, no,no. She was dressed and held three balloons (laugh).But back to your question.When I was about 16 I liked pantomime and I became a class clown.I knew that leading clowns can easily get the girl so it fancied me.But then I went to study economy, social history and drama.I knew that I want to make films but acting wasn´t on agenda.At that time it wasn´t easy for Scottish working class boy becoming a director, it was all for British.You had to act certain style which I didn´t like. After university I was teaching drama in various communities, prisons or borstals.At that time the left wing theatre groups were in vogue and I helped to establish two of them.First was called “First offence” and second “Redheads”. I criss-crosseed Scotland with them and we played political acts about working class topics, National Front, striking miners or Thatcherism.At that time I considered myself as Marxist so left wing topic was close to me and for my act Labour party even sent me a letter telling me I was expelled from party but I wasn´t even a member.In 1987 I became a member of theatre group called “ Wildcats” which was like political pantomime and that was the way my acting career started.Then I played on theatre, on TV and then came films like “Braveheart” and “Trainspotting” and then came Ken Loach and asked me to play in his new film “ Riff-Raff” which kick started my career.
You mentioned “Trainspotting” which some people rate as cult movie and often mentioned that in association with you.What did it mean for you to play in it and is it truth there is a sequel to be filmed?
Okay, already during shooting whole crew looked very confident that the film will be a big hit.The budget was very small about 1.5 million pounds. I have only one long dialog there with Ewan McGregor. When film was finished and I met crew and asked them how is film doing, they all were pleased and said is does very well.” So why do you look at me like turkey at Christmas” I asked them. And they told me they had to edit some parts to each actor.Since I had only one part in it I was worried that they edited me too, which proved to be truth so I have one very cameo scene there and still people glorify me for playing in it.I told my family that I am playing at that film and now I almost wasn´t there
As for sequel of it, only thing I know that there is some script and that I won´t be in it cos my hero is long dead.
How about “Braveheart” was it just normal job for you or you were pleased you play in film about real Scottish hero in the fight for independence which is what you still do these days don´t you?
That I was glad I could play my part in that story. It was shot during 6 months and I was acting for 3 weeks for which I have got 15 grand.I don´t like a word Britain since I am Scot and I do support independence of Scotland and I was active in our referendum which sadly didn´t work in our favour.
A move by Ken Loach called “ My name is Joe” brought you, among others, an award for Best Actor in Cannes in 1998. You play alcoholic.When you played that, did you think and impersonate your father in it?
Yes, we can say that but not all showed in the film happened to my father.But many of his words I put into my character´s mouth.
You played in three movies and then you became a director.What is it on directing that interests you?
Acting is fine job which I like and it is also well paid.When I was at school I wrote a script about working class people, it was very autobiographical and it won some price in England which meant it will be filmed.When I saw a movie it was utter trash, since director made working class people look at fucking idiots and dickheads.I realized that having good script doesn´t mean that film will be well transferred onto screen if director is biased against something or somebody like working class. So I decided next time out I wanna direct film myself. I have made two short films which won BAFTA awards and then I started working on my first feature film.As director you go through phases from excitement via panic to nerve breakdown and relax,When the movie is finished, it is at certain point the real beginning since you have to get it into theatres, everyone will ask you million things, everybody wants piece of you and many people won´t like it. I could say that acting is like sex, you enjoy it and like it, directing is like having a baby, you see create it, nurture that, see it´s first steps and let it walk into the world.
Your films have deep idea and try to point at sore points in society.You made very interesting films such as “Orphans” in 1998, “ The Magdalene Sisters” four years later and “Neds” in 2010. How did you get to such topics?
Well, Neds they are kind of British Teddy Boys who are ganging around street causing problems.I was inspired by my own experience from street gang I was in and were same existence were also.”The Magdalene Sisters” came to my radar just before I left to Cannes. I saw a document on Channel Four called “Sex in a Cold Climate” which blew me away and I decided to make a movie about it.To show public the legitimate violence and oppression made by Church.Women were serving them and cheap work force.When I was 17 I was working for one sister for three months and she told me lots of things which I have used in the movie. Just imagine a sister having a poster of Mussolini on the wall in her office.What does it say about her?
That film has irritated many people, hasn´t it?
Yes, Pope and Vatican.When I took the film to Venezia festival where it won the main award by the way, the priests went to cinema with camcorders and were filming people coming in telling them “ We know who you are and you will go to hell for this”.Call it Hi -tech Spanish Inquisition of 21.century.But people didn´t give a shit and went to watch it and applauded me.I must say it pleased me when I walked on Venezia streets and when they recognized me they gave me pat on the shoulder.But the biggest joy and satisfaction came when Irish Prime minister called these women to the parliament and publicly apologized them.It was first ever time when politician gave honest apology for something like this.Vatican made a great advert for my film by doing what they did and I was told by censor in Ireland that had I shot this film couple years ago he wouldn´t have let it go to movies cos Catholic Church wouldn´t allow it.
Your next movie Hector was about homeless people, which isn´t unknown topic for you is it?
No, I was living on street for a while and my sister used to work in homeless shelter in Glagow and Southampton.I spent many nights under open sky in Paris and I think one doesn´t have to live too long that way to realize that he should appreciate things he has and how life on the streets is dangerous.I hope that after seeing this film people will think longer about those poor people when they pass them on the pavement.When I was shooting this I slept some nights on the pavement in sleeping bag and was looking at the stars.Crew was next to me but not far away were people who did it for real, they had no shelter, nowhere to sleep.When one sees such film he should realize how fortunate he is to have job, health, food and place to stay.We should appreciate that and not moan that we don´t have this and that.Now there is big immigration crisis and for me the absolute homelessness is the fact when 500 people are crammed onto boat for 50 and have nothing and go to unknown.They left home behind them.
When one looks at you, you don´t act as a director and an actor, you don´t have that celebrity aura about who everybody must run around.
I have four children and with my wife we live as working class in Glasgow not far from place where I used to hang up with street gang.I earn as middle class.We have ordinary flat for which I pay mortgage.I lived almost 30 years with no income so I can live with what I have got.One has a fear that he won´t have a job tomorrow so why to have a big house when you can´t pay for that?
You make films that have meaning, that point at something, criticize something but you find it hard to get money for them while stupid pointless films get dozens and hundreds of millions.Do you think it´s done deliberately by powers-that –be to divert people´s attention from problems since they have a fear something could be found?
You bet. Look at American films from mid 80´s what are they about? How main hero, American, is only one who can save the mankind. What a bullshit.