Ray Stevenson has starred as a soldier in the HBO series Rome, and has a comic-book anti-hero in The Punisher: War Zone. Now he’s got another lead role, this time as Irish mobster Danny Greene, in the new film Kill the Irishman. We got the chance to talk to him about the film, and of course, we asked him to tell us about five of his favorite movies. Although he admitted it would be hard to narrow it down to five, “I’m a Gemini – it’s like asking what side of toast to butter. Bloody hell, ask me to solve world peace!” We also talked to him about working with Christopher Walken, and whether or not he’d return to Rome in the future.
Point Blank (1967, 95% Tomatometer)
Lee Marvin… That’s a great movie. It kind of sets the benchmark, I think. It kind of puts it up there, because you really engage. And also every part is so well-written. Angie Dickenson… from the female roles to the male roles, the parts are so well drawn. And yet there’s a danger to it, there’s a rawness to it. It’s like an expose of that world, you know?
Bullitt (1968, 97% Tomatometer)
I’ve got to say Bullitt. Just the coolest guy on the planet [laughing]. The chase scene… when they get burned out in that wreck in the end and that car horn is going… That’s moviemaking, a great piece.
Queen Margot (1994, 77% Tomatometer)
It’s Daniel Auteuil, Isabel Adjani… It’s such an incredible piece. It takes place ostensibly in Paris around the time of the massacre of the Protestants by the Catholic ruling family. Basically under the auspices of bringing them in, in the guise of a joint wedding that’s going to unite the Huguenots and the royal class, and this massacre takes place. And it’s dirty, and you can almost smell the clothes, and it’s just so well done. It’s a great story, and I just love watching it.
The Fountain (2006, 51% Tomatometer)
I really enjoyed The Fountain, just because it appeals to another side of me [laughing]. The shamanistic, esoterical side.
Where Eagles Dare (1968, 88% Tomatometer)
You got Richard Burton, and Clint Eastwood. I love it.
Next, Stevenson talks about working with Christopher Walken, and the possibility of a Rome movie.
RT: Let’s talk about Kill the Irishman. There’s a real toughness in Danny Greene, isn’t there?
Ray Stevenson: Oh yeah. It wasn’t about pulling punches. I’m not out there to make you like the guy. In fact I really don’t care if you like him or not. But if you believe him, then my job is done. I think it’s one of those rare, rare things… He’s not 17 or 18, it’s not a “rites of passage” movie, but this man… It’s about his journey. This man goes on a journey, and I think what resonates is that it’s actually, underneath the mobster movie, underneath the explosions, and the glitz, and the cast members, there’s a very human story about what we’re all trying to do, which is that we’re all on a journey trying to understand ourselves better, and know who we are better. And Danny had this story, and that’s why I really took to this script, because it wasn’t about the glitz, the glam, the big explosions, the cars, the moustache. What’s really at the core of it is that this man, he does take that journey.
There’s a grittiness to this movie that’s similar to what you talked about with Queen Margot…
Yeah, a French Connection, sort of ’70s urban thing. It’s a mobster movie, but from the pavement up. It’s not special effects laden or anything like that.
As someone who took the journey as a child from Northern Ireland to England, did you identify with Danny at all?
In little bits, in the fact that Danny’s no more Irish than I am. Danny’s American, he’s an American Irishman, or an Irish-American. And everything that resonates in his life is about being an Irish-American. That’s the world he has to deal with. He’s never been to the old country, and nor should he. What comes through is all the pre-conceived notions about what he should aspire to, how he should behave, and what’s going to be his future, really slap him back in the face when he gets betrayed. And he thinks, “Oh bollocks to you, there’s nobody who’s actually better than I am. I’ve been told you are, and I held you up, and now you do this to me?” And he thinks “No, no, I go my own way now. The Irishman’s in business for himself now.” I think that’s the turning point where he starts to inhabit his own skin.
You’ve got a great supporting cast here.
Isn’t it incredible? It’s a testimony to [director/co-writer] Jonathan Hensleigh’s script that these people came on board. It’s such an amazing tale.
You were cast first, right? And then you start seeing guys like Christopher Walken and Paul Sorvino come on board…
It just started to get better and better and better. I hadn’t come on board because of other people involved ? I came on board having met Jonathan, and being sort of terrified and excited and saying “absolutely yes.” And then the cast expanded, and you’re just thinking “Oh, you’re kidding… Walken as Shondor Birns!?” It’s a dream, it’s a blessing.
Is it at all intimidating when someone like Christopher Walken shows up on set?
You know, it would be, and it could be, but like all these actors, like when I worked with Denzel Washington [on The Book of Eli], it’s not about being intimidated… These are consummate actors, they’re going to bring their character to screen. They’re going to bring it to the floor, and you’d better bring your character, because you’ve got to bring your character for them to work off of. Because that’s who they’re talking to, not you. So you bring your character and they bring theirs, and you start to play, and you forget. It’s weird, even standing in front of Chris Walken, he’s right in front of me, with that voice, those eyes, but to me, it’s Shondor Birns. I’m bringing Danny Greene, telling him to go to blazes, because Danny Greene is telling him that. And that gives him something to act off. So out of respect, you have to bring your character. And he does the same. But afterwards, after he’s gone away, you think, “Oh my god, what the hell just happened?” Or I’ll just click over the channels and then there will be one of his great movies, and you think “No way was I just opposite this dude!”
I owe it to the Rome fans out there to ask if there’s any chance of seeing Titus on the big screen any time soon.
Oh my god, I wish! I did read a script, there is a script in existence from [series creator] Bruno Heller. But it’s a real Catch-22. In order to bring a movie, to the screens, the financiers are going to need to see some box office names. And if you start doing that, you don’t have the cast from the TV series. And if you do that, then the people who really want Rome back are going to say, “Well hang on, this isn’t Rome. Jake Gyllenhaal wasn’t in this!” But if you do keep loyal to the cast members, the financiers turn around and say “No, we’re not going to finance or distribute this movie.” It’s a really tough call. I would love nothing better ? in fact, last week I was with [Rome co-star] Kevin McKydd… the boys were back! We so want to don our sandals again! If there was a campaign started… HBO knows they threw the baby out with the bathwater. If there was a way of saying “Come on, we’re not going to get another twelve episodes, but what about two or three, one and a half hour specials, per year?” And then we’d go back, do a special, and we’d get to play the stories that had to be shelved, because the show got pulled. Even HBO admitted that they made a mistake [ending the series] because the figures hadn’t really come back. But we were a long way from home, it was a very expensive series, and they didn’t realize how much fan loyalty there would be.
Kill the Irishman opens in limited release today.