Interview: Gary Stretch talks My Father Die, Sean Brosnan and VOD
Matthew Turner | On 03, Apr 2017
FrightFest Presents unleashes its latest film on DVD today: My Father Die, the feature directorial debut of Pierce Brosnan’s son, Sean Brosnan (read our review here). A brutal Southern Gothic revenge thriller that pits a father against his son in a bloody battle of wits, it stars Gary Stretch as the unstoppable Ivan, father to Asher (Joe Anderson) – and the target of his son’s revenge, following the death of his other son, Asher’s brother.
The former British boxer is no stranger to the screen, with a villainous turn in Shane Meadow’s Dead Man’s Shoes one of many films on his CV, alongside Oliver Stone’s Alexander. We sit down with him to talk working with Sean, how it compares to other directors, and his views on streaming and horror.
What attracted you to the part, first of all, and how did you get involved?
Sean Brosnan was a friend and he asked me to do a short film with him, a couple of years ago – his directorial debut was a short called The Kid. It was an estranged father-son relationship, the kid was a poet and the father was a working man, the father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and the kid had other ideas. So it was a little bit brutal, the storyline, and we did it, and after one of the takes, Sean vanished, and I went looking for him and he was in the alleyway, crying. I said, ‘Are you okay?’, and he said, ‘It’s so real to me, that scene.’ I didn’t explore what he was talking about, I just made sure he was okay and we went back to work, and then at the end of the film, he came to me and he said: ‘You know, it was such an experience for me, and I’d like to make a feature, not of this, but of something else – I want to explore this father-son relationship.’ And then he called me – I mean, we are friends and we talk, but he called me about two years later and he said, ‘I’ve raised the money and I’ve written the script and I want you to play it.’ So he sent me the script and I enjoyed it very much – it was very dark, but it was very poetic, which is Sean, he is the nicest human being I’ve ever met, but he has a side to him, there’s a painful, dark, somewhat destructive streak to him. He reminds me of myself, a little. So I read the script and it kind of evoked a few thoughts. I liked the script, but I loved Sean. So we went to New Orleans and the rest is history.
What kind of preparation did you do for the part?
Physically, quite a bit. I gained about 40 pounds. I didn’t want to be like a fucking bodybuilder, but I wanted to be physically imposing, somewhat. I cut a lot of the dialogue. Not a lot. We talked about it, Sean and I, and I said ‘I think less is more’ – internally, you can do a lot. I work with big cats, my friend has a tiger, I spend a lot of time with the cat, taking him out, and smoothing him. I’m a big fan of Marlon Brando – there are very few actors, there’s Peter O’Toole and there’s Marlon Brando and they’re big opposite actors. One is very classically trained and one is very guttural. I mean Brando is extremely highly trained, people don’t realise but he is one of the most qualified trained actors there is.
I like energy work – with human beings, if you were to sit with somebody, the energy normally goes this way [gestures with hands], and an animal will sit here and it goes this way [makes different gesture]. They don’t have to look at you, they just fucking know where everything is. Some guys like street guys or gangsters or just various kind of people, you find have this energy, and it’s like an animal, kind of basic, primal, and you just go like that [gestures again], it’s a very different feeling, you know? And so I wanted to explore that in the role and not particularly have to say a lot to be understood. It was interesting that my son in the film was deaf and dumb and couldn’t speak a lot, and I thought it would be interesting – without telling anybody – but to deal with him on the same energetic field, meaning impose my will without talking to him. I didn’t want any advantage over him. So nobody knows this, I know it, that’s all that matters, and so I played around for a while with just sitting in places, I would sit in a bar and I would sit like this [adopts open posture] and people would talk to me and I’d go to a different bar and I’d sit like this [adopts less friendly pose] and the guy next to me wouldn’t talk to me. And it was very interesting, and I started to play with that and refined it and refined it. You know, acting is a contact sport and it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. An ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of dialogue.
You had to wear a prosthetic eyepiece in the film. What was the experience of that like?
It was horrible, yeah. I’m claustrophobic and it was very fucking claustrophobic. That was the one thing I didn’t like, but I just used it, the discomfort of it and just allowed myself to be uncomfortable. Yeah, that’s the one thing I didn’t like, because I felt restricted, a little bit. And the thing is, when you’re not saying a lot, eyes are everything and one of them was taken away, so I felt a little disabled and I had to work double hard on the other eye, you know?
So you couldn’t actually see out of it? How long did it take to put on every day?
No, not at all. It took five hours, maybe?
What stands out for you about Sean as a director?
I think he’s really smart, he comes from an acting background, he was born on a movie set, but more than that, I think he’s come into his own, I think this is what he should be doing, I think he’s only going to get better. He’s a very sensitive kid, he’s a very kind person, very, very smart, extremely well read, very deep, and he understands the work, he understands the material, and he puts you in a space where he allows you to feel important enough to bring your own shit to it, so he’s very, very understanding of the process. And he puts you in spaces, he’s very manipulative in his own way, and he creates the space for you to play, he doesn’t leave you out there. You feel very free, but you know he has set it up that way. Very, very smart.
How does working with Sean compare to working with someone like Oliver Stone?
I prefer Sean Brosnan. Really. Oliver has some incredible qualities, Sean is refreshing to me. I’ve worked with a lot of great directors and I think he’s on the top of my list, really. I’ve worked with the Shane Meadows(es) of the world, I’ve worked with Oliver – not to compare, because they’re all wonderful in their own way, but for me, I think the best experience I’ve had as an actor in the last 25 years is Sean Brosnan. I think he is the best I’ve ever worked with, and I think he’s only just going to get better. And you see a lot of the great directors work with great actors and continue to work with them – Scorsese and De Niro – and I understand, you know, you say why, but if something works, it just works, and he just seems to get the best out of me, and I think I have an ability to push him. You know, we talk a lot and we get somewhere – every time we leave a room, we’re better for it, both of us. It’s a very even kind of playing field for the two of us.
What was the hardest thing to get right, overall?
I don’t believe there is a right and a wrong; it’s just the choice you make, and you live with them. So if I went back and did it again, would I change things? Sure, but would it be right? No, it would just be different. And the audience has their own opinion, so if the audience didn’t like it, I got it wrong, but if the audience loved it, I got it right. I can’t function in that environment, I’ve just got to be honest.
I was going to ask what the most difficult part of the shoot was, but I guess you’ve already answered that with the prosthetic?
The prosthetic and to remain constant with the work I was doing, very internally. I was alone for three weeks, I wouldn’t hang out with anybody. I ate alone, I went home alone, I didn’t want anyone in my space. And I’m a very social kind of person generally – I mean, I don’t go out much, I’m maybe not that social these days, I did that when I was younger, but once I found the zone, I just wanted to stay in it, so they rented me a little room in a house. I would come home and go to my room and eat and go to bed and read my script. I think people were surprised, because I’d get calls from different people saying ‘Do you want to go and eat?’ and I’d go ‘No, I’m cool’.
This is a FrightFest Presents film. How important is VOD to the success of films like this?
I mean, it’s very important. It’s half the fucking business now, the industry – theatres are somewhat diminishing right now. I love the whole FrightFest set-up, the cool fans that they have and this built-in audience. It’s very exciting, but it’s also very scary in the fact that they know what they like – you can come into this thing and it’s like you’re going to a party of new friends who all know each other and then you come in and it’s like ‘Are they going to like me? Are they going to kick me out?’ You know, you don’t know, but it’s fine, I mean, I think it’s an exciting time for this kind of genre.
A you much of VOD fan yourself?
I don’t watch TV, I don’t watch movies that much.
What’s the last film you saw that you enjoyed?
So, in that case, if you had a favourite horror film, would The Birds be it?
Probably. I mean, there’s a few, but yeah. I like old movies, I like to watch theatre stuff and I love – when we’re looking at the industry, I like to watch interviews with actors. I like to know who the fuck people – you know, the work is what it is. I read a lot. And I like to make my own decisions on things I make – live and die by the sword, at least it’s mine, rather than be influenced by something else. I watch a lot of animal programmes, that’s the only thing I watch. National Geographic, big cats, I’ll watch fucking elephants, I’ll watch anything with animals, I find myself happy when I’m watching nature.
Have you always been fascinated by acting? You mentioned Brando earlier…
Not really, no. I’m still not the biggest acting fan. I don’t particularly enjoy it, sometimes. I enjoy the process, rather than the result. I enjoy the learning, the education of it. You know, I enjoy learning things, so if I’m taking on a role, like when I did Alexander, I knew nothing about Alexander, I wasn’t the best kid at school, so 30 years later, I get to go to school and read everything you can read and because of the Internet, information is available, so I lived in a room for a year, reading about Alexander, Cleitus, Nearchus, Perdiccas. It was French to me. And at the end of the process – you know, if I had a kid who was studying Alexander, I could maybe talk to him about it, so I love the learning process and the exploring of that.
What’s your next project?
I just directed a film on Ronda Rousey, the U.F.C. fighter, so I’m in post now and I’m trying to finish that. And I have another film called The Safest Place on Earth, which is an introspective documentary on the fight game. So I’ve got two films I’m doing and then looking to find something interesting, if I can.
Is the Ronda Rousey film a documentary too?
Yes. It’s a six-year project that we’ve been working on. She started pretty much with her living in her car, from zero to hero, you know?
My Father Die is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription – with a 7-day free trial.