Jack the Lad Danny Dyer has been busy this year. He’s just released Deviation, has Freerunner coming out in April and has recently made appearances on Casualty and Celebrity Juice.
Dan Stephens experienced the softer side of the charming larger-than-life ‘Eastender’ when he spoke to him about his latest film, his approach to acting, and his aspirations for the future.
Danny Dyer calls his latest role, as a serial killing woman-hating escaped lunatic, his most challenging to date. That is quite something for the East London-born actor given he has made nearly fifty films in a relatively short career. The thirty-four year old, who mixes time on the big screen with roles on stage and for television, most notably in Bravo’s Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men, plays Frankie in J.K. Amalou’s latest film Deviation.
In the film, Frankie, a murderer of several women, has escaped from a local psychiatric prison hospital. Amber, his unfortunate victim, is an innocent young nurse on her way home when Frankie takes her hostage as an aid to him escaping the country. The fearful young woman has no means of escape and is heading for certain death unless she can conspire a plan to outsmart this dangerous psychopath. Told over a single night, and shot throughout London’s cold and deserted side streets, Deviation has been called a “taut, tense thriller that grabs urban legend and runs with it.”
“I wanted to do something completely different from what I had done before. I often play the anti-hero, the bad boy with a heart. With this film, it gave me an opportunity to go really left field and away from the usual roles I have played in the past.”
Unsurprisingly, Amalou gets things off with a bang and the film doesn’t ease up until its devastating conclusion. Dyer says, “Within the first five minutes I break into her car, tie her to the passenger seat and we’re off – she’s fearing for her life and the audience is immediately on the edge of their seats.”
Amalou’s intelligent script, that focuses our attention on this claustrophobic dynamic between two characters in a car, distinguishes the film from other recent British thrillers. Dyer likens the stripped back raw emotion and character-focused narrative to the stage. “It is like a play in many ways because it is just two actors in a car. The car is essentially a single setting and that’s our stage. The intrigue comes from the fact she is a nurse, a very clever woman, and she manages to get inside my character’s head, which goes some way as to finding out why my character has done the terrible things he was imprisoned for. It is purely about the tension within that car.”
Dyer, who lists Ray Winstone as one of his favourite actors, was encouraged by Amalou’s energy and enthusiasm a long time before the film began shooting. “I was honoured that he considered me for the role,” he says. “I wanted to do something completely different from what I had done before. I often play the anti-hero, the bad boy with a heart. With this film, it gave me an opportunity to go really left field and away from the usual roles I have played in the past.
“With the role, I set out to create a character that wasn’t a caricature of other film bad guys. I decided to play it very childlike, as a man who never really grew up. That is underpinned by his hatred for women, which we learn about as the film goes on.
“What I tried to achieve with this part was that although I’m a serial killer and I’m really nasty, I wanted the audience by the end to sort of warm to him; to almost sympathise with his situation so that there are two victims in the car not one.”
Making the audience empathise with the villain is surely one of the toughest things an actor, or indeed a writer, can set out to accomplish. Dyer agrees, saying, “It is easy as an actor to get the audience to hate you, but it is much harder to get the audience to care about you. That was the key to this role.”
Dyer, whose films include Human Traffic, Goodbye Charlie Bright, The Football Factory, Severance, High Heels and Low Lifes and Mean Machine, praises the work of co-star Anna Walton. “She’s excellent. She doesn’t play it in an obviously intimidated way; her character is very intelligent and she brings that out through her performance. What that does is create this very interesting and powerful dynamic between the two characters.”
“I’m really proud of Severance. I’m a big horror fan so it was great to be in a film like that. It had a terrific cast and it was a great part for me because I was the action hero and had all the funny dialogue.”
Crucially, Amalou’s on-location setting gives the film an authentic backdrop that heightens the sweaty-palm suspense. Although Dyer exclaims it was “freezing” during the winter night shoots that took place at Christmas 2010, the fact the director keeps special-effects and gimmicks out of his shooting style is part of the film’s unique charm.
“We don’t try to be too clever. A lot of it is about keeping it simple. Much of the film takes place in a car and it is the dialogue that drives the film. It is the subtlety of been in a car with a complete stranger; you don’t know where you are going, you don’t know the journey the film is going to take or what the character’s motivations are. In fact, some of the moments of silence in the car are actually the most telling and suspenseful.”
Clearly, the film plays on the psychology of terror rather than the explicit exploitation of it. Amalou plays on the emotions of his audience through tantalising his protagonist with possible freedom and then extinguishing the chance for escape. “She can watch life go on around her,” says Dyer of his character’s hostage, “but she is unable to call for help in fear of her life. We pull up at traffic lights and see people walking past on the road but she can’t call out for help. That’s a frightening proposition because passers by are oblivious to the horror in that car. She’s so close to freedom and yet trapped. It is a very interesting concept.”
Dyer and Amalou plan to make more films together after a successful working relationship on Deviation. Their next film starts shooting in April when Dyer will switch roles, this time being the victim of a stalker.
“Sometimes you meet a director and you work really well together and that is the case with myself and J.K. He writes with me in mind which is great for me as an actor. I’m really excited about Deviation coming out and hopefully people will enjoy it and that will put us in good stead for the next couple of films.”
Deviation was made for very little money, a point Dyer is quick to admit, stressing that the quality of the film comes from the hard work of writer-director Amalou and the rest of the production crew. With the abolishment of the UK Film Council, many thought it would be to the detriment of the film industry in this country. However, there has been a general feeling of positivity as highlighted recently by Roger Morris, boss at Elstree Studios, and a wonderful 2011 for British film. Highlighting some of the great films made by British production companies and filmmakers in the past twelve months such as Tyrannosaur, Weekend and Attack The Block, Dyer feels that we are adept at utilising minimal financial backing.
“Quality scripts are rare so you have to take the opportunity when a really good one comes along like Deviation. I just have to make sure I keep my eye out for the good scripts, pick the right films to work on, and do the best I can.”
“One thing we’re good at in this country is making films for no money and not lavishing millions and millions on films. I’ve taken a year out recently and had a chance to sit back and think about the sorts of things I want to be doing and the kinds of films I want to make. Importantly, it isn’t about making films for the sake of it. One year I did eight films which is far too many.”
The actor, who never shies away from the media spotlight and recently appeared on ITV2’s Keith Lemon-fronted Celebrity Juice, believes the brilliant Christopher Smith film Severance, where he played the central role of cheeky-chappy Steve, is one of the best of his career.
“I’m really proud of that one,” he says of the film that also featured Emma Harris, Tim McInnerny and Toby Stephens. “I’m a big horror fan so it was great to be in a film like that. It had a terrific cast and it was a great part for me because I was the action hero and had all the funny dialogue.”
“Quality scripts are rare so you have to take the opportunity when a really good one comes along like Deviation. It is difficult to make every film as good as the last but I’ve made nearly fifty films now and I’m only thirty-four so that’s pretty good going. I just have to make sure I keep my eye out for the good scripts, pick the right films to work on, and do the best I can.”
Deviation was released in cinemas February 24th through Revolver Entertainment. Danny Dyer’s next film, Freerunner, is out to buy on DVD April 23rd.
Deviation on DVD can be bought from Amazon.co.uk
Written by Dan Stephens