“It comes down to trust and understanding.” — Actor / director Dexter Fletcher of Terminal, Bohemian Rhapsody & Rocketman
I caught up with the great Dexter Fletcher for our second interview on the noirthriller Terminal out now, after my prior chat with writer/director Vaughn Steinwhich you can read here along with Conner Morris’s review of the film here.
Dexter has quite the acting chops, with his first part being as “Baby Face” in 1976’s Bugsy Malone, and his most well-known early part in 1989’s Press Gang. Yet, arguably Fletcher’s most well-known and loved part came in 1998 when he played “Soap” in Guy Ritchie’s breakout comedic British crime caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Dexter and I chat the craft of acting, a bit of his influences overall and behind his older (wiser?) hitman character “Vincent” in Terminal (and the dynamic with fellow actor Max Irons, who plays the younger hitman character “Alfred” ) and a bit about his up-coming directorial projects Bohemian Rhapsody (the Freddie Mercury / Queen biopic he took over directing after Bryan Singer left the project) and Rocketman (about Sir Elton John). Fletcher also makes an appearance in the animated Sherlock Gnomes, in theaters now.
Hello Dexter and welcome!
I’m not sure how I missed it initially, but I just watched Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels for the first time the other night.
You’re a lucky man. [Laughs]
[Laughs] indeed I am. Incredible film.
I was hoping we could start with two questions I ask everybody. First, favorite films and directors? Which would you consider most influential on you as an artist?
Wow. Directors I’d say Alan Parker maybe, he played a huge role in my own development and is one of my biggest influences. He’s a great director and has such a big back-catalog with every film he does having such a continuity — a line running through, especially with all the music films and extraordinary stories. I think from one film to the next he manages to do something extraordinary and different but at the same time compelling.
I was lucky enough to work with him as a child actor. As a director, I often joke with him and have conversations about projects.
In terms of acting, Alan Rickman I can say was also a huge influence and friend. I was lucky enough that Alan was also a very close friend.
But I think you have to be prepared to take your influences and inspirations from everywhere and anywhere because you never know what can surprise you. If you close your mind to just one particular, or very narrow band of endeavor, you might miss some real gems, hidden away where you least expect them.
So, I try to maintain an open mind, at all corners and at all times because you never know.
That’s fantastic advice. And something I certainly agree with. Eclectic and varied influences are indeed the spice of good artistic endeavor and of life.
It really is.
But I hope I answered in some part what you’re asking.
You really did Dexter. It is a big question, and I don’t expect a dissertation or anything there. Just the ones you find important enough to include as parts of the flavor of your influences. Which leads me to another question, with both actors and directors being brought up, how does your work as one influence your work as the other?
Well, I’ve never combined the two, I’ve never acted in anything I’ve directed, other than to make a brief appearance as a drunk or walk-on.
But, I think certainly going back to acting, Terminal was one of the first larger roles I’ve played in quite a few years after moving into directing, and you know, you realize what a great luxury it can be because your responsibilities are far less than we you are directing, which means you can really focus your time and energy into creating something that is very insulary in a lot of respects. Acting allows you to focus on yourself and what you want to achieve and create as an actor with that character, whereas directing you have to try and communicate your vision to many many people and pull all those strings together to create something that can take two years or more to finally be realized.
So, the beauty of going into acting after directing, you spend many many years as an actor being extremely fraught and kind of tense about the whole process, and stepping into the light as a director, you realize that maybe you needn’t worry as much as you do. You can start enjoying it more and not worrying, which is a lot freer, and you probably do better work in a way.
That took me a long time to realize, I had been acting for forty years.
Fascinating. Getting into Terminal, what initially attracted you to the project? You’re quite the busy man.
Well there was the unique and singular voice, the script was very bold in the writing. In my hubris, or errance, or whatever you want to call it, I kind of liked the relationship between the two hit men characters.
[Laughs] I did too.
I imagined it sort of like J.J. Hunsecker [Burt Lancaster] and Sidney Falco [Tony Curtis] from Sweet Smell of Success. I kind of thought this is the closest I will ever get to playing that older, grizzled man who has taken a younger man under his wing while treating him with contempt, I really liked that idea.
Max Irons is a great young actor, but I’ve sort of got twenty years on him. It just kind of appealed to my sense of middle-aged actor [Laughs]
I found some humor in that for myself. Playing someone who’s not particularly nice, or doesn’t have any kind of redeeming qualities, it’s a real joy because there’s not many people in life like that, and I don’t consider myself to be a particularly nasty piece of work but I’m playing a character who is. It allows you to rectify all that you’ve been…
For Vaughn’s first film, it has some strong vision and it’s passionate, and Margot’s [Robbie] first film as a producer, so she’s very passionate, and that is just such an inspiring thing to be around. So I was honored to be involved. You know, Mike [Myers] is a legend, and Simon [Pegg] is an old friend from Band of Brothers …
I worked in Budapest thirty years before on another film. I hadn’t been there for thirty years and I was curious to go back. There were lots of things in the “plus” column and no things in the “minus” column.
I didn’t take much convincing.
Which leads to another question, the banter between you and Max Irons, Vincent and Alfred, was really something to behold in Terminal. Any secrets to getting that sort of chemistry or capturing that x factor? Beyond just the writing I mean. What helps nail delivery?
It was already on the page, which was the beauty of it. I think that sort of comes back to what I was saying early about being able to trust yourself and trust the material. And then playing with, or indulging in, those feelings of “I’m twenty years older than you and I know what I’m doing” and of course Max responded to that accordingly. On the set, I treated it with as much contempt as I could muster, and I think he responded to that accordingly.
We didn’t let our process get in the way of just being very natural with the dialogue. We spent time together away from the set, wandering around Budapest and the like, but I think it comes down to trust and understanding.
We really let things play between ourselves and I think that’s what underlies it, knowing that we’re two very different characters. He thinks he knows what’s going on and he does. I think I know what’s going on and I don’t. [Laughs]
It’s a fun thing to play. It’s very empowering. The dialogue was great — we didn’t have to work too hard at making it live and breathe.
Absolutely. I never would’ve made that connection you made with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis Sweet Smell of Success. But it’s quite clear after you pointed that out. That’s a killer old noir. One of my absolute favorites in terms of dialogue and banter.
Yeah. It’s one of my favorites.
That’s one thing you use a little in acting. It’s like finding that moment and learning from it… it’s a foundational moment, a building block. I’s something to be joined, and I think great acting, not that I’m a “great actor” but, good secure acting comes from having something you can join and it moves the process in a way. It frees you up. It’s something that distracts you from the fact of what you’re doing, if you know what I mean…
After going through the lecturing, and the stabbing, and the analysis, you gotta get back to your instincts and your ability to play. Something like that for me was very helpful.
Certainly. Fascinating learning from you here Dexter.
I would be remiss, as we’re about out of time, if I didn’t ask if there was anything you want our readers to know about Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman?
I’m very honored and proud to be a part of both of them. Bohemian Rhapsodywas something that I helped finish off for the studio, and Graham King, the producer, is a friend. I was honored to be a part of that. I think everyone’s going to be amazed at Rami Malek’s amazing performance, it’s a tour de force piece of work, and similarly I get to start Rocketman on Monday.
That again is going to be a completely different kind of film but equally exciting, and I get to work with another fantastic actor called Taron Egerton who’s going to amaze people with not only his acting ability but his singing ability as well.
I count myself as being extremely lucky and excited about both the projects.
Wess A. Haubrich is the contributing editor of the film section of The Nu Romantics and London’s award-winning culture website The 405. He is also a “top writer in movies” on Medium.com. He can be reached on Twitter or via email: email@example.com as he is always looking for cutting edge cinema especially and innovative forms of all kinds of art to bring to his readers by probing the minds of their creators.