Martin Compston and Tony Curran on their hugely moving new drama

Martin Compston – aka DI Steve Arnott in Line of Duty – was far from AC-12 when he received the script for Mayflies, based on Andrew O’Hagan’s novel about lifelong friends embroiled in a crisis at adulthood. “I was in a field in Budapest after an Arctic Monkeys concert when I got the email,” the actor says from his home in Las Vegas. “I saw Tony was in it and I thought, ‘Is this real? “The big man really took me under his wing,” he says.

Like Compston, the playful chipmunk, Curran, dry and funny, is a Scot from abroad: he joins our call from Los Angeles, where he has lived for almost 20 years. Compston even banged on his kitchen floor once when he was in Los Angeles for pilot season. “I at least gave you a couch, didn’t I?” Curran said. “Not at first, because there was someone else on it,” Compston explains. “Yeah, it’s kind of like the YMCA, my pad,” Curran concedes.

In Mayflies, Curran plays Tully, the former leader of a rambunctious but sensitive group of teenagers whose friendship provides respite from their dark life in a small Scottish town in the 1980s. Tully is described as the “life force” of the group. He now faces a diagnosis of terminal cancer; in his desperation, he calls Jimmy (Compston), who has become a successful novelist, and asks for his friend’s help in ending his life.

Curran’s research involved speaking to staff at the Maggie Center in Glasgow, a charity that provides free cancer support across the UK. “It was a turning point for me,” he said. “Then I went out into the back garden where people go to contemplate what they have just been told, and I perched on a small stump of wood to take a moment. As I sat there it started to rain. He pauses, giving a small “heh-heh” to cover the emotion rising in his throat. “I thought about the compassion and empathy they show there. And I thought: I think maybe I could pull this off, and immerse myself, and leave nothing behind.

Speaking of his friend’s performance, it’s Compston’s turn to get on the verge of tears. “The biggest takeaway for me is Tony’s pride. I told my wife recently. I’m choking a little thinking about it now. He knocks her out in the park. It’s the most emotionally present I’ve ever been at work. As an actor, you use different tools to reach certain places, and often you’re in your head thinking about things from the past, but you don’t need them here. Doing it with one of your best friends made it all very real.

Curran agrees. “There’s a moment early on when I tell him I’m not doing chemotherapy, and there was so much on Martin’s face that it really moved me. He’s got those big brown lights, you know? Those eyes! Still, there’s no denying that Compston, who is 38, and Curran, a 53-year-old, could only have been in school together if it was as a student and a teacher. “Tony is an LA 53, not an East of Scotland 53,” Compston explains. “It was more a case of me aging than him aging. »

Mayflies has a particular rawness and relevance to screenwriter Andrea Gibb, who adapted the novel. Her partner – Guardian journalist and everyone’s friend on Twitter, Simon Ricketts – died of cancer at the end of 2018. “He’s been very ill the whole year before,” she tells me. “After his death, I threw myself into work. I don’t think I took his death on board before confinement. Then I was forced to accept what had happened. I process things through what I write, so when Mayflies came along I knew it would be difficult but cathartic.

A flashback to the young friends of Mayflies. Photography: Jamie Simpson/BBC/Synchronity Films Limited

It helped that she saw similarities between Tully and Ricketts. “Simon makes you laugh all the time, and if someone does that, you hang on to them like a life raft. It’s very Tully, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to it. I could channel Simon through him. In Tully’s Wife, played by Ashley Jensen, Gibb also found a place to express “a lot of the anger and grief that I felt. I put all that into writing, and it did me good. I feel something has changed.

While the novel is split in two – the first half confined to the 80s, the second darting into the present – ​​the film version only evokes the past in brief interludes that haunt the scenes of today. . It is the question of euthanasia which now propels the drama. “The past is there to reinforce why these friends bond, which they should,” she says. “Tully can only ask Jimmy to help her because of who they were at 18. »

By that age, Compston had already turned his back on a football career and gave a stunning performance as a teenager struggling to improve his family’s life in Ken Loach’s 2002 film Sweet Sixteen. of himself in O’Hagan’s characters, who are described in the novel as “sweet as Tunnock’s tea cakes”? “Well, they wouldn’t survive Greenock!” he stammers. “Growing up there and in the football dressing rooms, you had to be able to handle yourself. These are unforgiving places. You have to fight for your space verbally. It’s something I carry with me. I have a small chip on my shoulder. I’m pretty carefree, but on set, I feel like I have something to prove. Curran smiled at that. “I’ve always said that Martin was very balanced. He has a chip both shoulders! »

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Privacy Notice: Newsletters may contain information about charities, online advertisements and content funded by third parties. For more information, see our privacy policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and Google’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. Tracy Ifeachor and Ashley Jensen with Curran and Compston at Mayflies. Photography: Jamie Simpson/BBC/Synchronity Films Limited

Curran, a staple of American TV shows such as 24, Ray Donovan and The Flash, also started acting at a young age. And like Compston with Line of Duty, he knows what it’s like to be part of a TV phenom: in 1997 he played Lenny, the affable gay plumber in the influential BBC drama This Life. “It was a groundbreaking show in many ways,” he says. “Lenny was a regular guy who happened to be gay. There was a real poignancy at the time. People were seized. »

But as a British cult hit in the pre-release era, its popularity was nothing compared to the hysteria that greeted Line of Duty. “Streaming changed everything,” Compston says. “By rounds five and six, it was this huge machine. It got quite difficult at times. We used to film my clandestine phone calls outside AC-12 HQ with just me and a camera, but in later series there would be 30 or 40 people all filming. It can knock you out of a scene.

He admits he’s “always trying to get back” to the purity and immediacy he felt on Sweet Sixteen. And while no one will mistake Mayflies for a Ken Loach drama, it has an intimacy and intelligence that goes back to O’Hagan’s novel, where young men learn to express themselves through their love of music, movies and literature. Art reveals to them a world beyond the limits of their inherited and inhibited masculinity.

“It’s an incredibly important book for men and boys,” says Gibb. “When we put young men on screen, especially in Scotland, they’re usually unhappy or drug addicted. They are lost in space. You think, ‘Is there more to the working class boy than that?’ What Andrew wrote was political and cultural allotment boys, articulate and funny. The working class turns out to have depth and depth. We need more of that.

Mayflies is on BBC One on 2December 8 at 9 p.m..

Source: www.theguardian.com


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