Ricci Harnett -Chats To A Unique Actor

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"The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence." -Thomas Wolfe,  God's Lonely Man.

These moving words are a brilliant analysis of one of man’s biggest fears, being alone, and that being alone is not necessarily a bad thing. To paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre “Hell is other people”. Think of  those office Christmas parties, where you would rather be at home alone watching a DVD of your favourite TV show, than talking to someone who you  would " much rather kick in the eye”. Yes, I know a big nod to Morrissey for that sentence, but don’t the words ring true?  

Being a loner is sometimes an exhilarating character trait and also necessary to the creative process. Think of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, a brilliant study of man being iconoclastic towards society. Moreover, in these days of corporate values in the business and western society as a whole, we need the loner for creativity to flourish, otherwise, the world will become a blander place to live.

With the loner actually having the potential to be a hero or antihero due to their mindset, it is no wonder that the loner has featured heavily in literature and films. Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Dirty Harry, Winston Smith (1984), Jim Stark (Rebel Without a Cause - James Dean) and of course Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver - Robert De Niro).

Travis Bickle, the handsome, enigmatic and dangerous vigilante in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.  The man who drives a cab in the graveyard shift through the streets of New York, as he utters mesmerising monologues to the audio backdrop of haunting music, as we the viewers are taken into a stimulating visual account of his seedy but electrifying world.

“All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take 'em to Harlem. I don't care. Don't make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won't even take spooks. Don't make no difference to me.”

So at ZANI we were delighted when we heard of a British actor who is driven by the romantic notion of loneliness, fear, madness and the unknown, Ricci Harnett.  Gaining prominence as the obstinate Corporal Mitchell in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Ricci has since played his first lead role, Carlton Leach, the football hooligan-turned-gangster in Rise Of The Footsoldier.  In the film, he draws us into Leach’s unbalanced mind, helping us to gain an understanding of his world with a stillness that is as cold as it is riveting.  

ZANI - Before we chat about your life and times, it states in your IMBD entry that you are notoriously press shy. If that is case, why is that and why have you chosen ZANI for an interview?

Ricci Harnett – I don’t know who wrote that on there. I tend not to do many interviews, I would rather let my work do the talking. But Ronnie Thompson (the author of ‘Screwed’) said you were a nice fella.

ZANI - You came to my attention when you played Carlton Leach in Rise Of The Footsoldier, which I will discuss later. However you have a new film coming out soon, Breathe. You play the lead, Carol Bailey, a man trying to amend his mistakes but the past seems to have a strong hold on him. Could you please tell us a little more about this film?

Ricci Harnett – It is a character driven film that was shot for nothing. There are no guns, no steroids or nailing people to floor like there was with Rise of The Footsoldier.  Bailey’s looking after his teenage sister, he doesn’t have a mum and his dad is alcoholic who beats them up. But it’s actually an urban love story directed by Nick Winter.

ZANI – You once said you have a GSCE in nutters and you seem to relish playing psychotics and people with problems. Have you always played these roles?

Ricci Harnett – No, the first acting job I did was when I was 10 years old,  was  Crime Watch for the BBC. I did a reconstruction of a young kid who had been murdered. The BBC dressed me up as the kid, who went on a fishing trip on his own, got abducted and murdered.  I had to meet with his parents before they did the take and re-enact his final morning with them. I remember thinking, ‘Great, I’m going to be on TV’ and telling all my mates at school about it. Then they caught the guy that killed the boy and I thought, ‘Shit, I’m not going to be on TV.  But it’s good that they caught him’.

ZANI – Not exactly Rod and Emu.  

Ricci Harnett – Yeah and I’ve gone from playing a victim to playing a hell of lot of killers.  

ZANI – The Murder of Stephen Lawrence was a powerful and thought provoking film. What was it like playing Neil Acourt?

Ricci Harnett – Weird. Paul Greengrass (the Director) likes to keep things as real as possible so when we were recreating the scene when the five come out of Hannibal House in Elephant and Castle after the hearing and Neil Acourt raises his arms up and says, “Come on then”, it went mental.  People were throwing proper punches. We started scrapping for real with the ex police who were extras.

ZANI –What villain or nutter, fact or fiction, would you like to play, and why?

Ricci Harnett –  Recently I’ve been thinking maybe Christopher Foster, the millionaire who boarded up his house, killed his wife and daughter, then shot all their animals because of financial problems. I mean, what goes through his mind when he’s shot his wife, looks at his daughter then blows her away? That’s what I’m interested in doing, playing real people who have just gone completely berserk.   

ZANI – Moving on to styles of acting, would you say that you are a method actor, and are you influenced by the Lee Strasburg school of acting?

Ricci Harnett - I don’t even know how to spell Strasburg I mean, I pissed on stage when I did a prison play with Geoff Bell once.  Used to strip off naked and punch walls every night, so you can call that method acting if you want.

ZANI: And what about Rise of the Footsoldier and all that weight you put on?

Ricci Harnett – Well, Carlton Leach was sixteen and a half stone and on steroids.  And as my girlfriend said she’d leave me, if I started sticking pins in my arms, I had to put the weight on naturally. I’ve started thinking method acting’s just a gimmick to get actors talking about other actors.  

ZANI – Which drama school did you go to?

Ricci Harnett - I went to the Sylvia Young theatre school on a Saturday then went full time when I got expelled from school when I was 15. When I started there I was training to be a dancer and Sylvia took me under her wing, she really made an effort. Her and her husband came to see me in every play I ever did.

ZANI – Why didn’t you carry on as a dancer?  

Ricci Harnett – There’s no money in dancing, and that is why I got out of it, much to my mother’s disgust. She’s disappointed that I’ve not done Les Miserables.

ZANI – I’m sure she’s not disappointed any more.

Ricci Harnett – Well she liked getting dolled-up for the film premiere in Leicester Square for The Rise Of The Footsoldier.  

ZANI – Were you worried about what Carlton might think when he saw the film?

Ricci Harnett – Well, we saw it together at an earlier screening and we were sitting next to each other. I had a little bit of a sweat on, but when we came out he was actually very quiet. I think it was quite emotional for him. He phoned me the next day and said he was really proud of me.

ZANI – It would have been a brilliant angle to have his life with Sham 69, and The Cockney Rejects. It could have been a great documentary about the lives and times of a ‘New Wave’ band, because a film about The Cockney Rejects, Sham 69 and their crew would certainly have some great anecdotes. Maybe it’s just me, as I am quite bored of the British gangster films these days.

Ricci Harnett – Yeah, some of their gigs were crazy and it would have been great to have added this to the film. But you can only fit so much into a film. He also walked Nigel Benn out for the McKellan fight, he’s had an interesting life.

ZANI - How come Bernard O'Mahoney wasn’t mentioned in The Rise Of The Footsoldier, as he wrote a book about Pat Tate, Craig Rolfe, and Tony Tucker called Essex Boys?  But His books don’t mention Carlton Leach.

Ricci Harnett – They don’t get on, let’s leave it at that.

ZANI – Haven’t you just done a film with Faye Dunaway?

Ricci Harnett – Yeah, I’ve only got a small little part in it. It’s a love story with zombies. It’s a very strange film called Flick. It’s just been entered for the Raindance film festival. [Julian Gilbey, who directed Rise of the Footsoldier, won an award at Raindance with Rollin’ With The Nines].

ZANI - I like it, and just to have on your CV that you’ve done a film with Faye Dunaway is something else

Ricci Harnett – She was cool. You could feel her presence, she’s got style.

ZANI – A true Hollywood legend. Going back to the point I made earlier about being bored of the British gangster  genre.

Why can’t there be a film about the general strike of 1926, the Jarrow Marchers or Harold Wilson, I mean there was a talk of a possible military coup against him? There is so much more to the UK than “Didn’t you kill my brother?” I think you get my drift.

Ricci Harnett – Funnily enough, the strike of 1926 is featured in a film I’m doing early next year about Jack Spot, directed by Reg Traviss. It is more  then a gangster film. It has a real socio-political foundation, and the story actually begins amidst the General Strike, in 1926, when Jack is 15 and is involved with the strikers.

ZANI – That’s more like it.

Ricci Harnett - It's a historic piece and the main characters happen to become criminals, and later become the country's leading mobsters - they were the prototypes.  Soho was their  Never Land’s   'treasure chest' that they all grew up longing to be part of, and when Jack eventually takes control of Soho, his demise is imminent. 

ZANI – Any more projects on the horizon?

Ricci Harnett – I’m just about to start shooting on an off-the-wall an off the wall psychological thriller, which borders on horror. A horror about people and the mind, again directed by Reg Traviss. There is no title yet. The part is I play is going to surprise a few people as it way out of my comfort zone.

ZANI – Would you agree that many British films that are made are a labour of love?

Ricci Harnett – Yes. I’ve done a couple of series of Dubplate Drama, a TV show about the UK Grime music scene. I spoke to the producer the other day and although we’re going to be doing a third series, they’re finding it hard to get funding. They’ve spent the best part of a year trying, it’s hard.

ZANI – I came across Dubplate Drama when I was doing research on you. It looks a good like urban drama, and it was shown late at night on Channel 4 and E4. Should it have been given primetime viewing, or was it the nature of the subject matter in the show that gave it such late night viewing?

Ricci Harnett – It doesn’t really matter about what time it’s shown, because most of that audience will download the show. They can watch it on MySpace and other sites. There’s some great up and coming talent in it, Shystie, Ghetto, Adam Deacon and Big Nasty makes me laugh. We improvise a lot on that show and I love that.

dupplate drama.jp

ZANI – I think improvisation and listening are essential skills for any actor.

Ricci Harnett – I do some auditions where it is just a workshop and you have to improvise with people. You get these clever actors, going in there. You are supposed to be playing brothers, and I might turn round to him in the improvisation and say, “Here give us a fag”, and the clever arsehole will say, “You know, I don’t smoke”.  And that is the end of that. Instead of trying to be a clever fucker, work with me, and take it to another level. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm, the master class in improvisation.

ZANI – As you know ZANI has interviewed the writer Ronnie Thompson, about his book Screwed, which is an account of his life as a Prison Officer. At this moment in time, are you in discussions to play him or is it too early to say at the moment?

Ricci Harnett – Yeah, it is a bit early to say but I speak to Ronnie all the time and it would be great. We’re in talks at the moment about making a short film called Stained.

ZANI – I see you’ve done some theatre work, and appeared in a modern version of The Tempest with Victor Spinetti.  

Ricci Harnett – Victor Spinetti is a lovely fella.

ZANI – John Lennon loved him.

Ricci Harnett – What are you trying to say?

ZANI - He was in the first two Beatles films. Supposedly John Lennon would not do Help unless Victor was in it.

Ricci Harnett – He lives in Chinatown and eats at The Ivy every other day. If you go and see him, he’ll crack open some champagne and tell you stories. He’s got all this Beatles stuff lying around his flat.  At the moment he’s on tour doing his one-man show. It’s based on his autobiography called Up Front. He wanted to call it Fuck Me I Am a Hundred, but his publishers said he’d never get on Richard and Judy to promote it. His anecdotes, and people he has worked with, are phenomenal.

ZANI - Do you do a lot of Theatre?

Ricci Harnett – I used to. I was one of the ‘darlings’ of The Royal Court. Done one of the filthiest plays to ever be put on stage there.  I played a fifteen year old masochist who falls in love with a 40 year leather clad sadist. It was commissioned by Stephen Daldry, who did Billy Elliott.  It was only on for seven nights, I was wrapped in cling film, naked and kicked about the stage. My mum walked out of the performance. I phoned her after the show and said, “Where are you?” She replied, “Back in Watford. I didn’t put you in the game to do that shit.” But it’s about pushing yourself. If I ask myself “Can I do it?” and I think I am not sure, that means “Yeah, do it.” You’ve have got to do stuff that’s outside your comfort zone.

/ricci harnett victor spinetti john lennon zani.j

ZANI – Do you make a good living from acting, because I know it’s a hard game?

Ricci Harnett – If I was chasing the money, I would be doing adverts or some muggy TV show.  I’ve been around the block, and made some mistakes. If I can help it, I don’t want to make any more. I’ve become choosey in what I do. So in between acting, I work as an Addison Lee cab driver. I used to be a motorbike courier, for years, but after breaking a few bones, I thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this’ and got into mini cabbing. I work predominantly nights, I drive all the prostitutes, pimps, the drug dealers.

ZANI – A right Travis Bickle.

Ricci Harnett – I love it, I see London at night.  I’ve carried people out of my car. People have got frisky in my car. But I keep my eyes on the road. I’d rather drive these days, and keep some integrity. I know actors who have got kids, and they have to do adverts. I say fair play to them.

ZANI – But Eastenders and The Bill seem to more acceptable for an actor these days.  I mean ten years ago, you would not have had the likes of Phil Daniels, Garry Beadle, Samantha Janus or Lee Ross residing in Albert Square.

s/Oct2012/ricci harnett zani 3.jpgRicci Harnett - To work on Eastenders, is very tempting. If you look around, there is not a lot of work around. For girls to find work it’s impossible, because it is all about looks. Danny Boyle said to me, “I don’t why girls do it, because they burn so bright for such a short amount of time.”

ZANI – The UK has got to be brave in its film making and in art in general, like I said, move away from the gangster flick. If they do I am sure this will create more opportunities for artists, and the body of work produced will be amazing, a whole new breed. It’s been done before.  They are playing it safe, staying in comfort zone.

Ricci Harnett – The film industry should be subsidised.  When I went to the US with 28 Days Later, they were saying “how much did this film cost?” I was saying “about £8 million”. They were saying “My God” but it was number two in the charts out there. In the US, they can’t make films for that money, because everybody has got to be paid a fortune. But, I would hate it to go that way in the UK.

What I like about the British film industry is if you want to do good work, you’ve got to roll your sleeves up. If I have to do 60 hours in a cab a week, then I’ll do that.

ZANI - Going back to the point about your GSCE in nutters, your show reel on YouTube uses the classic Stones’ track, Sympathy For The Devil. Is that a song you can relate to?

Ricci Harnett - Yeah, I love the opening lyrics, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. I’ve been around for a long, long year.” I also like the idea that song caused so much bedlam in the US, with the Bible belt people.  

ZANI - Finally Ricci, what film would you say inspires you most?

Ricci Harnett - Nil By Mouth. It made me cry.

As Ricci Harnett dropped me off at the train station to catch the last train home, I glanced over my shoulder, to see Ricci drive off into the night. The words of Travis Bickle began ringing in my ears, “Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man.” I turned round and walked towards the platform for the final part of my journey, thinking that, for Ricci Harnett, his journey has just begun.

 © Words – Matteo Sedazzari/ZANI
 © Top and Bottom Photos - Laura Perkins

Read 9630 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 16:45
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ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


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