Actor Phil Davis Speaks to ZANI

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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Essex 1967, the careers officer raises his eye brows at the school boy, as he searches for the right words so he doesn't hurt the kid's feelings, "An actor, that's what you want to do as a job when you leave school? ". The blonde school boy with a small frame and short in height, nods with no enthusiasm. Since he yearned to become an actor, he has grown accustomed to the mocking, a disguise for jealously and envy. His peers recite lines from Shakespeare, which, most of the time, are misquoted. In fact the ridicules have hardened him. As living on a council estate in Essex has made him tough. He knew how to handle the lads,

and the banter, it didn't faze or hurt him, and if anything it gave him strength, courage and determination. Therefore a scruffy school teacher cum/careers officer, in a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, in a creased white shirt, fading brown cords and cheap suede shoes, reeking of BO, stale tobacco and greasy hair, is not going to sway him one or another. "Well lad, I don't know what to say, your parents don't have the money to send you to RADA, there are no theatres near here, and please understand what I am going to say next, is not to upset you but you don't have the looks of Sean Connery or Marlon Brando". The schoolboy's reactions to the comment were a cheeky crafty smile as he gets up and leaves the careers office.

But the school boy did get the job he wanted and has become one of the most successful character actors that England has produced in the last thirty years, Phil Davis. Moreover his success is growing, and without wishing to sound like a cliché, Davis is certainly an actor in demand for TV and film, recently starring in the wonderful detective cum horror show, Whitechapel and the world of barristers in Silk, as well as appearing in films in 2012 such as Outside Bet (a film version of Paolo Hewitt and Mark Baxter's book, The Mumper) and Fast Girls, a film about women athletes, which looks like it could become a big hit for the summer.

Phil Davis is a versatile and talented actor, who perhaps came to prominence not just in the UK, but the world, after the release of Mike Leigh's moving and haunting film about the illegal abortionist Vera Drake (2004), which received several awards and was nominated for three Academy Awards. Davis played Vera Drake's loving yet dyed-in-the-wool husband Stan. The film was hard hitting and honest, a theme well associated with the film maker and Mike Leigh. A name that is strongly associated with Phil Davis, as they have worked together on numerous projects, a partnership that has spanned over four decades.

/phil davis matteo sedazzari zanPhil Davis was born in 1953 to a working class family and raised on a council estate in Grays, Essex. When Davis got his inspiration to be an actor in the mid sixties, it captured the spirit and belief of many of the young working class of England that were growing up in this decade. As they had witnessed four working class boys from Liverpool conquering the world with their music, a boy born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, but raised in Chelmsford, Essex, scored a hat trick in the 1966 World Cup Final, and a boy from Southwark, London was now an international movie star. These kids now had role models from their own background, where it seemed anything was possible, if you had a dream. A vision that many of the baby boom generation would carry over to the next decade, as Phil Davis's breakthrough came in the late seventies, appearing in two BBC 1 Plays for Today in 1977, and their adaptation of fictional detective Sexton Blake and The Demon God in 1978, with Phil as Blake's sidekick Tinker.

Then in 1979, Davis appeared in The Who's Quadrophenia, (a film version of their album released in 1973) as the mod Chalky, a film that certainly helped to promote the Mod Revival across the UK. Everyone knows that Quadrophenia is a reference point to Mods, from all generations, yet it should be noted the film launched the careers of many of the actors in the film into the world of film and music; Phil Daniels, Ray Winston, Lesley Ash, Mark Wingett, Trevor Laird , Toyah Wilcox, John Altman, Garry Cooper , Sting, Daniel Peacock, Timothy Spall and of course Phil Davis.

Many films, theatre and TV roles would follow for Davis after 1979, and then in 1989, he branched out into directing, with Skulduggery (based on a play written by him) and, as it stands to date, his most successful body of work I.D., (1995) a story of two policemen going undercover to infiltrate a gang of East London football hooligans. The film has recently been re-released to much critical acclaim. Yet his move into directing, lasted only ten years, with his last film directional project being Hold Back the Night in 1999.

Moreover as mentioned in the opening, Phil Davis's career as an actor is growing from strength to strength, and adding to his amazing body of work. So at ZANI, we were delighted when he agreed to be interviewed at an Italian café in northwest London, where we chatted over lattes and paninis, about films, food, golf, Los Angeles and much more.

Moreover as mentioned in the opening, Phil Davis's career as an actor is growing from strength to strength, and adding to his amazing body of workZANI – Before we discuss your career, I did enjoy seeing you in Saturday Live Kitchen with Italian Chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo who, as per usual, seemed a bit tense but that's the chemistry we love about those two.

Phil Davis –I was thrilled to meet Carluccio and Contaldo, and am going to try out that Pig's cheeks recipe that they suggested one of these days, if I can find some Pig's cheeks. I am passionate about cooking. I do like to cook.

ZANI - Another passion you have is golf, is that for leisure or do you have a big competitive streak ?

Phil Davis – No I can't be competitive in golf, because I am useless. I play it and I enjoy it, but I'm simply not very good at it, that is why I don't play in any competitions. I like to play golf on my own, oddly enough.

ZANI – Just to unwind and relax ?

Phil Davis – I like to wander around on my own, and if you are playing on your own, you don't get embarrassed if you play a bad shot.

ZANI – Fair enough. You are a busy actor, so unwinding is necessary in your career, or any career, and I understand you love to rent a cottage in Dunwich in Suffolk every year, I presume that is get away from your hectic schedule ?

Phil Davis – I love it there, but sadly I won't be going there this year, because the cottage is no longer available. I have a son who lives in Suffolk, so I like to holiday near him and spend some time with him, he's fifteen now.

ZANI – That's a shame the cottage has gone. What are you going to do to replace it, find another cottage or a holiday overseas ?

Phil Davis - Don't know, I might be working through the summer, I was last year as I was filming Whitechapel.

ZANI – I love Whitechapel, which I will discuss later. Another place you go to, to relax, feel inspired and people watch, is the National Portrait Gallery.

phil davis matteo sedazzari zani 5Phil Davis - Every time I go into town, I always spend an hour there, just wandering about and having a look. I particularly enjoy the BP portrait competition where they show loads and loads of people, not just famous or historical people, but ordinary Joe's. It is just a fascination of mine, I just wish I could draw myself, I do have a go, but I am not very good. But I love to see portraits they are my favourite things, looking at people.

ZANI – Good for acting, no doubt. You are involved in a lot of projects at the moment, and one in particular is , Outside Bet, the film version of Mark Baxter and Paolo Hewitt's book The Mumper. Set in 1986 in southeast London about a group of printers using their redundancy money, after The Battle of Wapping, to purchase a race horse, which they hope will change their fortune. You play the father of the lead character, (Mark 'Bax' Baxter played by Calum MacNab ), a jolly fellow who is a singer down the local pub, and from what I have read you enjoyed making the film.

Phil Davis – Yes. I am playing the father of one of the authors, Mark Baxter. He was a print worker and by all accounts, quite a personality. It was his character that attracted me; he was a bit of a bobber and a weaver with a lovely personality. I seem to play a lot of unpleasant characters and it was nice for a change to play someone who was warm, homely, and a good father.

ZANI - Outside Bet is a homage to the Ealing comedies, with a nod to Only Fools and Horses, Minder, and not a call to arms and an attack on Murdoch?

Phil Davis – No, not in the least, when you look at them, the print workers, they are the laziest buggers you could ever meet, and if you looked at it objectively, you would side with Murdoch. Certainly the working practices were outdated, and needed to be changed. That is obvious in the movie.

ZANI – You didn't read The Mumper, until after you had read the script,

Phil Davis – I didn't know that it was a book, until we started shooting. The book was a nice read, and Mark Baxter writes with a tremendous sort of energy.

ZANI – Well I know you are interested in real people and real situations, as opposed to science fiction and such like. You seem very happy to be living and working in Great Britain, yet you did go to Los Angeles in the nineties, but from all accounts, you didn't like it and came home.

Phil Davis – After my film, I.D. opened in 1995, I got the opportunity to direct a movie in Los Angeles called Truth or Consequences which actually is the name of a town in New Mexico. I kind of had mixed feelings about the script, but I thought I would give it a go, might make a lot of money. I went out to LA, but the project was put on hold as we were waiting for an actor and it was one of those projects put together by junior executives from different studios, who had got hold of a script and wanted to make a film. But in my opinion, they were more interested in making a film, than making a good film.

ZANI – I know the sort of people.

Phil Davis – Anyway, as soon as the principal photography started, they all gained a substantial amount of money so they had a new pool in their back garden. Not me, I only wanted to make a good film. I met the guy who was going to pay for the film, I think Sony were bank rolling it, and he recommended to me, that I should look at True Romance, so I did. And it was exactly the same storyline as Truth or Consequences but only much better, and very well directed by Tony Scott, but which wasn't really my style. After a while, I thought they had got the wrong guy, there were a lot of differences in the working practices, there seemed to have been a cultural gap. I am confident in directing if it is something I know about. I suddenly felt very isolated, thinking I don't really know these people well enough to make for or about, so I resigned and came back to the UK. The film was made; Kiefer Sutherland directed and it went straight to DVD.

he recommended to me, that I should look at True Romance, so I did. And it was exactly the same storyline as Truth or Consequences but only much betterZANI – So you didn't turn your back on a life changing film ?

Phil Davis – No I didn't.

ZANI - Going back to trade unions, which is a strong sub plot in Outside Bet, and you appeared in a more serious film, about the unity of workers, Comrades directed by Bill Douglas , about The Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Phil Davis - These were farm workers, who kept on getting their money cut by the land owners, so they formed a guild, and at that time it was an illegal association, not allowed. They were exiled to Australia, but eventually brought home and the law was changed. Bill Douglas, was a special film maker, don't know if you have seen his trilogy of films about his childhood

ZANI – I will check them out .

Phil Davis - He was a kind of poetic of the film making world, again this wasn't a political film, but there was a political edge to it. It was about farm workers lives. The scenes that were shot in Dorset are some of the most beautiful scenes I have ever been in, truly exquisite. There was no money in it; it was a labour of love and something that I am proud to be associated with. Sadly Bill passed away, and he never made another film after Comrades, it was a great loss.

ZANI – It is now getting recognised as a moving piece of cinema

Phil Davis – Well it was never going to be a blockbuster or a popular film, three hours long and by today's standards, very slow. It's an art movie, well worth a look, if you can just slow your rhythm down and enjoy it.

ZANI – Sounds a good film, I will purchase a copy.

Phil Davis – It was re-released as a Blue Ray , a few years ago.

ZANI – Talking of re-releases, your film I.D. has recently been re-released, which is more than a film about football hooligans, but how seriously an undercover operation can affect someone's life, and they too become the type of people they are trying to arrest. What attracted you to direct I.D. ?

phil davis matteo sedazzari zani 7.jPhil Davis - There were a number of factors, I had directed a short film called Life's A Gap, with the same screen writer, Vincent O'Connell, and one of the purposes of a short film team, they were called Short and Curly in those days, was to bring together new writers and directors to form associations. Vincent had this project in development, and I knew a little about the football hooligan phenomena, because I had been in Alan Clarke's film The Firm, and I was keen to get involved.

And you are right, the thing that interested me, as much as the football hooligan element, was the transformation of the central character, who goes undercover. As an actor, I can relate to that, when you pretend to be somebody else and you do ask, how far do you go? So that aspect of it was very interesting.

There was a screening of I.D, the other month at the Port House Hotel in the West End of London, it was the first time I had seen the film in fifteen years, and the first time I had seen the film on the big screen in eighteen years, and you know what, I liked it more than I ever had before.

I felt very proud of it; it's a very good movie with some great performances, and a fascinating soundtrack made by Will Gregory. I am very gratified that there seems to be interest in I.D., after all these years. I thought no one would be interested in it , Love Film and Blockbusters have already shifted a lot of DVD's of I.D. and it may be reappraised, because I don't think it was particularly terribly well reviewed when it first came out. I recently read a nice review of I.D. in Sight and Sound, who rather dismissed it when it first came out. It's one of those films, even though people didn't watch it in the cinema; it was a success on VHS and DVD.

ZANI – That's when I watched it

Phil Davis- Exactly, many people caught it after I.D. had come out. It was a slow burner, a bit like Quadrophenia in a way.

ZANI – Of course, we will discuss Quadrophenia. You mentioned earlier another football hooligan film, which you co-starred in, the classic The Firm, where you played the psychopath The Yeti from south east London. By the way I love the line you say to Bexley (Gary Oldman), "I can tell you're gutted Bexley because you are giving it the cool one". What research did you do for The Yeti and was he based on anyone you know?

Phil Davis – No I didn't know anyone like The Yeti, because he was weird , like you said a psychopath; obviously he was well off with a nice flat and probably had a job in the City. These kids, well young men, every Saturday they go back to the playground and start playing war games.

I did talk to some guys, who said they were involved in all that, they were West Ham ICF I believe. Someone put me on to them, and I went and had a drink with them, doing some research. They were really friendly, nice and lively then suddenly they said "do you want to see some of our stuff", by the way they were painters and decorators. They got the paint brushes out, the bristles came off and there was a Stanley knife hidden underneath, then it dawned on me they go around slicing people up. It's two sides of the coin, they were nice guys and suddenly they switched that on. But there was no one I based The Yeti on.

He wasn't called The Yeti in the original script, that was Alan's idea, he said there is something strange about this guy, and he asked me to go and bleach my hair, so I came back looking like Jimmy Savile. I said I can't do the character looking like this.

By the way I love the line you say to Bexley (Gary Oldman), ZANI – That would have been hilarious in The Firm if his nickname was The Savile, because he looked like Jimmy Savile, but it would have taken the edge off it.

Phil Davis – I think it would have done, but it would have been funny. Alan suggested that I slicked my hair back and put it in a pony tail. So I wore contact lens to make his eyes pink, and that is how The Yeti came about.

ZANI – One of the most sinister characters to ever grace television. What do you think of Nick Love's version of The Firm?

Phil Davis – I couldn't bring myself to watch it; there are some great actors in it, like Daniel May who plays The Yeti and Calum MacNab as Dom. The thing about Alan Clarke, he was a great director and he was a real original. Most of his work was on television, he made very few feature films. He was a one-off, they broke the mould, when they made him. He died after he made The Firm, and I couldn't see the point of remaking a great film like that, as it still stands up today, it hasn't dated.

ZANI – You're right, it hasn't dated. I watched both Firms back to back, Nick Love's version is watchable, whilst Alan Clarke's stands out as a classic.

Phil Davis – Exactly.

ZANI – Going back to directing, you've taken a long break from directing, but I understand you are going to be directing a film about jobless youths set in Norfolk.

/phil davis matteo sedazzari zani 9.jpPhil Davis - I was finding it very hard to juggle a career both as an actor and as a director in the late nineties. Very difficult, projects are on, then they are off, then they are on again, you never know what you are doing, I had a family and mouths to feed, so after a while I just thought I was tired of it, and in 2000 I did a series in Leeds called North Square which was about barristers and it was quite a big success for me. After that I was inundated with some amazing acting offers, so I thought I am going to run with this for a while.

So five to six years pass, you haven't directed anything, you are off the list. So I thought of myself in semi-retirement as a director, then just before Christmas I came across a script, written by Tracy Brabin, about a group of unemployed kids in Great Yarmouth. It's really about a teenager who gets pregnant, she wants to have the baby, but doesn't want anything to do with the bloke. He wants to be a father and get involved, it's a lovely, funny and heart warming story. Not totally sentimental and it is set in a tough environment and I suddenly thought I can do this. I spoke to Tracy, "do you fancy me directing this I asked", and she said yes. Now we've got a producer, but also we've got to raise some money, and that's the hardest part. If all goes well, we will shoot the film in the autumn of 2013, but it's no mean certainty and it's a tricky time to be raising money for a film like this as it is not a commercial film; so it's going to be tough.

ZANI – You really do have to beg, steal and borrow for funding, and sadly a lot of these films only get limited release in certain cinemas. I love what you said in a recent interview that the multiplex cinemas should dedicate maybe one theatre to show these films, therefore reaching a wider audience.

Phil Davis – Well it's not my idea, it has been around for years, to try and persuade the multiplex's to try and support our British Cinema. We do make good films here in Britain, and it's difficult to get them into the cinemas and equally as hard to keep them there. Some are slow burners, and you are competing with films that have spent more on their marketing than you have spent on the entire movie. I don't object to the big star block busters, but they are not to my taste. But the multiplexes should get behind films like Outside Bet.

ZANI – Good point. It is well documented that you have worked a few times with Mike Leigh, and you enjoy working with him, because you are kept in the dark about the characters, and learn about them as the project develops, as in Vera Drake. Please explain more about the process in working with Mike Leigh. Also I understand it was a dream come true when you first worked with him, because like many others you adored Nuts in May.

Phil Davis – I first worked with Mike in 1977. I was sort of doing alright as an actor, I thought, but up until this point all the characters I played were really extensions of myself. Then with Mike, you begin without a script and start working on the character learning to become the character, so if you're playing a plumber you can go out and learn how to plumb.

So there I was making this detailed investigation into somebody else, who was different to me, walked and thought differently. It suddenly changed the way I thought about myself as an actor, I am playing other people, OK he's going to look like me, but the thing is about getting my feet into somebody else's shoes and Mike opened that up for me, so I wasn't scared about playing people who were very different to myself and my range increased. So my association with Mike has been on-going for thirty five years. I love his films and he is a real inspiration to me.

I first worked with Mike in 1977.ZANI – Would you say with his methods, that he has perhaps brought Method Acting into your style?

Phil Davis - I wouldn't say I am a Method Actor in the American sense, but learning how to think like somebody else, that's the job. With Mike, you do the improvisation and the research, and you are creating the fictional role over and above what Mike has written into the script, you can integrate the experience into your role, draw something up when you need to, so when somebody says to your character, "do you like Beethoven", you will know whether your character does or doesn't? You feel secure in the role when you film because you know the character.

ZANI - As well as doing a lot of film, you are busy in the world of TV, and at the moment reunited with Rupert Penry-Jones in Silk, your co-star in Whitechapel.

Phil Davis - Well we have appeared together in North Square, again as barristers, I was playing a machiavellian barrister clerk, a character called Peter McLeish, written by Pete Moffat, who also writes Silk. Peter Moffat has a real unique style as a writer, which puts punch to the story line and depth to the characters, and I like that. If I see something without seeing his name in the credits, I will just know he has written it. I love his writing and in this show I have a wonderful character, a real bastard.

ZANI – You like playing bastards.

Phil Davis – Yea, if they are interesting.

ZANI -Did you ever see your co–star of Quadrophenia Phil Daniels, in Outlaws made in 2004, a series about lawyers, which oddly only lasted for one series?

Phil Davis – I saw a couple and it was quite good.

ZANI – OK, moving on to Quadrophenia, you say it was a slow burner, it certainly inspired a generation. I was too young to see it in the cinema, because of the famous X certificate. But a lot of teenagers left the cinema in 1979 wanting to be Mods after seeing the film. It certainly helped the Mod Revival of 1979. Some of the Mod Revival Purists of 1978 hated the film because it had made the Mod Revival movement commercial, but in a nutshell it did inspire a generation and still does.

phil davis matteo sedazzari zani 12.jpPhil Davis - I remember it well, you had bands like The Lambrettas, Secret Affair and The Jam, I know what you are saying. But as far as the cast goes, it didn't really make a huge sense of difference, people think Quadrophenia was our big break and changed our lives, but that's not the case. We did it, it was well received and I was doing work around the theatre during the making of the film. I was appearing at The Royal Court, and I went back to doing that, so it wasn't by any means life changing.

Five years later people would stop you in the street, and say they saw me in Quadrophenia, then ten years later, fifteen years later, twenty years later and its importance has grown since it got older and that's not true of most films, they come and go. Its means more now, than it would have done, say two years after the film had come out.

ZANI - You know what, it would make an interesting sequel, maybe a short. For you, Phil Daniels, Mark Wingett and Ray Winston to reprise your roles from Quadrophenia and set in the mid 90's, when Oasis is kicking off, and Paul Weller is everyone's darling again.

Phil Davis – Charming idea, they would be like us now, old men.

ZANI – And may shatter the illusion, because Quadrophenia is all about youth.

Phil Davis - Yes it is, and the secret of the success is that Jimmy the Mod is an everyman, he wasn't the coolest kid, he wasn't the best looking, he didn't have the nicest bike, he was confusion, he didn't know who he was, and he had problems with his parents. That is something that almost every adolescent boy goes through. Then you find out the coolest kid, or whom you perceive to be the coolest kid, isn't what he seems, like when Jimmy sees The Ace Face as The Bell Boy. There are a lot of hard truths in Quadrophenia, about coming out of adolescence into adulthood, that's the secret of the film.

ZANI - That's a beautiful description of Quadrophenia. Both Phil Daniels and Mark Wingett moved into soaps, Eastenders and The Bill. Have you ever considered a brief appearance in a soap, or just not interested?

Phil Davis - Not interested, but I would never say never. I might be skint in a couple of years, and it might save my life. There are some good actors in soaps; like my mate Perry Fenwick from Eastenders. I never watch soaps; I like to make something with an ending, happy or sad.

ZANI – As you know I am a massive fan of Whitechapel, is there going to be a fourth series?

Phil Davis - It looks very much like there will be, negotiations are underway. We are hoping we will shoot another six hours of the show next year, probably in January 2013.

ZANI – Pleased to hear it, and I love the chemistry between Miles (Davis) and Chandler, is that something you work on?

Phil Davis – We don't have time to rehearse; we get there on the day, see the call sheet and get on with it. But Rupert and I are great mates, and we have been since North Square, he lives in Hampshire and I live in Crouch End, but there has always been a good chemistry between us. I am surprised that we are friends because we are both from very different backgrounds, different ages and we look different. Temperamentally, we are quite similar and we are comfortable with each other, we bounce off each other.

It looks very much like there will be, negotiations are underway. We are hoping we will shoot another six hours of the show next yearZANI – Well that certainly shows in Whitechapel, hence the reason why you don't have to work on the chemistry in rehearsal. Whitechapel is certainly getting darker in terms of content, and moving away from being a detective thriller and more towards horror.

Phil Davis – And the scarier it gets, the better it gets.

ZANI – I would like Whitechapel to be shown later at night, so it is more like a horror film. I loved series one about Jack The Ripper, and The Krays series two was good, but series three was so macabre and eerie, with three different cases, a real Hammer Horror meets Sherlock Holmes.

Phil Davis – I think Whitechapel has found its feet, I think the two hour stories work better than the three hour ones, and we couldn't keep doing copycats,.

ZANI - Every one remembers you from Quadrophenia, but I remember you in Gotcha, even though I was a very young school boy, my parents would let me watch Play for Today. Gotcha is a powerful drama, about a schoolboy holding two teachers hostage, aired in April 1977. Do you think the play captured the mood of the disillusioned youth of Britain at the time, high unemployment etc, and were you an angry youth searching for identity and recognition?

Phil Davis – Undoubtedly. It was screened in 1977, and it was like a Punk record, it was angry, short, loud, and the youth was saying "what about me", just like Punk. It was an emotional lump of red meat, great play, which really launched my career. I did Gotcha in the theatre before doing the TV play.

ZANI – Another play which was set in a school and again about disillusioned youth, which I believe was first performed in 1978, was Class Enemy starring your old friend Phil Daniels.

Phil Davis - Yea another great play

ZANI – Whilst we are on the subject of angry plays and TV plays, were you approached to appear in Scum, the banned version and the film , which as we know was made by Alan Clarke?

phil davis matteo sedazzari zani 13.Phil Davis - I was approached to be in Scum, the character Archer played by Mick Ford in the film and David Threlfall in the banned one. I really wanted that part but sadly it was not to be.

ZANI – You played the angry schoolboy and many years later you played a teacher in Double Lesson, down on his luck that was a great piece of acting, a 30 minute monologue that draws the audience in, that must be one of your favourite pieces of work?

Phil Davis – It was shot over three days, amazing piece of work. George Kay, the writer of Double Lesson, especially wrote the part for me which was an honour. My agent called me and says this writer has written a monologue for you, I said "get out of here", he emailed it over and I could see it was very well written. I got the rhythm of the character immediately and it was very easy to learn.

I went to meet him, and he asked for half a day's rehearsal, which I agreed, and found I already knew the first half of it, he was amazed thinking I had spent a long time rehearsing it, but I had just spent some time reading it. He scheduled to film it in four days, but I knew I could crack it in three . In fact we did it in two and a half days. It is a beautiful piece of work, and yes it is one the best things I have done.

ZANI – I thought it would be.

Phil Davis – It came out under the First Cut slot, which is really a documentary slot, and it was shown at 7.30 on a Friday night, I don't think a lot of people saw it.

ZANI – You can still see it on Channel Four OD, and I will post the link on this page.

Phil Davis – Please do, I am immensely proud of it.

ZANI - OK, I know you are a massive Dickens fan, and from my research, the book Great Expectations was given to you as a present at an early age, and seemed to change you, would I be right in saying that it may have been your awakening?

Phil Davis - Yes it did change my life, I was asked a couple of years ago to give a talk at the British Library about performing Dickens. I've been in Bleak House and other adaptations of Dickens's work, but I thought what the fuck can I say about performing Dickens. Then I remembered what affect Great Expectations had on me.

When I was fifteen, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I was growing up on this housing estate in Essex, and it was very extraordinary to say that you wanted to be an actor, it was like wanting to be an astronaut

ZANI – And I suppose the only other escapes were music, football or boxing?

Phil Davis - I was tone deaf, and not skilful enough to be a footballer, or tough enough to be a boxer, but I had never even seen a play. I wasn't really the actor's type, I was short and squeaky. Then I read Great Expectations, it wasn't a school book so I didn't have to read it, it was a birthday present from an Auntie. But the story of this kid being plucked out of one place and placed in another, I empathised with this character immediately and as I grew older I kept going back to the book.

ZANI – A reference point?

Phil Davis – Yes, all this fish out of water stuff, when he gets to London, starts leading a different life and mixing with a different bunch of people and all the class issues in the book, it spoke to me. I love the story, and it opened the world of Charles Dickens to me. I am not Pip and Pip's not me, and we've had a very different type of life. I got the things I wanted by hard work, not a stroke of luck, but it made me think that miracles are possible in life.

I love the story, and it opened the world of Charles Dickens to m
ZANI – It gave you a lot of self belief when you joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre in 1972, a boy from a council estate in Essex, son of a soap factory worker and a hospital cleaner. Did you think your talent and determination would make you one of the best character actors we have had in the UK in the last thirty years, or was there no master plan, just you were enjoying what you were doing?

Phil Davis – What I wanted to do, was what I had done in amateur dramatics and loved it, and thought can I do this for a living? I wasn't thinking about going to Hollywood or being a TV star, I didn't want to be like Michael Caine or Terence Stamp, I just wanted to do it.

I left school, I was working in a coffee bar at The National Youth Theatre, and they were starting a professional company. They were doing a performance of Romeo and Juliet. I went to the founder of the NYT, Michael Croft, and asked if I could play the role of Peter, a servant. He said he would come back to me, which he did about a week later and he said "Our advice to you Phil, is not to try and make it as a professional actor, we don't think you have got the range" I was devastated, they weren't trying to be unkind but saving me from a huge disappointment.

So the next day I picked up The Stage newspaper, and on the back was an advert, looking for young actors for a play in Stratford East with Joan Littlewood. I rang up, got an audition and got the part. So that was one in the eye for The National Youth Theatre.

ZANI – Like it. What advice would you give to anyone, young or old, who wants to become an actor?

phil davis matteo sedazzari zani 4.jPhil Davis – Don't take no for an answer and if you get an opportunity take it, make sure it's good, nobody cares what you are wearing, what your haircut is like, what they want to know is if you can do the job. You have to take responsibility for yourself, you might get a shit director, he might be brilliant, who cares? Just do the job.

ZANI - Final question, you play villains, grumpy characters, but you are really a cheerful person, now without being crude, what makes Phil Davis happy ?

Phil Davis – Simple things, my kids, my wife and my work. Nothing makes me happier than when a script drops through my letter box, with a little note, saying we would love you to play this. I go up to my little room at the top of the house , listen to music and read page one.

ZANI – What music do you listen to when you are reading a script?

Phil Davis – A bit of everything, whatever is on the IPod.

Music is always an inspiration, as is Phil Davis. He is charming, highly intelligent, focused and thoughtful. It would be too easy to say that Davis is a rag to riches story, more of a man who took control of his destiny at an early age, and through determination and hard work, has achieved exactly what he intended after he put down Dickens's Great Expectations, and with a big V's up and a cheeky crafty smile to the careers officer.

Watch Phil Davis in Channel 4’s Double Lesson – Click on the Link Below

© Words – Matteo Sedazzari/ZANI Media
Read 10371 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 16:28
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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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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