Interview with Emily Mortimer

Emily Mortimer stars opposite Michael Caine in the vigilante thriller Harry Brown. In the film, Caine is an aging ex-marine that lives in a rundown part of London. His world is populated by thugs, drug dealers and worse. When his last friend falls prey to the local gang and dies, Brown is left with nothing but vengeance in his heart and he methodically plots the deaths of those who freely terrorize his neighborhood. Emily Mortimer is Alice Frumpton – a rare female detective who is bent on stopping Brown and quelling the violence. Mortimer was gracious enough to share her thoughts on the film and her experiences working with Caine.

One of the first things Emily Mortimer’s fans will notice about Alice Frumpton is that the character is different from what Mortimer has played in the past. “I was drawn to [the part] because it was different from the stuff I’d done before and I think that if there is any kind of plan to how I guide my career, it’s…to try to do things that are different from the last and try to not bore myself or anyone else in the process. And try not to do the same thing twice,” Mortimer says with a smile. “I don’t know if this is true of everybody, but it’s certainly true of me, but I think I’m best when I’m out of my comfort zone – it’s such an awful phrase – but I think that’s when interesting things happen when you don’t really know what you’re doing. And it’s dangerous to know what you’re doing too much. So that was part of the attraction that this was a different part from one I played before. And then of course it was impossible to turn down an opportunity of acting opposite Michael Caine. Who wouldn’t want to do that? And I was entirely un-disappointed by the reality of being with him in a movie. He was so great.” According to Mortimer Caine is very professional, but that he’s also a giggler and they would both burst into laughter during takes.

Mortimer also shared what attracted her to the film. “I thought it was really interesting and I was particularly impressed by Daniel Barber the director, when I met him and talked to him about it after reading the script. I thought the script was really gripping and interesting, but I was nervous about it because it’s territory that’s very familiar. You switch on the [television] and there’s 30 channels of TV showing cop dramas and it’s such familiar territory for audiences and I was nervous that there was potential for [the film] to fall into cliché. And then I watched a short film that [Barber] made that was nominated for an Oscar called The Tonto Woman…and it was very epic and [had a] kind of odd Western vibe to it and intense scenes between characters. Beautifully shot. Somehow the way the characters interacted in that film was really striking and unusual. [Barber] talked to me about his plans for this film and it was interesting and he used the Western as a model for the way that he approached this movie. I knew from talking to him that he had an auteur sort of take on the whole thing and that he was going to elevate it out of the TV drama territory that we’re familiar with and would raise it hopefully to something that felt more epic, strange and more fatalistic and kind of badass than what we’re used to seeing on the [TVs]. So there’s a lot of different reasons for taking the job.”

As a revenge tale, audiences should be prepared to see a bit of violence; however, viewers may be surprised at the level. It isn’t over the top, but it is visceral just the same. “I didn’t really talk to Daniel about how he was going to portray the violence before we started,” Mortimer confesses. “I was totally blown away by it and really taken aback. It’s very difficult to watch and I think that’s what’s interesting about the film. It is unseemly what goes on and it’s hard to stomach and it’s hard to accept what people do each other. It’s horrifying and I think it’s good it’s portrayed in all of its ugliness. This film certainly doesn’t glamorize violence. This is difficult and uncomfortable to watch as it should be. I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of intensity when I first saw it.”

For those who are familiar with the UK, the images may ring surprisingly true. “I became more and more convinced that this was really a problem as I was doing the film and I approached it with a tiny bit of skepticism in terms of the realities of what was really going on,” Mortimer said, “I thought it was a really interesting movie and I wasn’t doing it for political reasons. And the politics of the movie are kind of ones that – as a bleeding heart liberal – don’t necessarily agree with: you know, vigilantes doing away with hoodies as a way of dealing with the problem of gang violence in modern society. I did realize that it’s not just something that slightly right-wing newspapers bang on about to fear monger…there’s always a new story day after day of someone being stabbed and this gang violence and you start to sort of be wary of it a little bit, but actually having spent a lot of time – we filmed it all in east London Elephant and Castle, which is a really sort of dodgy neck of the woods in London and I spent a lot of time with a real life lady police detective who is the only female police detective in the whole of east London. And I realized this is really happening and it’s getting worse and I don’t know what one can do about it. I feel it’s something to do with the kind of longing to belong …for these guys to feel that they’re part of something and the communities they’re in don’t offer them that at all. These are really poverty stricken communities and everybody is living in often difficult and terrible circumstances. And there’s an abundance of drugs and deprivation and there’s no comfort to be had or feeling of belonging or that there’s any kind of hope. And these gangs offer them some kind of brotherhood in a world where there’s very little of that feeling. And that’s what I think is particularly heartbreaking about having spent time there. And a lot of the kids that were in the movie as extras – and even some of the principal characters – come from that world.”

Still, Mortimer’s political persuasion gives her hope that there are solutions to disaffected youth other than violence. “Some of the kids that were just from the local estates or projects, as you call them, would come and be extras in the movie and you just see people with such a hard veneer, but have a real longing for something else. These kids respond so easily and in a heartbreaking way to being given something to do. They really loved being in the movie. It was so cool to seeing the enthusiasm and excitement that was generated just from us being there and getting a chance to act in it and be part of something. I’m probably sounding like a bleeding heart liberal, but I really believe that that’s part of the problem anyway. These people aren’t necessarily a bad lot; it’s a problem that has to do with society and the way that we allow these neighborhoods to degenerate.”

Check back for our full review when Harry Brown opens on April 30.