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SCUM 1979 WIKI: THE JULIAN FIRTH INTERVIEW
In September 2012 we arranged the following interview with actor Julian Firth; great memories, insights and wit here as we're sure you'll all agree!
SCUM WIKIA: Today we will be interviewing Mr Julian Firth, who played the tragic inmate Davis...Julian, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
JULIAN FIRTH: No problem.
SCUM WIKIA: What can you tell us about your casting call and audition process for the part of Davis?
JULIAN FIRTH: The casting was interesting. I found out who it was, Esta Charkham? Maybe, and sent a photograph and a short C.V. and not much else, and got a preliminary interview. Nobody knew me and all the old cast was pretty much in place, and I was asked to go and meet Alan Clarke; so, I just acted it out, method style, hid my own voice and just played a moody Northern kid, hoping it might catch his attention. I didn't let on with my own accent until the rehearsals; I think Alan was a bit surprised.
SCUM WIKIA: What was it like working under Alan Clarke's direction?
JULIAN FIRTH: Alan was very mellow, he'd get a bit drawn in the face from time to time, he always just wanted less from me. It was good, the minute I started 'acting' he went numb; but he was gentle too, didn't push, just went at the same problem from a different angle until he got us to do what he had in mind. He wouldn't even neccessarily tell us what that was, just knew it when he saw it.
SCUM WIKIA: Davis constantly looked petrified, broken and depressed throughout the film, an excellent performance; did you have a method at the time for getting into character? Any influences?
JULIAN FIRTH: Not really, in fact quite a lot of the time we were all larking around if we weren't working. I was a bit of an outsider from the Anna Scher mob, and a lot of the others had worked together so I played off that, and I did bring things to mind which were worrying, but mostly the ravaged look was because I'd been up till 3am having japes in London, then in the borstal bus at 6 in the morning heading out for another days cavorting at the asylum!
SCUM WIKIA: We do know that Davis had previously tried to escape from an open borstal before, and otherwise had a clean record...was there any other backstory on Davis that you can tell us about?
JULIAN FIRTH: I think Davis probably grew up outside, no home life, touch of the Billy Caspers*; one of those kids that you kind of like but never talk to. John Fowler (who played Woods) played a character called 'Nipper' in a BBC television drama, and I was chuffed when I saw him in the cast; I can remember kids that hung on at the edges of my groups of friends, at youth clubs and school dances, kids that just didn't fit because they were carrying something they didn't want to share, but I never really configured what that might be, just that he stayed on his own, could mostly look out for himself, but couldn't cope with the moronic hideousness of human nature as it fell upon him in the nick.
- Billy Casper - child lead character of the Ken Loach film, 'Kes' (1969).
SCUM WIKIA: Describe Davis in one sentence.
JULIAN FIRTH: Torn fox-cub.
SCUM WIKIA: What were your personal favourite scenes?
SCUM WIKIA: The shocking sexual assault scene and the tragic suicide truly showed the horror and loneliness of life in that borstal; how did you prepare and discuss such intense scenes with the production, and what impact did this have in 1979?
JULIAN FIRTH: I didn't prepare for it; I knew it was coming up, it probably was part of the dread that Davis has about him. When it came to it, I just determined that it would be as horrible and un-sniggery as possible. I don't know about impact in 1979, but I have spent quite a few moments since listening to the painful admissions of countless young men and some women who have suffered similarly to Davis and never told a soul.
SCUM WIKIA: Did you stay on set to watch any completion of filming after your final scenes were done? The riot perhaps?
JULIAN FIRTH: I came in specifically to watch the riot scene, even though I was dead by then. I think Alan liked it that I was there to invoke the spirit of dead-Davis. He was very straight-faced and business like, but you could tell he was itching for it to go off, and I can remember he was loving it when it did.
SCUM WIKIA: Have you any interesting or amusing stories to share from your experience during the filming?
JULIAN FIRTH: There was one moment after day three of filming and I came back to the changing room and my jeans pockets were filled with Daddy's Sauce. I stood up and shouted at everybody that I wasn't here to muck about, I was here to make a good film and so were they, so stop f***ing me about. Things stayed together after that, and I got driven home that night by the make-up girl, which was nice.
SCUM WIKIA: What were the rest of the cast like to work with?
JULIAN FIRTH: Like I say, apart from a few hiccoughs, all went well; we all wanted Alan's approval, and with everybody I encountered, even if it was just a scene shared without dialogue, there was a mutual respect on the set.
SCUM WIKIA: Have you worked with any of them since or kept regular contact?
JULIAN FIRTH: I don't pick up the phone and get in touch with people at the best of times, but it is always a real pleasure to bump into someone from the film. Mick Ford and Perry Benson quite often, Phil Daniels, Philip Jackson and Ray Winstone from time to time, pretty much everyone over the years, including Davis's attackers (Sean Chapman, Ozzie Stevens, Ricky Wales); acting is like that. Alrick Riley I haven't seen since, but I think I saw he was directing Spooks; Alrick! Give us a job!
SCUM WIKIA: When did you last watch the film yourself?
JULIAN FIRTH: About four years ago I flicked the telly on late, and there I was in the back of the transit so I decided to give it a watch. I cheered at the end; proud to be part of such a stunning and creative piece of work that stands a mile higher than most, even now.
SCUM WIKIA: Have you seen the 2010 film Dog Pound, a remake based on Scum set in a North American youth correction facility?
JULIAN FIRTH: No, I haven't seen that.
SCUM WIKIA: You've had an impressive acting career since; what productions have been your personal highlights?
JULIAN FIRTH: I enjoyed the Cadfael series, and Young Indiana Jones, but those were a while back. The Queen was good, proper film making, old style, collaborative but with a director who knew what he was doing both with his actors and with the producers. More recently I enjoy the collar and tie jobs, get in there, hit the ground running, show a bit of style, dodgey Tory-boys, irate business men; better still if there is an air ticket and a hotel room, still like the busking side of my niche in the profession.
SCUM WIKIA: What upcoming productions can you tell us about, and what hobbies and interests does Julian Firth like to pursue?
JULIAN FIRTH: I had a nice few days on Caught In Flight about Princess Di, enjoyed myself with Doug Hodge and Naomi Watts, the director was good too; Oliver, a german chap, directed Hitler in The Bunker and The Experiment; I play an Australian, had a lovely time. Just spent a week opening and closing doors for Michelle Dockery and 'Mad-Mike' Gambon, diamond, the whole gig, my fans have to be keen; I feed them so little, but its a good life if you're willing. I like a bit of photography in my spare time, nothing too arty, just smudges, interior monologues if you like, thats my hobby, that and the logic and workings of the human mind, dark matter and how to keep smiling during the tea-time of the soul.
SCUM WIKIA: Julian, thanks so very much for sharing your thoughts and memories with us today, and we wish you all the best on all your current and future projects and assignments.
JULIAN FIRTH: My pleasure.