At the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, we sat down with Mark Stanley to discuss his upcoming film Run, where he plays Finnie, a Scottish fishery worker dissatisfied with his life who tries to reconnect with his youth by racing cars.
Many of our readers would recognize you from your work as Grenn on Game of Thrones, which is obviously very different in terms of style and scale. Could you talk about what you enjoyed most about working on a very intimate and intensely character-driven film like Run?
It’s strange because the last few things I’ve done have veered that way. The thing that I find really interesting is that you’ve got to tap into a different level of psychology and by doing that you learn a lot about people. So I’ve really enjoyed that. A previous film that I did a few years ago called Dark River with Ruth Wilson was similar, just getting into the mindset of someone who is totally broken.
I enjoy changing for parts so for me being able to dismantle what Scott [Graham] had written and move towards, it’s brilliant. It was great to have that kind of freedom of movement, of being able to do it differently every time and just invest in his cutting room floor, make him feel disappointed that he couldn’t use everything. Those kind of characters and that kind of thing I love, and I’m proud to be part of the film.
Yeah, it’s nice to do projects where sometimes it’s about the fate of the world, but sometimes it’s just about the fate of one person living their life. What background research did you do for this role, specifically in terms of the sort of racing subcultures? Was that anything you were familiar with going into the project?
It’s funny because I had a friend in last night, he married a girl from New Jersey and he works construction in New York City. We grew up in the north of England, I’m from a city called Leeds. He was really teary last night, and I think he was moved because he was looking at the possible outcome of what he or I could have ended up being like if we hadn’t taken quite bold choices in life. He’s moved over here now, he’s a resident, and fortunately for me I’ve got the privilege of being an actor, but we know people in that perpetual cycle of being stuck. They’re just stuck.
Whether that’s circumstantial or a personal choice they are stuck and they don’t see themselves ever getting out of that rut. So in terms of background knowledge, I think I know people like Finnie. I needed to get into that bludgeoned mindset of someone who works that manual labor, who works those hours with freezing cold hands and stinks of fish. So I went up and I worked there for two weeks. After a couple of days the novelty wore off for them and once they get their work done, they want to go home and they’re like, “Fucking get a move on, I don’t give a shit if you’re an actor or not.”
Finnie gets fajitas and a six pack of lager on a Friday night, and that’s his highlight. I don’t think they go on holiday, they can’t afford that. These guys at the factory are earning 45 pounds a day, a lot of them are browbeaten and have lost their feeling of dignity. A lot of them were working offshore where you’d be earning thousands of pounds a week, and unfortunately they’re diminished — they’re doing what they consider basic labor, which is underneath their skill level. So just by getting to know these people, that was the most valuable asset for me and luckily they were warm enough to give themselves to me.
I was really interested in the family dynamics because in this film you have a son who’s old enough to drive. I know that you’d be quite a young father to have a teenage son, so I was wondering how the experience was working with those two young actors who are playing your sons, if you found it at all difficult to tap into that fatherly role to an older teen?
Well, fortunately I was the first one to be included in the project so I was able to audition everybody and find the chemistry. For instance, the young kid Stevie [Scott Murray], he’s a local. He’d never acted before and I really needed to make sure that he felt comfortable when all of a sudden he’s got 15 people in a room watching him. So I think naturally took a fatherly, big brotherly thing with him.
With Anders [Hayward], when we shot it I was thirty and Anders was twenty-three. His character’s about 18 or 19 in this, so Finnie had him when he was 16 years old, [his mother Katie] probably fell pregnant at 15. And that happens in that area, it just does. I remember being at school taking GCSEs at 15 or 16, and I remember people taking them pregnant. There’s nothing else to do, so you have sex and you get drunk and you race cars and that’s that.
The thing about Anders when he walked into the audition room, there was something about his height that was emasculating for me and I thought, “That’s perfect.” The moment Finnie doesn’t feel like he’s the man of the house just adds to his drudgery and the fact that he’s lost. He’s blinded by his own self-pity in a strange way. He’ll look in the mirror and he doesn’t see anything, he sees a hollow man and a total failure. It was interesting to work with those guys, with Anders I don’t think he’d done too much screen work and Scott had never worked before, so we were just making sure we did each scene totally differently on every take.
Were there parts of Finnie that you felt you could relate to or was part of the draw that it was completely different from you and your personal experiences?
Yeah, I think the latter. Knowing those people growing up, those people who are still in my area and they’re still doing that same thing, I suppose there is an element of that that’s in my memory. But the draw for me is always moving away from myself and trying to reconfigure into someone who is on a totally different wavelength. I mean, I’m so much more positive than Finnie. So much more! I mean, I like to laugh and dance, Finnie hasn’t danced in…ever. So I do I enjoy that challenge and I like balancing things like accents, I like dancing backwards in heels. I like that.
There are two very distinct parts of the film, the part with the family where there’s a lot of noise and it’s a bit overwhelming for the character, but then there’s the parts in the car with Marli where it’s more low-key and subtle. I was wondering if you were consciously paying attention to the difference and how it was like working when it was really just the two of you in a car for long stretches of the film.
I was conscious of it I think. When Finnie gets in that car with Kelly and they’ve begun to talk a little bit, Finnie’s on a nostalgia trip, really. His being that first race really relights a very young fire in him, and that’s why he’s so desperate to get the next race. He’s like, “I need a hit, I need a hit of life for 30 seconds that’ll see me through.” I think he gets a bit of his arrogance back. At the end of the film Katie [his wife] says, “You were the most arrogant guy I ever knew.” And he was! He really fancied himself and thought, “I’m going to be the one who leaves this place.” I suppose it’s that, and also you want an ambiguity. I had to be careful because she’s a young pregnant girl with my grandchild in her belly, and there’s this strange mix of nostalgia and a tension between them all in the name of escapism I guess. And I think having those silences and moments of unsure naivete, we just thought it was very truthful.
In terms of the driving sequences, was that movie trickery or did you have to do driving training courses?
I did nearly all the driving. We did two days at the studio at the end, there was just a few shots, when we were cruising around the town and needed a bit of back wall projection, but it was very simple and it’s molded beautifully into the film, there’s literally just a few seconds of that. It was strange, we shot the race at the breakwater first, so the stunt guy Curtis Rivers watched me drive and said, “You seem to be good at this, do you want to have a go at doing it all?”
So I think we blew like two exhaust pipes out just killing the engine, but they really entrusted me. There was one moment where a wave hit the break and they noticed that I had clocked it and he just said, “As long as you’re aware of stuff like that, you can do your own driving.” I’d hate to have gotten out of the car every time we needed to do something. It’s inherent in Finnie’s blood and the more I could bring that person to life, the more interesting it was going to be and the better the work was going to be produced.
Has this film changed the way that you drive in your personal life at all?
(laughs) No, I can’t drive like that! The film that I went onto afterwards, I’ve gone from driving those souped-up shit cars that are in that film to Aston Martins and stuff, so I felt a bit cocky in the Aston Martin telling everyone, “Oh I do my own stunts, you know, I do my own stunts.” No, it doesn’t change the way that I drive, no. I couldn’t drive like that in my car, my car’s a piece of shit!
In the film, Finnie was incredibly passionate about racing in his youth — have you always wanted to act or was there anything when you were 16 or 17 that you could have seen yourself doing professionally in an alternate timeline?
Growing up where I am, rugby’s just a huge sport. So until I was 15 or 16 I think I wanted to do that. I just wanted to get out of where I was and go to a university for 3 years and do absolutely nothing and come back and join the fire brigade. But luckily my drama teacher said, “Why don’t you try and go to a drama school?” and I said, “What’s a drama school?” I was lucky enough to get in, and it wasn’t until 2 years into the course when I really started to enjoy it, because we started doing character work and movement and things like that. It’s been the thing that I’m most passionate about, but it came out of nowhere — it’s nice when passion blindsides you!