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Interview with actor Steven Cree

Steven Cree is an up-and-coming young actor and I was given the chance to chat to him for a few minutes…

Thanks for giving me a few minutes to chat. You’re not driving or doing anything dangerous are you?

No, no. I’m in my living room just doing a little house stuff.

I’m told you’re a Scottish heartthrob.

(Laughing) It’s never crossed my mind...

What were you like at school?

I was pretty skinny, but I kind of oscillated between a quiet and shy side, and I was undoubtedly a bit of a class clown.

Is that how you got into the acting?

I guess I always enjoyed being the entertainer or performer. When my mum used to have friends round, when I was a kid, I apparently used to put on my Michael Jackson tunes and do a little impersonation for them. Then I got into the school shows and did the musicals at secondary school. I was very lucky - we had an incredible music and drama department. There was a fantastic music teacher called Fiona McKenzie who was one of those teachers who inspired me.

In which part of Scotland did you grow up?

I grew up in Kilmarnock. You may know Kilmarnock from the famous football team. I am a Kilmarnock fan, born and bred. I have to say, when you come from Scotland people expect you to be a Celtic or Rangers fan, but I’m a lot happier being a fan of a small town team. There’s no expectation and when you do win it’s a great feeling.

Do you still go and watch them?

Yeh. My family all still live in Scotland so I go back as much as I can. I got a friend here in London who goes to the Arsenal games quite a lot. Sometimes I go with him and when you go into a stadium with sixty or seventy thousand people and then you go to Kilmarnock where there’s about four thousand, you would imagine that I would enjoy the Arsenal games much more, but I don’t know - if you’re a football fan, there’s nothing like going to see your own team. Do you like football?

I’m a Leeds United fan.

Ah! When I was a kid, about eleven years old, somebody bought me a Leeds United top and Leeds have always been my soft-spot English team. Billy Bremner and all that!

Silly question - how tall are you?

I’m five feet ten inches.

Ooh, does that mean you’re too short to play James Bond?

Probably. I imagine James Bond as over six feet, so if there’s any kind of list for James Bond I would think I’m nowhere near it.

Think ahead.

You never know. In ten years time, maybe.

How about Doctor Who?

Doctor Who? They’re gonna go for a lady, I think. But you know, it’s obviously a cracking programme, but I’ve never seen Doctor Who in my life!

How shocking is that? Considering your career, it started with small parts in big projects, things like Vera, Shetland, The Musketeers, Silent Witness and Outlanders. Do you feel that your career is growing as the years go on?

[Steven in Outlanders]

I spent the first few years out of drama school being the classic actor who never actually got any acting work, so my first few years were spent working in bars, restaurants, offices, that kind of thing, with the odd acting job interspersed. So, yes, my trajectory in the last few years, certainly, is getting better and better. The main thing about it is, I have to say, when you’re going through those times and you’re struggling to get work and it’s really tough, it’s not necessarily the most enjoyable, but then I’m extremely grateful for having had those times because it makes you more grateful for when things are going well.

Have you come across someone who has given great advice?

Actually, Tim Piggott-Smith, who sadly passed away recently. He directed a play that I did when I was twenty-five. Tim was a huge inspiration and he gave some fantastic advice, too numerous to go into. But I remember he said, when you’re not working, just try and do two things every day that are constructive towards trying to get work, be it reading a play or writing a letter to a director or to a theatre company. That kind of thing. Persistence is the biggest one, I think.

Sterling advice. That culminated for you, a couple of years ago, with Macbeth and Kenneth Branagh. I actually saw this as an NT Live production.

Oh, did you?

How was that?

One of my abiding memories about that, which is possibly the wrong one. It was an amazing experience. If you’re gonna do a Shakespeare, because I’d never done Shakespeare before - I haven’t done it since, actually - do it with someone like Ken Branagh. But, I am a massive Andy Murray fan. Huge Andy Murray fan. And when we started the rehearsals, we were in Manchester and on the first day we turned onto the street - and it was the first year Murray won Wimbledon and I had a bet on with a couple of members of the cast that Murray was going to win - and we walked onto the street that we were rehearsing on and it was on Murray Street! I was like, right, this is a sign. And on the Sunday of the final, you very rarely in this country do plays on a Sunday, every time I was offstage I was watching the game before limping back on.

[Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth]

But it was an amazing experience working with Ken and doing a live theatre performance of something that’s being beamed out to cinemas. Exhilarating as well.

Would you like to do more theatre acting?

Yeh. I would absolutely love to. I mean, I’ve done a couple of musicals in my time. I did Cabaret in the West End a few years ago with Julian Clary, no less. He was a great, great, lovely guy. So, I would love to do more, but the last few years, the way things have gone, it’s been more tv and film. I think film is my ultimate passion.

Stumbling across your Unofficial Facebook page, I noticed the banner picture which shows you in a studio with the likes of Jason Isaacs and Derek Jacobi. What was that project?

Oh, yeh. And Catherine McCormack. That was an amazing cast. That was a radio play called Mayflies and Catherine, in that play, there was a scene where her character had to give birth. And I remember being in the studio watching her doing it, thinking this must be the most convincing giving-birth scene ever heard on radio… That was good. They were all extremely lovely… That’s what actors want to strive towards. You want to work on projects with great people who you can learn from.

Which neatly brings us to your latest project. You’re in a film which comes out in a couple of weeks. I assume it’s not about a dog selling insurance

Oh, that’s the twist!

No, don’t give away the ending… It’s called Churchill. Who do you play?

I’m playing Captain James Stagg who is a character that I had never heard of. I think, one of the fascinating things about World War Two is that there are so many stories and so many characters that were heroes and their story has not been told. And, Captain Stagg, for me, was one of those guys who played a pivotal part in the D-Day landings because he was in the meteorological department of the Navy. He was the only one of that department who had direct access with Eisenhower and he recommended that they delay the landings by several hours because the weather in the Channel was going to be so bad. And then the next day he suggested there was going to be a break in the bad weather and they should launch then and Eisenhower took his advice. D-Day could have been a complete disaster so he played a really important part in the success of it. He’s a Scottish hero of war… I feel as though I’ve watched just about every documentary on World War Two and I’d never heard of him.

Is history one of your hobbies?

It’s certainly one of my passions. I was lucky enough that five or six years ago I narrated a documentary on World War Two called Apocalypse: The Second World War. It had been colourised and watching it in colour really brings it home.

Brian Cox plays Churchill...

Yeh, it kind of looks at Churchill in a way that I can’t remember seeing in other films before and doesn’t just portray him as the outright hero. It looks at his emotional state and the doubts that he had and the fears he had about making the right decision.

So it’s a good old-fashioned drama, a thriller.

Yeh. I haven’t seen the finished version yet so I don’t know how it’ll come across on the screen.

It would be a surprise if they’ve turned it into a Carry On movie.

It would be an interesting take on it. I have to say, with period dramas, they’re always a fine line away from being a Carry On film anyway. When you get into some of these costumes and some of these wigs...

And it’s so serious.

Exactly. An eyebrow raise away from becoming slightly farcical. It’s a thriller, a biopic, it’s a character-driven drama.

Did you do months of research for the part at the Weather Centre?

I didn’t. Partly because I got the part very late in the day so I didn’t have much time to prepare. I found out as much as I could about Captain Stagg. I found out where he was from - an area in Scotland called Dalkeith - I couldn’t find any voice recordings of him. I adopted a tone I thought would be appropriate for that region and I grew a moustache. The best kind of preparation you can have!

You’ve got two films in post-production. A big film, The Titan. Can you say anything about that?

It’s basically a love story, set slightly in the future. We need somewhere else to live, so there’s the moon called Titan, just passed Saturn, and these astronauts have been sent to see if they can become attuned to living there.

And what’s The Little Princess?

The Little Princess is a film that I wrote and acted in. We made it a couple of months ago and we’re in the process of editing it now. Hopefully we’ll get it into festivals later on in the year. To summarise it, it’s a film about a man who’s going through a deep depression in his life and he happens to have a chance encounter with a little girl who reminds him of the beauty and simplicity of life… We found a little girl, a nine-year-old girl who is absolutely fantastic in it.

Finally, a few quick-fire questions - favourite fruit?


Would you prefer a cooked breakfast or a healthy one?

I would prefer a cooked breakfast but I would probably go for the healthy one.

Your favourite book to recommend?

Carter Beats The Devil by Glen David Gold.

Favourite comedian?

Billy Connolly.

Somehow, I knew you were going to say that…

He’s the first one that came to mind.

What’s guaranteed to make you cry?

The theme tune to Cinema Paradiso. Every time.

What’s your favourite kind of music?

Musical theatre. Or Das Punkt!

And, finally, as I know you’re into your animals and charity work - what’s your favourite animal?

Ooh.. er. My favourite animal? Erm… Let’s go for orang utan.

I like it. That is lovely. Well, I wish you all the luck with the movie and everything else you do in the future. Thanks for chatting.

My pleasure. Bye!

The film Churchill is on general release from June 16th. It is certificate PG and stars Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson.

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