Harrigan – which is director Vince Woods debut feature film, is set in a bleak, 1970s North East, where a close-to-retirement cop Barry Harrigan returns to his hometown with a score to settle. Tompkinson, who has made a name for himself in films such as Brassed Off and TV shows such as In Deep, speaks of his own experience in Britain from the time this film is set, and what attracted him to the role – while he reflects on what has been a triumphant, and certainly expansive career.
So what first attracted you to the role of Harrigan?
Vincent Woods, the film’s director, came to see me the year before we started shooting. I was doing live theatre in Newcastle in a play by my friend Shaun Prendergast, who also has a role in Harrigan. The play was called ‘Faith and Cold Reading’ and I played a nasty gangster called Freddy the Suit. Vincent came along and saw me do that and sent me the script of Harrigan and told me a bit about Arthur McKenzie’s background and I think, because it was party based on the true exploits of a real policeman, it gave the script an extra frisson and I was very happy and eager to attach my name to it. I knew that Tall Trees, the producers of the film, were a first time film company and that Vincent was a first time director, so I was amazed and delighted that they got the money together so quickly and within a year we were shooting.
You mentioned that it’s director Vince Woods’ directorial debut – how bright a future do you see for him in British cinema?
There’s currently such a thriving film industry in the North East. For the crew that did Harrigan, it was their first film but they were going on to do another film straight away. The enthusiasm that Tall Trees displayed in getting it made and distributed, of which Vincent is a founding member, leads me to believe that he and they have a very bright future indeed.
You have dipped your toes in directing yourself – can you see yourself doing more of that one day?
Yes. I did a short film for BBC 1 called ‘The Lightening Kid’, again written by my friend Shaun Prendergast so, if it was to be on a script like that, I’d very much like to. However, the hours are much more complicated than being an actor. I really don’t know how George Clooney or Clint Eastwood ever sleep!
Harrigan pays homage to the classic British cop dramas of old – were there any particular, maverick cops who influenced the way you approached the role?
Well, I’ve always been a big fan of the genre. I remember Edward Woodward as Callan and Alfred Burke in Private Eye and of course John Thaw in The Sweeney, so I suppose they had a subliminal effect as it was set in the seventies.
You’re from the North East of England yourself, and lived throughout the 70s, were you able to draw on your own experiences at all for this part?
Yes. I remember the power cuts vividly and it being quite a scary time when you had to be indoors as all the electricity went off and you relied on candles and we never ventured outside. You were cooped up in your own house. Being from the North East, which is very dear to my heart, is another reason why I was happy to take the part.
The 70s setting plays a huge part in this – and it’s been depicted really well. Is it quite good fun doing period pieces, and going back to a particular time and place in history?
Definitely, especially as that’s when the expertise of set designers, costume and make-up all come into their own as they’re keen to portray the most accurate picture as possible. This gives the best grounding for you to come in to do your work so everything is more heightened and concentrated. It allows you suspend your disbelief so that you truly feel you’re in that period.
Barry Harrigan is a mix between being hard-nosed and imposing, as well being vulnerable – as a man nearing his retirement. Was it a challenge to find that balance?
Yes, it was. I spoke in great detail with Arthur and Vince just to give the character as much integrity as possible. I think it would have been easier for Harrigan’s character to have an affair with Vicky but we thought it would give the character more integrity than going to bed with her if he just watched over her while she sleeps. We thought those images would last longer in the audience’s mind than one that was more predictable.
This is one of your biggest roles to date – it must be so encouraging to you that parts such as this are still coming your way?
I’ve always been most delighted with the variety of roles and mediums that my career has taken me. This year alone, for example, I was doing my West End musical debut in ‘Spamalot’, went on to do a new Billy Ivory written series for the BBC called Truckers which will be debuting in October on BBC1, get to go to the cinema premiere of Harrigan in Durham and am currently filming a new series of DCI Banks until November. So the more variety the better.
Cinema roles are something of a rarity for you – are films something you’d like to do more of?
Well I think most actors fall in love with the glamour of the cinema, so yes I have always thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The great joy is seeing it put together on a cinema screen and it’s certainly something I’d like to do more of.
Harrigan is released on September 20, and you can read our review here.