Exclusive: Max Deacon on indie sci-fi The Call Up


With indie sci-fi The Call Up out now in cinemas across the UK, to mark the film’s release on both the big screen and on DVD, we caught up with the leading star Max Deacon (via email) to discuss what attracted him to getting involved in this ambitious project.

He also talks about working with first-time filmmaker Charles Barker, who he plays in the forthcoming production Tommy’s Honour, and why recently starting a new game on Football Manager was a bad idea…

First and foremost, what attracted you to getting involved in this project?

I thought Charles’ concept for ‘The Call Up’ was a genuinely fun and interesting take on this developing technology that I knew very little about beyond a brief experience on Oculus Rift. I think there’s something inherently disconcerting about these games mimicking your movements in real life, how visceral that experience is.

The script came highly recommended as well after it won the Britlist for the UK’s best unproduced screenplay. Charles had already shot a really impressive teaser for the movie that was very easy to get excited about, that sold it for me as a project.

Are you an avid gamer yourself?

I am actually, I sort of game heavily over short periods of time and then stop for eight months. I’ve always played a lot of FIFA or Mario Kart with my little brother, which consistently brings out the worst in me.  He bought me the most recent Football Manager on my last birthday which I’d been clean from for about 10 years. I was right back in, achieved very little with my Watford team over seven seasons before deciding it was taking too much from me. 

It must be great watching this film back because so much is done in the edit, the way reality merges with the virtuality – it must make it a great experience to see how it’s all put together?

It really was, I think our editor Tommy Boulding and Charles really did an amazing job of juggling those two kind of parallel existences that go on through the film, and just keeping the story moving. Once the parameters of the ‘game’ are set the film really doesn’t let up for its running time. I only saw the finished movie for the first time at its premiere at the London Sci-Fi film festival and I was really impressed.

For the actors on set this was one of the things we had to stress over most – which version of the world we were in and how that affects the action, anytime you wanted to interact with something in ‘Game world’ you had to question whether or not it existed in the ‘real world. We had to be very careful not to knock into anything. 

Charles Barker is a first time filmmaker – does the enthusiasm that derives from a debut director rub off on the cast and crew?

I think it does. Particularly when he is undertaking something as ambitious as this film, which is essentially a high concept Horror/Sci-fi for such a relatively low budget. It means that everyone has to think outside the box in terms of how to achieve what Charles was looking for with the limitations we had in terms of time and resources… it’s difficult but it creates a kind of energy around set that pulls a crew along and brings them closer together I think.

You can barely tell this is a low-budget indie, it feels bigger than that – but when shooting did it feel like it was all made on modest resources?

It did as it goes. We filmed in Birmingham just before Christmas, it was a 6 week shoot working 6 day weeks in very few locations. Charles, along with Matt Wilkinson and John Giwa-Amu, has really done an amazing job of putting what resources were available on the screen. I was so impressed with the scale of the film when I saw it.

The-Call-UpIt must be encouraging to know that filmmakers are being this ambitious and making genre movies of this nature, in spite of any limitations?

I think it’s a really exciting time in British film because of that, the technology seems to be more accessible and that’s letting directors like Charles make these pretty high concept genre movies for much less. 

Was this a nice return to more of a collaborative, understated environment which suits actors more so than the big blockbuster sets?

I think both are nice. It’s great to work on something smaller and more intimate because it’s easier to get that feeling of togetherness and striving towards the same goal of making the best possible version of the show you’re doing. At the same time having the chance to make a film like ‘Into the Storm’ and do as much as we could practically and that allowed for that much scale,was an equally engaging and enjoyable experience.

I’m actually in Paris right now finishing a show for Amazon and BBC worldwide called ‘The Collection’ which is a very character driven eight-part period piece set in the fashion world after WW2, which again has been an entirely new process for me, to have the chance to develop a character over a six month shoot. That’s another one I’m really excited for people to see. 

Your character has a minimal back story – do you create one for him, or just focus on what’s in the screenplay?

You do end up trying to flesh your character out before you get to shooting, we were lucky on this to have a period of rehearsal before where we could kind of all see where these people as we’d devised them fit together in the story, which is really where the alpha/beta idea began to take shape. The gamers who were run and gunners and the slightly more cerebral, weary crew that my character Carl becomes the default leader of. I think the lack of back-story is very deliberate on Charles’ part in helping to maintain the mystery about what ‘The Call Up’ is and why this group of very different people have found themselves there.

The notion of playing out video games in real life is a fantasy many people have – did it feel quite cool, when in all the gear, as though you were living out this fantasy yourself?

The design of the suits was very cool, I think they were very keen on making something that could be kind of iconic in that regard. Wearing Lycra and a helmet all day however wasn’t as cool. It was exciting to try them on but after a few hours you felt it.

Finally, You’ve got Tommy’s Honour coming up soon – how do you fit into that tale?

Yeah Tommy’s Honour is opening the Edinburgh Film festival- which is amazing for everyone involved with it. I play Davie Strath, who was Scottish golf’s first great nearly-man and is best friends with Jack Lowden’s Tommy Morris Jnr, he’s kind of a hard drinking chancer so it was a lot of fun to do.  It’s a love story set in the 1860’s and directed by Jason Connery, which we filmed last year. I got to work with some amazing actors and discover Scotland, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that one.

The Call Up is out now in cinemas across the UK, and available to purchase on DVD.