This actor has been a British crime-flick mainstay for over 20 years, and even if it’s not his only thespian skill (playing Churchill in Peaky Blinders, anyone?), with the newly-streaming Bull, Neil Maskell is back doing what he does best. Except, as Carl Marsh observed, with even more violence.
You’ve been Churchill in Peaky Blinders, Arby in Utopia, Jay in Kill List and Douglas Evans in Baghdad Central – and Bull, your character in the film of the same name, might be the darkest performance I’ve seen you portray. Did a first reading of the script give you an idea of the extremity in store?
Paul [Paul Andrew Williams, Bull’s writer/director] had said, before he’d sent it to me, that he’d been inspired by High Plains Drifter, which was a film I knew. And I knew [Williams’ 2006 movie] London To Brighton – it had a similar feel, in the sense that it’s a chase movie genre film which he’s then subverted, making it rooted in naturalism and realism. Bull was going to do the same thing with the revenge film. So I had some idea of what it was, even reading it the first time. I just felt incredibly lucky that he thought of me for the part.
We can’t reveal too much about the storyline without giving the ending away, but Bull is very gory…
I don’t know if you could have gone any further with some of it – it’s so fucking brutal, isn’t it? It’s horrible. [Laughs] I definitely wasn’t morally conflicted about it. I was just like, “oh, this is great”. We’d found the humour in it more than anything. We’d laugh about how far Bull was going, especially when he was cauterising wounds on kitchen hobs and stuff! I mean, fucking hell!
We only had three weeks to shoot it, and most of the scenes are in relatively small locations or with quite small groups of people, two or three actors. So the atmosphere was similarly intense to the action inside the scene, which was really helpful – there wasn’t a green screen or anything like that. It all felt quite natural and made the acting a lot simpler, and it’s a lot easier to be immersed in it when it’s like that.
No spoilers for Buzz’s readers, but in the back of my mind I was begging for the film to answer all of the questions about the plot – and eventually it did. The ending of Bull blew me away in a manner comparable to Shane Meadows’ debut, Dead Man’s Shoes.
Oh, good. I’m glad. I know Paul’s a very talented director, and you always hope that he’s going to pull that off. And if it works, that’s great. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast he brought together – when you think it was Lois’ first film [Lois Brabin-Platt, who plays Maskell’s wife], she’s fucking amazing in it.
That scene where she comes down the stairs with Kevin Harvey [Gary in Bull] and goes into the kitchen, and I’m sitting underneath the stairs… one of the hardest things to do is play surprise or shock in a moment like that and sell it convincingly. When we shot that, we did a load of takes – something to do with the lighting or something – we ended up doing it 15, 16 times, and she nailed it every time. Metronomically. You can’t teach that. That’s just being a really, really good actor.
And the stuff at the end, with the guns and blood and all that, she’s a match for everyone in it. She’s brilliant. First feature! It’s incredible.
words CARL MARSH
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