The Angels’ Share is the new film from Ken Loach, and this time British cinema’s angry conscience is in playful mood, delivering his most lighthearted film in years.
The Glasgow-set comedy stars newcomer Paul Brannigan as Robbie, a young father who’s trying to give up a life of violence and crime. But to do that first he needs a nest egg to help him escape the tinderbox environment he’s found himself trapped within, so he ropes in a trio of fellow community payback reprobates to help him in an audacious heist of a rare barrel of whisky that’s up for auction at a Highland distillery.
Before taking the part, Brannigan’s life wasn’t too dissimilar from the film’s protagonist’s. Both are trying to move on from a violent past, after fatherhood has put their futures in perspective. It’s the kind of Bressonian casting that Loach has employed throughout his career, giving his films a veracity and freshness that they might not have achieved using R.A.D.A. graduates. Brannigan threw himself into the role, although, as he explains below, he took some persuading to audition in the first place. Before he made his way to the premiere at Cannes, Brannigan spoke to i-D online.
How did you get involved with the film? I had been working on a community based project called C.I.R.V. (community initiative to reduce violence) for about a year, and I think what happened was the writer, Paul Laverty, had spoken to someone in the organisation about the work we were doing, so Paul came and spoke to me and he asked me about my life. My background is kind of similar to the story in a lot of ways so he decided to come back with Ken and they did another short interview, and then they asked me to audition.
But I believe you didn’t turn up for that first audition? At the time I was in a dark place. I had lost my job and I didn’t really feel confident about going, I didn’t feel confident putting my trust in someone again. Paul Laverty kept trying, for about two months, to get hold of me and eventually he found me through my cousin. I was skint, I didn’t have a penny, I was basically on my arse, you know, trying to find another job, and I thought to myself, go to this audition and that’ll pay back the couple of hundred quid I borrowed at Christmas. I’d have been happy with that, that’s what I had in the back of my head. I probably did about ten to fifteen auditions after that and then the guys took me into the office one day and told me I had the lead role. What a feeling – it was absolutely amazing.
Was it daunting to play a character so close to yourself? Did you ever feel exposed? It was in the back of my head, worrying about the stuff that might come out about me being in prison and stuff like that, but I’ve never tried to hide any of that. I always use it when I’m working with the kids on the projects – that’s one of the things that we always use, the fact that we’ve been there and this is how far we’ve come along. At the same time, if it could help some other boy in Glasgow to say, ‘you know what, I’m going to get my shit together and I’m going to try to do something with my life,’ then I would be happy to expose my life to be honest.
I believe Loach had you learn the art of whisky tasting, just as your character does… Yeah, I was learning as I went along, given wee books and stuff, and I was picking up wee tips as I was tasting it. I remember being a boy and if me and my mates ever drank whisky we would put juice in it, we wouldn’t drink it straight. Thinking about it I shouldn’t have been drinking it full stop, but I was a boy from Glasgow.
I see you’re set to appear in Jonathan Glazer’s new film, Under the Skin. Have you caught the acting bug? Yeah, I’m all systems go. When I went down to meet Jonathan it was very much like meeting Ken – very relaxed, no script. He had me chatting up the casting director for my audition and I ended up chatting up Scarlett Johansson in a nightclub for the film, which was a really good experience – my girlfriend wasn’t too happy about it though.
It must have been quite a different experience working with Glazer. How did you find the transition? I had to hit my marks bang on the money; working with someone like Scarlett, she’s there to do a job but clearly she doesn’t want to be doing the same thing over and over again with someone who has less experience, so I was under a wee bit of pressure. I was worried about the fact that she’s a massive star but she was really down to earth. A lot of it was very technical, there was some under water stuff and I was naked for a week in the Elm Street studios with my tallywacker out. So it was completely different from Ken’s stuff but I would say both sets were equally challenging. I think I found my feet.
The Angels’ Share is out now in UK cinemas.
Text: Jamie Dunn