With the release of Burning Men available on digital now via iTunes, Sky Store, BT Store, and Amazon, Ready Steady Cut were lucky enough to catch up with film’s star to chat about the film’s production, his acting process, and favorite indie musicians.
RSC: How’s it going? It’s probably been busy few weeks for you guys? With the film being released and now being available online this week, how’s that been for you?
Ed: Yeah, very busy, but I’ve been quite removed from the whole thing. I’ve been in this theatrical production and I’ve just got back to London as of three days ago. So, I’ve been pretty wrapped up in that. All things Burning Men had been on the side, but they are now firmly at the front.
RSC: So, you’ve been spared the gamut of press stuff and been able to go and work on stage while all the rest of the cast have been having to sit through excruciating interviews with people like me?
Ed: Haha yeah, dodged a bullet, or so I thought! (laughs) I’m making up for lost time!
RSC: I had a quick chat with Jeremy a few weeks ago, he told me a lot about the kind of movie references that were laced throughout the script and the production of Burning Men. And I was wondering for you as an actor, did you have any specific film references that you wanted to squeeze in there too? Sorry, I’ve opened with a soft one, haven’t I?
Ed: Haha yeah, ease me in! It’s Jeremy’s vision really, he was teaching me a lot about these films, he had a vision of Two Lane Blacktop, quite art house. But personally, I mean, we bonded about, music and stuff, we were talking about Nick Drake, and things like that. And that was kind of how we got on the same page.
RSC: I was gonna ask you about that. Obviously, you’re playing a musician in the movie. So, who are your musical heroes? Are you really into rockabilly and Blues like your character Ray…?
Ed: Erm, no (laughs) so you’ve seen the film I take it?
RSC: I saw the film a little while ago, and I reviewed it for the site. I’ve been pretty steeped in Burning Men over the last few weeks. So yeah, what would you say would be your big musical reference points? What gets you excited?
Ed: I find that question very difficult because there’s a broad spectrum of music. Yeah, I’m like, “I love that now” when you listen to Spotify or something, but it gives you what you want. So, you get the algorithms and you’re getting that. At the moment, I’m listening to all this reflective indie. I go from that and then someone plays me a trance track and I’m like, “how did I miss this?” So, you know, you suddenly like trying some alternative music, then you listen to some Erik Satie. And you’re like “******* hell, this is something else, this is giving me a completely different experience”. But I mean, that’s the thing. I find like I chop and change a lot. There are through lines of like music I love. Yeah, it’s difficult to pinpoint.
RSC: Cool, one of my observations when I watched the movie was the point of view camera style and how the film is shot, which is something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in movies before. I’d obviously seen Peep Show and was very familiar with that. I was wondering what the experience is like as an actor, because that must be unusual for you, how did you approach that?
Ed: I’ve never had any experience of doing stuff down the lens apart from idents and commercial casting. So that was, that was very strange for the first few days of filming. It was straight in the deep end, you know, like Aki had never driven before and we’re in this car and being filmed in this car. With the POV stuff, I mean, we had these weird head cams on and that was all scrapped later. It didn’t seem to work and didn’t match up with the main camera. And so we had to get rid of that and lose that. But it’s just a weird thing of, you know, go into set, Bam! movie and then ******* be looking down the lens and not having that connection with the other actor. And that was difficult. But we were able to navigate that by standing behind the camera and just looking through the camera to the other person using their voice primarily.
So, in a way it’s more like radio, the thing with doing radio things is you’re not really going off their physicality and I find that that is essential. It’s very helpful for an actor to tick off what they’re giving you. Yeah, and you lose that a little bit but you’re able to navigate that and hopefully, it makes it more personal with the audience; and then I got better at it, we all did, you will get better at it. But it was something that was difficult at first. A few teething problems.
I’ve got some contemporary music now by the way…
Ed: Sam Fender’s good, I like what he’s doing, erm – who else…? Pheobe Bridgers is good. That vibe, contemporary like, at the moment, you know, that’s bringing back that kind of 1960s stuff it seems like more authentic than the kind of more prosaic stuff.
RSC: Have you heard the Pheobe Bridgers album with Conor Oberst?
Ed: Yes, I didn’t like it as much as the first one though. Scott Street is just brilliant, isn’t it?
RSC: And there’s a new Jenny Lewis album that came out last week in a similar vein, which is awesome. I’d recommend that as well. Yeah, she was in Rilo Kiley in the early noughties. And yeah, I’m still kind of, can’t quite shake her off. She follows me around.
Ed: I like those ones that you can’t quite get rid of, that sort stay with you. Who else is good… Kurt Vile! ******* hell, he’s good ain’t he?
RSC: (laughs) Yeah! that’s a pretty nice way of summing it up. Yeah, he’s, he’s pretty good. Have you ever heard his album with Courtney Barnett?
Ed: Yeah and a shoutout to Kevin Morby, Father John Misty and Hozier, they’re all current faves.
RSC: Well, at least we’re on all on the same page with a certain type of indie sensibility then! Bringing it back to the POV camera, it seems like there’s absolutely nowhere to hide, you know, as an actor with that POV style. That must feel quite vulnerable, or am I just making that up?
Ed: No, you’re right it’s a lens in your face. That’s not really… Yeah, you’ve got a… it’s weird, I guess you get used to it. It’s like the whole thing with like, the selfie thing, people were quite like, okay with that. Now, I haven’t done any like YouTube videos or anything like that. But like, it’s kind of being able to expose yourself to and view the lens is a friend that was a big part of it, seeing it not as this kind of threatening invasive thing in the way that maybe Native Americans might see it, soul stealing. It’s just like, Okay, this is the medium, which I’m trying to get across this message. And it’s a friendly thing. And switching, giving the AI of the camera a friendly face, you know, like the apple interface, being all friendly. I kind of saw this person on that and I projected that on to it, that was actually really helpful, if that makes sense? That was it, just a switch of perspective on it. And yeah, and it took a while to get the hang of. But yeah, that was the way we kind of navigated it. Well, I did, anyway. There is some mental gymnastics that you have to use to make it a normal thing.
RSC: My guess is, and I’m obviously not an actor but my guess is that, when you’re acting on the stage, or even just in front of the camera, you’re acting with another person. And I guess you just kind of forget about the audience, you’re just kind of in the scene. Whereas I imagine if you’ve got a camera kind of shoved in your face, that’s harder to do?
Ed: Well it’s more invasive certainly, it’s more direct but there is the element of like, a good actor is always aware, you know, it’s a skill isn’t it? So you’re making it seem it like you are so aufait, with the audience or with the camera that you have an awareness, but it’s not. It’s not affecting what you’re doing. So, you are actually playing the truth, the truth of the moment if I can speak in actorly terms. But you’re doing it to that person. But bearing in mind, there are other people, but you’re not playing to that if you know what I mean? But with the camera being directly there, you just see it as something else. And that was the primary challenge.
But like, you know, you’ll never be completely unaware of the audience, I mean, you’ve done it so many times that you can forget about them. And you can concentrate on the acting. There was a time on stage the other day, and I was in the moment, it’s going quite well and I was like “this is going really well. I’m holding my beer slightly differently, I’m kind of, this is it I’m actually acting on the Bristol Old Vic stage…”, and suddenly I was like “****, oh **** and paddy’s looking at me for my line…” and it was only three seconds but that lasted a long time. It was that moment of being like, “I’m aware, I’m overly aware of what I’m doing. I’m seeing it from a third person in a way,” though I’m doing like, I’ve taken myself out of it. And when you’re in the moment, you just, I’m just playing, you know? The audience is there but you can forget about them, or you can put them to the side, it’s like when you get so good at driving you don’t realize you’re driving you know? Does that make sense?
RSC: Conscious unconsciousness, I think, isn’t it? That’s the term that they use. That’s an amazing kind of power, particularly if you’re on stage, I guess, just being able to fall into the zone, that kind of space and hold it and not just get caught going, “I am nailing this acting!”
Ed: And the second you do, that hubris when you’re like “oh, I’m doing acting now” it’s gone, the rug is swept underneath you and you are humbled instantly.
And that’s the same thing when I’m playing pool or when I’m playing. It’s like that zone that athletes talk about when they’re just focused? Yeah, you know, and it’s got this kind of mystical thing, isn’t it? But you know, when you’ve got it, and then when you’re aware that you’ve got it, it’s gone almost instantly. That ability to tune into that is probably what separates us? What makes you master it, and obviously, that’s a training thing as well, you get far better the more we do. You know.
RSC: That’s cool, that’s really interesting. I guess as you move from medium to medium, whether or not that be stage acting or film acting or TV, I guess there are the subtle differences that kind of challenge you as an actor to adapt yourself, is that right?
Ed: Oh yeah. Like if you try and bring down a performance on stage it does not translate. Like I was trying to do my, my mumbling reflective activity and it just like wasn’t translating on stage, like you couldn’t articulate, you gotta punch that in. But having been fortunate enough to have the film and the theatre now like it’s, you can, you can take elements of both. You can build it up if you’ve got a wide angle, you can build up to that. But you know, by being on voice and having a projection and stuff like that, but you don’t need to do that for film at all really, it’s all much more, you can convey it in a look. But you can’t see that on stage, well maybe some people in the first row can but you’re doing the performance for everyone, you know? And it’s a bit unfair to channel performance to only make it available to the first two rows and so you have to adapt your performance accordingly.
And that was quite difficult to do. But yeah, you know, it’s a really interesting experience having played lots of different spaces, you know, we had the Inverness one it was 900 seats and that was a huge auditorium and like hearing your voice back within that space and then adjusting your performance accordingly you get better at that you’re able to tune in. Then you have Perth and it was just a much more intimate vibe, it was like 10 meters almost from us to the back and then it goes higher up so the acoustics travel a lot better, so you can bring it down. Just being able to play the different spaces was fascinating and that will obviously translate to film, you know, because it’s awareness and awareness of how you’re sounding and obviously with the cameras you can just even minimize it even more but it’s all different levels, levels of communication I think.
RSC: It’s really interesting to hear you explain that process from your point of view and transitioning between different mediums. When you guys were shooting Burning Men I talked a bit to Jeremy about how you guys were like almost like a traveling troupe, like this quite small cast, quite a small production and I imagine on quite a low budget production like this you guys get pretty tight. Is that a fair summary of your experience with the film, or did you just hate everyone?
Ed: Haha. Absolutely yeah, it’s intense and you’re playing intense scenes and stuff, but you become a family and even after a month like we had this come down of finishing the job, I was seeing everyone’s faces like two days after and it was really strange to finish it.
You do become very, very close. I remember the sound guy was my favorite guy on set, he was just so funny I wrote him a poem, I think I’ve still got it somewhere. But you know, he’s just a hilarious character like yeah, I’ve never met anyone quite like him. Yeah, you just need characters. And everyone is so interesting. I was just like, wow! Yeah, it’s great film making, everyone’s absolutely bonkers.
RSC: This is a unique film as well. I mean, I’ve watched I don’t care to remember how many films over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like Burning Men before. So how did you come to be involved in the project to begin with?
Ed: So that was an audition process. I think Jeremy invited me for a drink at Quo Vadis in Soho and had a chat about it. He was considering some other people for the role but, yeah, I got in there. But uh, yeah, I think he was quite keen from the get-go, and then we just talked about music and obviously, he’s from Crouch End and I’m from Muswell Hill so there was that connection there. And then I went and auditioned, did two tapes for him and originally, I was meant to be going for Don, the Londoner. We changed it to make Ray northern and so I got the whole accent, at least I attempted it anyway…
RSC: I was surprised when I heard your voice actually! I thought, Oh, he doesn’t sound Northern.
Ed: That’s good! I looked at all the reviews and I was like no one picked up my accent, yes!
RSC: There’s obviously quite a lot going on in the film, isn’t there? It’s deliberately trying to wrong-foot you as an audience quite often in terms of tone. Is it that this record is supernatural? Is it that these guys have just taken too many drugs? Is it that the guy was having a mental health breakdown?
Ed: Well that’s open to interpretation, I mean, like, no, I don’t want to say…
RSC: If you’re playing that, do you just pick one? And that’s what you’re doing? And you just leave it to the audience to decide?
Ed: I think there are different takes, and I would play different ways. And Jeremy, in the edit, would choose one that he would see fitting. He has got far more creative license over the whole thing because there were different options. I would give them different options. And he would pick ones I was playing a certain way. I’d have an overarching idea of what the disc was. I didn’t believe in the supernatural. So, it’s subjective. It’s, it’s an imagined thing. I don’t know if that’s what Jeremy had in mind, as it goes on there are elements of it and they seep in.
RSC: I think that’s one of the pleasures of the movie, to be honest, is that it is quite ambiguous. And it’s never really made clear to you. And as an audience, you can just interpret it how you want. And I mean, I knew nothing about the film before I watched it. it’s nice to be surprised, actually, in that respect, because a lot of films today just kind of beat you over the head with the central point.
Ed: If you do offer explanation, it does tend to, to get someone going ‘oh there’s an explanation’ therefore you’re not gonna watch it again and it’s not gonna linger on, whereas, it’s nice to watch something where you’re like, there is not a definitive point to this, and you’ve got like, Mulholland Drive or something and the unfinished film, there is an element of that. And it’s nice to not have that closure in a way, there’s ambiguity, and it’s all subjective and that’s what’s good.
Andy joined the Ready Steady Cut team in October 2018. A Graduate of Exeter University, he writes mainly about films and TV.