I, Daniel Blake's Dave Johns brings his new one man show to Belfast
Comedian Dave Johns' award-winning lead turn in Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake made him a star, taking the veteran stand-up from comedy clubs to the red carpet at Cannes and the Baftas. Now, the Geordie is sharing this often hilariously surreal experience in a new one-man show, I, Filum Star. He spoke to David Roy about bringing the Edinburgh Fringe hit to the Out To Lunch Festival
HI DAVE, we're looking forward to I, Filum Star at The Black Box in Belfast later this month. Have you played here before on your comedy travels?
Yeah, I used to do The Empire years ago when Paddy Kielty compered it.
I Daniel Blake was your first major acting role. Did you have any inkling that the film would be so successful while you were making it?
No, I don't think any of us thought that it would have the impact that it had, not only winning the awards but also politically and socially. I wasn't really prepared for it. When it went to Cannes, I thought 'oh great', but I never expected it to win the Palm d'Or. The 18 months after that were crazy, being on the red carpet with Meryl Streep and all these A-listers.
But I was always very aware of the irony of being surrounded by all that glamour and affluence, given what the film is actually about. So I, Filum Star is about that year and a half of madness, as well as talking about the actual film and its content. So I've tried to balance the two, y'know?
How has the show been received so far?
I had a great run in Edinburgh where it was really well received. And Ken (Loach) actually came to see it in London when I did two weeks at the Soho Theatre. Afterwards, he said it was really nice to see the whole journey through my eyes.
What were some of the more surreal episodes that occurred during your sudden brush with fame?
I remember being on the red carpet in Cannes with Meryl Streep, Emma Stone, Casey Affleck, Isabelle Huppert and Mel Brooks. It's just me and all these celebrities and I'm thinking "I'm Dave Johns from Byker".
They were all coming over to me saying "your film is amazing". Nicole Kidman told me she took her mother to see it in Australia and that they were both in tears.
I remember standing at a party after the Palm d'Or with Hayley (Squires, I, Daniel Blake co-star) when we spotted Donald Sutherland walking towards us.
He came over and he smiled and he says: "DAVE!" I was like, 'What?!' It was just that sudden realisation that someone like him had seen the film and knew who I was.
Also in Cannes, I was introduced to Steven Spielberg and we had a really surreal conversation about giants.
What's it been like to discover this new-found acting ability in your 60s?
I think that Ken found something in me that I wasn't aware was there. I'd been a stand-up comic for 28 years and done a little bit of TV in the 1990s and some acting in plays up in Edinburgh with other comedians (including 12 Angry Men with Cookstown comic Owen O'Neill, with whom Dave later adapted Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption for the stage).
So I'd dipped my toes in – but making a film with Ken Loach is a different kettle of fish. It's catapulted me into this new career, basically.
How does the film world compare to stand-up?
It's much different to stand-up, where you work on your own all the time and it's very immediate. If you go out on a stage in stand-up, you know within a couple of minutes if you're gonna be dying on your arse.
With film, you can have a hunch that you're doing something that you hope is going to be good, but you never ever know until it comes out – and that might be 18 months later.
The other thing about films is that you have to learn on the job. Everybody expects that you already know everything, but you really just have to sort of watch and learn as you go.
But it's been great. Everybody has been very supportive.
What will we see you in next at the cinema?
My next film, Walk Like A Panther is coming out in March. It's about a group of retired wrestlers from the 80s who come out of retirement to save their local pub.
I play a guy called Trevor 'Bulldog' Johns and Stephen Graham (This Is England, Boardwalk Empire) is also in it – we play father and son. It's based on all the wrestlers from World of Sport and it's very much in the line of The Full Monty.
After that, I've got a part in Trautmann, the new film about the famous ex-Luftwaffe German goalie Bert Trautmann who played for Manchester City. I play the St Helen's football team manager, who was Bert's first manager after he came out of the prisoner of war camp.
Has working with a great like Ken Loach on your very first film not spoiled you for the rest of your acting career?
Well, all the actors I'm working with now always say to me 'Oh I'd love to work with Ken Loach'. He's very different from most directors: he shoots chronologically and only gives you a couple of pages of script a day because he wants you to always be in the moment.
He doesn't have a big crew for the same reason: on Walk Like A Panther, there was 40 crew there when you were doing a scene, two cameras to catch all the wrestling action and loads of extras.
With Ken, it's just him directing and the camera is locked off in a corner somewhere. He would never have the camera right in your face, because he very much wants you to find the real emotion of the scene. It's more of a 'gut' thing with him.
You feel a lot freer like that and it looks more 'real'. So Ken's process isn't as intrusive as when you're making a big commercial film – but that's the skill I've got to learn now, how to bring my performance to the foreground while there's 35 people in the room and all the cameras and lights and everything else.
Everybody loved Daniel Blake. I won Empire Magazine's Best Newcomer Award at the age of 62 – but when I got home that day the NHS had sent me an over-60s bowel testing kit. That puts it all into perspective, really.
Is there something to be said for finding fame later in life?
Yeah, I think you're more grounded. I can see how if you're 22 and everybody is telling you that you're brilliant, that it can get into your head and you think 'Yeah, I am brilliant'.
But when you're my age and you've been told that you're definitely not that all the time, you can take all the awards and that with a pinch of salt. The most important thing is that you do good work, so it will be interesting to see what people make of my next couple of films.
:: Dave Johns – I, Filum Star, Sunday January 21, The Black Box, Belfast. Tickets £10 via Blackboxbelfast.com