23 Walks star Dave Johns: I never thought I'd be doing a bedroom scene at 64

Dave Johns stars opposite Alison Steadman in 23 Walks, about a couple who fall in love over the course of 23 dog walks. He talks to Laura Harding

Alison Steadman and Dave Johns in the comedy-drama 23 Walks, written and directed by Paul Morrison

DAVE Johns had never done a sex scene before he reached the age of 64. And when the time finally came, it was a little more revealing than he might have liked.

The actor stars opposite Alison Steadman in the Paul Morrison romantic drama 23 Walks, about a pair of dog walkers who meet and fall in love.

“I never thought I would be saying I had a bedroom scene at the age of 64,” Johns marvels as he chats over Zoom from his home in the north of England. “But Alison has done loads of them through her career so that was OK. It was a bit weird though so I'm glad they kept it until the end of the shoot and the sex was more Last Of The Summer Wine than Game Of Thrones. It was very tastefully done.

“They had a closed set and on the day they give you these modesty pouch things and I had my bathrobe on and we were talking before we set up the shot and I was saying ‘This is really uncomfortable, I can't do the scene with this on.'

“The costume lady said ‘Well, it's industry standard.' I opened my gown and she said ‘You've got it on back to front!'

“I had the thong round the front. So after about 25 mins of everybody laughing we had to calm down, and that was my big love scene. It broke the ice all right. It wasn't a pretty sight.”

Johns is best known for his award-winning turn in Ken Loach's gritty drama I, Daniel Blake, as well as roles in Fisherman's Friends, Walk Like A Panther and The Keeper, so 23 Walks gave him a chance to explore a more gentle and romantic character.

“What is good about that love scene is it's real,” he says. “It's about the shyness of these two people who probably haven't had sex for a long time and that is the nice thing, it's gentle and real and that is what I like about it.

“I will not be able to walk past sheltered housing units now,” he adds, with a cheeky grin. “I will be getting mobbed by all the grannies.”

Joking aside, Johns saw something different in his role as Dave, who falls for Steadman's prickly divorcee Fern.

“They don't make stories for 60-odd year old people,” he says. “It's always young passion and all that sort of thing but here you've got all that history.

“Older people tend not to have crazy, mad, tempestuous relationships, you just go along with it and I think that is the nice thing about it, these two people meet and at first Fern is a bit spiky and you wonder why Dave still persists with the walks, but I think it was a really nice way of introducing the couple, because you see people out walking dogs on their own all the time.

“Sometimes I forget that I'm 64. People talk about pensioners and late in life stories and I wonder who they are talking about and then I realise ‘Oh that's me.' I think they are talking about another person; you always feel the same as you did when you were 25 in your head.

“But it's very easy to disappear when you get in your 60s and you get older, people don't see you the same as they see you when you're 20.

“I would imagine it's quite difficult to meet somebody because you either meet somebody at uni or at work, it's only the young kids that meet people in clubs. The thought of me going in to a nightclub now to try and meet somebody is horrific.

“You do disappear and it's very difficult if you've gone through some life and things have happened to you. Fern is hurt and all that, and it's very difficult to open up so I think a story like this says that you can find happiness and love hopefully no matter how old you are.”

While it look Dave and Fern a while to find their feet in their relationship, Johns and Steadman hit it off immediately.

“I come from an improv background because I work in the Comedy Store Players and Alison obviously with [her former husband, the writer and film director] Mike Leigh created all Nuts In May from improv so when we had spare moments we did these little characters for each other.

“She would be Felicity and I would be Robert and we would just have these little games together, and we got on really well, she is such an easy person to work with.

“We filmed in three blocks so we had two weeks in the summer, two weeks in the spring and two weeks in the autumn so it gives it that nice space of time.

The pair made much of the film in north London around the golf courses and King George's Fields in Barnet, and spent much of the time wrangling with the dogs Sheila, who played Dave's dog Tilly, and Dennis, who played Fern's Yorkshire terrier Henry.

“They are supposed to be dogs that are used to acting, but dogs have their own mind and the funny thing is I've never had a dog, I'm not a dog person. I will pat a dog if I see one but I'm not all cuddly, cuddly dogs and my partner said ‘If you can make it look like you love that dog, you will get an Oscar.'

“But there are some funny out-takes when we are talking and the dog just decides to wander off and I'm just pulled out of shot.”

Johns looks back on that time fondly, now the global pandemic has thrown the film industry into chaos.

“I was supposed to start filming Fisherman's Friends 2 this week. We were supposed to be down in Cornwall for five weeks. All through the lockdown I was looking forward to it, thinking at least I've got that.

“I think everybody thought it was going to last a couple of months, and then it will be sorted but now they are going to shoot Fisherman's Friends next year and I've got another film next year in Belgium so I've practically written 2020 off.

“I'm cleaning cupboards out in the house and things I've never done. The house has never been so tidy.”

:: 23 Walks is out now in UK cinemas.

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