|Interview by David Watson
Star And Director Tell All
With taut, low-budget Brit thriller Cleanskin hitting UK cinemas March 9th, director Hadi Hajaig and star Sean Bean talk torture, the War on Terror and rom-coms with Cinema Editor David Watson. But just what is a cleanskin?
“A cleanskin is in anti-terrorist terms is a person who’s unknown to the security services,” says director Hadi Hajaig, “But also it can apply to an agent who is unknown to the people he’s infiltrating. So it has a double meaning in the film.
“It’s a pretty vague, ironic title if you watch the film. Who is the cleanskin in the movie?”
The film is a tough, uncompromising vision of the War on Terror.
Says Hajaig: “I think the events of the last 11 years have been so filled with epic incident. Most writers are inspired by what’s going on around them. You try and reflect it and it’s been filled with such over-the-top characters this last 11 years you could not help but write something about it. The material’s all there.”
For star Sean Bean, who plays Cleaskin’s driven anti-terrorist officer Ewan, it was the complexity of the script that attracted him.
“Most of all I was interested in the characters and story and political situation,” says Bean, “I thought it was a very well-balanced portrayal of events that have been happening around us, based on the events of the last 11/12 years.
“It doesn’t take sides.
“I think it explains, I don’t think it justifies what people do, what necessarily Ewan, my character does, or Ash, the terrorist character, does. But it explains it.
“You can see why an otherwise very normal young man, maybe quite insecure, but an everyday British-born citizen, becomes indoctrinated, becomes a mass-murderer in fact.
“It was that and the story running alongside that, which is my story; MI5, Charlotte Rampling’s character and James Fox’s character, the people who are pulling the strings and I’m their puppet. At the end, I discover that all is not what it seems. People are playing around with politics and people in a very dangerous situation, a terrorist situation.
“It’s quite unsettling to think that people could be playing games in this day and age for their own political gain.”
The film is surprisingly even-handed. Ash is no cardboard cut-out bad guy; he’s charming, handsome, intelligent and highly-motivated while Ewan is a hero of the Jack Bauer school, the kind of guy who’ll threaten to carve up a high-class hooker’s face to get the information he wants.
“What I wanted to do was to make a story that had both sides of the coin,” says Hajaig, “So the agent chasing him has a personal connection to terrorism. Personal and professional.
“The character of Ash, one of the main things I was thinking about when I was writing was: Why does someone British-born go and commit these horrific atrocities?
“I wanted to really look at that instead of the kind of tabloid headline of it. You want to know why would someone commit something like that, so you look into it. And you want to make it as realistic as possible. So you kind of see where his intentions come from and that’s basically why I wanted to keep it as realistic as possible.
“I think a lot of this genre you get a very cardboard cut-out villain and I wanted to see what these guys intentions are, which are very weak. Why would someone want to do something so horrific?”
Ash is very conflicted; a sympathetic, essentially good man who’s lost his way
Says Hajaig: “One guy, I remember speaking to while I was writing said, talking about the 7/7 people: “These guys would never feel at home wherever they come from, wherever they are.” Which is an interesting statement in itself.
“He feels his culture conflicts with where he’s living. It’s the same actually for Ewan’s character as well, the character Sean Bean plays. He’s conflicted, for his duty to his country, his love of his country. But he’s also blinded by his own personal demons. It’s the story of two guys who don’t fit in anywhere.”
Having already played a terrorist in 1992’s Patriot Games, Cleanskin is an opportunity for Bean to portray the other side of the coin.
“I suppose the character would regard himself as a freedom fighter in Patriot Games,” says Bean, “When you look at it, it’s not that much different. Terrorists. SAS. The good guys and bad guys ironically, are not very different from each other.
“They might believe in different things but the methods that they use are very much the same. Fear, intimidation, murder, whatever, you name it. It just depends whose side you’re on.
“Everybody uses torture, Abu Ghraib and all that lot. They’re the good guys and they use torture. You look at the world around you and there’s a lot of injustice.”
Known for playing dark, brooding characters, Bean laughs at the suggestion it’s about time he did a comedy.
“Have I been sent anything like that?” wonders Bean, “No, I’ve not. I don’t know, maybe one day. I’m kinda veering towards it. I’m playing, you know, normal guys now.
“I’m not playing killers and psychos. I’m playing ordinary people. Maybe that’ll evolve into nice funny guys, a nice comedy guy. I’d like to.
“I’m not a big fan of rom-coms, I couldn’t have that. I’d be too embarrassed to do things like that. They get a bit mushy and I don’t want to be bothered with anything like that.”
And while it’s unlikely that his Ned Stark will be appearing in anything but flashback in the next series of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, Bean will be returning to the small screen in Jimmy McGovern’s BBC1 drama The Accused…as a glamorous transsexual!
Says Bean: “I’ve just finished this job in Manchester, I worked with Jimmy McGovern. I always wanted to work with him and he’s written this series called The Accused. So, that was quite an…unusual experience, to say the least. I’ve got things that are maybe happening in Spring and in Summer but at the moment I’m just taking it easy.”
Having previously made the low-budget horror Puritan, Hajaig is also changing gears for his next project.
Says Hajaig: “I’ve written kind of a heist movie with a difference. It’s a comedy that hearkens back to films of the ‘80s I grew up watching, Beetlejuice…Miami Blues…Buckaroo Banzai. It’s got a lot of action. A lot of violence. But with lots of laughs, I hope.”
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