Essex Boys - Tom Wilkinson

Last Update: 18 April 2000

Tom Wilkinson has worked with both the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as three years spent at the Nottingham Theatre under the directorship of Richard Eyre. A supreme performance as Pecksniff in the acclaimed BBC dramatisation of Martin Chuzzlewit has capped an impressive television career that includes Crossing the Floor and A Very Open Prison. On the big screen he is perhaps best known for his performances in The Full Monty and Shakespeare in Love. Other film work includes Wilde, In the Name of the Father and Rush Hour. He has also worked with Ang Lee on both Sense and Sensibility and Ride with the Devil.

He saw the character of Dyke as something of a dilemma: "He's an evil character, but I think you've got to play him essentially as a good man - albeit, I guess, trapped in a different world. The reason he's in this alien world is because he wanted to be someone, he's excited by the criminal side. When you get a choice people will always go the bad guy part because they've got the best lines. But the good guy is harder to play and that's what I like. I like the challenge."

"I did spend some time building up the character. I think I took the idea of a guy that comes from a family who has once had money, a sort of gentile poverty. The family probably couldn't afford to get him to Eton, but they could send him off to a third rate public school. I think from there the army is a probably a pretty short step. Working on that basis, the idea of making lots of money quickly would appeal to him.

"He's more like the Lockes than he thinks. I reckon he's hardened to the core, even if he is cuddly on the outside. I think he is probably rather steely inside. It's a much more complex crook than the role I played in Rush Hour. There they wanted a sort of archetypal smooth English villain, and I was only too happy to serve it up.

"Essex Boys has a really nice script, and I thought it had a lot of potential. That is why you always choose something - because of the script. Choosing something for the money isn't always a road you should go down. Money's a nice thing, but you can do too many bad films like that, you know. It depends what kind of life you want. Another attraction was that by doing Essex Boys I could go home at night. If I could walk to work, that that would be an ideal!

"The size of movie doesn't matter to me - it's all essentially the same drama, the same job. For instance, I didn't really notice huge wads of money floating around while doing Rush Hour, although we knew it was thought to be a fairly big budget. Provided what you come out with is acceptable, then it's a job well done.

"As I said, I did a lot of mental research into my character so it was not especially an advantage or disadvantage to a have the writer around. It was unusual though - in fact, most writers aren't around on a movie. I've found most writers are very jealous of their scripts and they don't like you altering a syllable. But Terry and Jeff were pretty good about it.

"On the directing side Terry always knew what he wanted, which gives you such confidence. He's a nice guy to have around, especially if you're an actor. Having camaraderie on a film set is always good. I did a film a couple of years ago where there was real tension on the set and it just didn't work at all.

"Another great thing about the movie was the opportunity to plays with boys' toys. The gun-play is really good fun. It's fulfilling a boyhood dream to actually have guns go bang in your hand. Yes, it's great. It isn't something that I spent my life doing - blowing people away, but it's okay.

"I think all English actors would give their right arm to do a gangster picture and a cowboy movie, because that's what they saw when they were kids. Those were the most glamorous, and most appealing films when we were young. I've done a kind of cowboy movie called Ride With the Devil, where I got to ride horses, carry a gun and wear a hat. Thankfully it was a very slow horse!

"With violence in film, I don't get the perspective that you have to actually do it - I wouldn't do it. If somebody said I've got to actually hit them, I wouldn't do it. I couldn't do it. The whole point of acting is that it is acting; it's not real. There are times I've done it on stage. I slapped Steven Rea once in a play on stage, and for some reason we used to do it every night. I used to slap his face quite hard you know, and it didn't bother him - but it's the only time I've ever done that.

"Essex Boys is an intense movie, but I can come out of character for lunch, and then go back into character again quite easily. As an actor you should be able to click your fingers and be the role. It's no problem for me to go to lunch. I don't get embarrassed easily on set either. My sex scenes with Alex were actually quite good fun. I'm not often asked to do love scenes - although I had a few in The Governess. I think if I really had to have sex when the camera's rolling, then I would want to limit the number of people on set. But this? It's just another part of acting. Sex in a way is quite easy to fake, (not that I would know!). It's one of those things you get to act time to time that is quite easy to do. It's like anger is easy to do.

"I saw Alex in Moll Flanders and must admit I thought she was superb. I hadn't worked with Sean before either. It's odd that, with him coming from Sheffield, that he wasn't in The Full Monty with us. He didn't say anything about it, but I'm amazed really. The only part he could have played though would have been Bobby's [Robert Carlyle] I suppose. He must have been grinding his teeth a little bit over that one. I got on really well with Sean on set. He's a bit shy, but once he gets to know you it's just fine. And I do think shyness is a nice trait in an actor.

"It's little known, but I actually hail from close to Sean. Originally I'm from Yorkshire, that's where I was born. But I was then brought up in Canada till I was eleven. Of course, it means that I don't know anything about gangsters, or the supposed Essex underworld. But I didn't feel I needed to do that much research. If what you've got is in the script, you don't need to do any. I was in Wilde playing the Marquis of Queensbury - I'm 6'1 and the real Marquis is 5'4, and I thought that if they aren't bothered, then I wouldn't be.

"I don't enjoy watching myself a lot. There are whole movies that I've done and never seen including The Governess and Rush Hour. I think that in general people don't like they way they look ... however they look. To me that's the reason why people don't watch themselves on screen. Sometimes it's good. I went to see
Shakespeare in Love just a few weeks before I did the US press junkets. I'm really glad I did, because as soon as I saw it I knew it was going to be a winner. I didn't have any doubts whatsoever, which is really good when you're selling it to the journalists."

Sean Bean (Jason Locke)

Alex Kingston (Lisa Locke)

Charlie Creed-Miles (Billy Reynolds)

Tom Wilkinson (John Dyke)


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