Daniel Mays on 'Fisherman's Friends' and getting his sea legs: 'The crew got seasick during takes'

Tom Beasley
Contributor
Daniel Mays gets his sea legs in British underdog comedy Fisherman’s Friends (Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors)

No one would have imagined that a group of grizzled seamen from a tiny Cornish village would be able to storm the music charts. And yet, that’s exactly what happened to the real figures behind the new British underdog movie Fisherman’s Friends – in cinemas 15 March which recounts the eponymous group’s journey to the top.

The man behind the group’s success in the film is music executive Danny Anderson, played by British film and TV stalwart Daniel Mays. His character is a slimy city boy without any real interest in these fishermen and their culture, thrust into an environment that requires him to climb aboard a fishing boat for the first time.

It doesn’t sound like the shoot was much for comfortable than that for the actor, or the crew responsible for capturing scenes on the water.

The cast of Fisherman’s Friends, including Daniel Mays, Tuppence Middleton and James Purefoy (Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors)

“It was incredibly choppy out at sea and they offered us seasickness tablets,” Mays told Yahoo Movies UK. “Some people took them and some people didn’t. Lots of the crew got sick, literally during takes.

“The boom operator was hurling over the side of the boat, as was the focus puller. I now know that expression of someone turning green. It was horrendous, but weirdly the seasickness hit me hours after when I was on dry land. It was very strange. I was swaying about all over the place. It just affects people differently.”

Read the full interview with Daniel Mays below…

Yahoo Movies UK: I didn’t know this was a true story. Did you know much about it going in?

Daniel Mays: No, I came at it completely afresh. They sent me the script and I was like “Fisherman’s Friends? Isn’t that a throat sweet?” When I delved into the script, I found out they were signed back in 2010 and got into the top 10 as a folk singing group, which is an extraordinary achievement in itself, and played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

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I thought it was such a left-field success story. The world’s media descended on this tiny fishing village of Port Isaac and these guys became rock stars in their fifties. We’ve obviously got artistic licence with our story because it’s a romantic comedy as well, but in essence, we are basing it on the true events.

How much did the filming location help with the fish out of water aspects of it for you?

I had gone from job to job up in London before Fisherman’s Friends. They picked me up, we drove down there and it was like I had landed on another planet. It’s just a completely different pace of life, with open air and idyllic, picturesque scenery. Without a shadow of a doubt, that really informed the performance that I gave. For real, you can’t get a phone signal down there. You have to go to certain hills and areas in the village to get a phone signal. It was brilliantly frustrating, if that makes sense.

Tuppence Middleton and Daniel Mays go for a walk in Fisherman’s Friends (Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors)

It’s fair to say your character in the film doesn’t have his sea legs. Are you any better than him on the water?

It was incredibly choppy out at sea and they offered us seasickness tablets. Some people took them and some people didn’t. Lots of the crew got sick, literally during takes. The boom operator was hurling over the side of the boat, as was the focus puller. I now know that expression of someone turning green. It was horrendous, but weirdly the seasickness hit me hours after when I was on dry land. It was very strange. I was swaying about all over the place. It just affects people differently.

Are you sure that wasn’t the couple of pints in the pub when you were back on dry land?

Yeah, it may have had something to do with the Tribute.

One of the things that really comes across in the film, especially between the fishermen, is the sense of brotherhood. Was that something you had on the set as well?

Collectively, we all had that camaraderie because we were all staying in the village. Nine times out of ten, when we’d finished filming, it would be seven o’clock, the sun was going down and we’d have sardines on the beach and Tribute in the pub. We’d all been singing sea shanties – even me because I’d learned all the words after a couple of weeks. We’d have quiz night on a Monday in the pizzeria at the top of Port Isaac. It was a real sense of a travelling circus and it was a joyous experience.

Did you bring the sea shanties back to London with you?

I’d hesitate to sing sea shanties back in town, but I’ve heard them a lot today and I can just pick up where I left off with the words. They’re definitely rolling around in my head somewhere.

The underdog story of a group of Cornish fishermen angling for a musical career is at the centre of Fisherman’s Friends. (Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors)

I guess it’s one of the things about Britain that we have these weird corners with completely their own specific cultures?

That element is really explored in the film. Danny is a high-flying London music exec and talent spotter, so the fact he’s stranded on this stag do makes him a complete fish out of water. Culturally, it’s like an alien land to him and he has to adapt to that. He falls in love with Alwyn, the girl in the village, and he suddenly falls in love with the fishermen and the community. He just reevaluates what’s important to him and where he is and what place he has in life. It’s kind of like a voyage of discovery for Danny, as well as discovering the fishermen and setting them on their way.

It’s very much a voyage of change for Danny. He starts the film off as a bit of a city scumbag…

Bit harsh!

He does sort of change his spots as the film goes on. Were you perhaps reaching into your own experience for anyone you know in order to play how he is at the beginning?

I’ve got a few friends that are somewhat like Danny. He’s got the patter, hasn’t he? He’s a salesman at heart. He’s their top boy at signing musical acts, so that’s why Noel Clarke’s character tells him to do what he does best. Danny’s initial reaction is indifference. He’s hungover and he’s on his way out of the village and he says it’s like listening to torture.

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It’s actually the moment when Sam Swainsbury sings Widow Woman outside the pub, on the balcony. It’s such a lovely, heartfelt, poignant performance from Sam and it’s the gear change and penny dropping in Danny. He realises these people are genuine and have a genuine story to tell that could actually be something quite magical. You just want the audience to be on the same page as Danny.

We’ve got a nice little boom at the moment for British underdog movies, with Fighting With My Family and Wild Rose as well as Fisherman’s Friends. Why do you think we love an underdog story so much?

Ever since the commercial smash that was The Full Monty, we’ve always made films about underdogs. It’s something that embodies Britishness and that sense of community and people punching above their weight. We’re resolute and down to Earth as people in this country. Everyone likes an underdog story. Everyone likes to see good things happen to genuine people and I think this film encapsulates that tenfold.

Cornish fishermen bring classic sea shanties to a London bar in underdog comedy Fisherman’s Friends. (Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors)

It’s interesting to see you, specifically, in an underdog film. You’re a bit of an underdog yourself as a guy from Essex when one of your first sets was a Michael Bay set?

Yeah, that was Pearl Harbour. It was an extraordinary set to be on, just in terms of scale and the amount of budget they had behind them. It was an extraordinary thing to be in, albeit I was RAF Pilot #3.

One of the phrases you see used to describe you is “character actor”. How do you feel about that label?

I’m very comfortable with that, to be honest. It’s something I have always tried to do in my career – play outside the box. I’ve played a lot of wheeler dealers, including Danny in Fisherman’s Friends, but I’ve also done Against The Law – a gay drama – and I’ve done a lot of Northern stuff. I try to mix the characters up and not be second guessed by the audience. In many respects, you could say this is my first romantic comedy, so that was a challenge in itself as well. You’ve just got to see the merit in every job you take on.

Over the years, you’ve done soaps, you’ve done Doctor Who, you’ve done period movies, you’ve done gangster movies. Is there a sort of ‘British actor’ checklist you’re going through?

Yeah, I wonder what I’ve got left to do. I’m just trying to think if we haven’t ticked any boxes yet. A musical? We’ll have to see!

Actor Daniel Mays poses for photographers upon arrival to the British Academy Television Awards at the Royal Festival Hall in London, Sunday, May 14, 2017. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

You’ve got a spy thriller on the way next with The Rhythm Section. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

I can’t say anything about that at the moment. It’s very secretive. I can’t say anything at all.

It’s a spy thriller with Barbara Broccoli, so it’s about as close to Bond as you can get without it being Bond, I think?

I think so, yeah. She’s a lovely lady and it was great to work with her.

Do you think the world is ready for an Essex boy to be James Bond?

I don’t know about that! I wouldn’t mind having a crack at one of the villains, but I doubt I’ll ever play James Bond. They’ve already had a Daniel, haven’t they?

You look at your career and it’s a ‘who’s who’ of great filmmakers that you’ve worked with. Are there any others you would still love to work with?

I’d love to work with Shane Meadows. I think he’s a brilliant director. There’s loads of people really. I shot a movie called Two For Joy last year with Billie Piper and Samantha Morton and that was directed by a guy called Tom Beard, who is this brilliant new British filmmaker. I like to work with established directors as well as up and coming ones. I’m not fussed as long as the character and the story are engaging and going to take me on a journey.

Daniel Mays attends a photocall for the World Premiere of ‘Two for joy’ during the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival at Cineworld on June 23, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)

You see a lot of British actors going over to America and doing some of the things you’ve done and then they become Hollywood actors. Do you still see yourself as very much a British actor?

Probably, but that’s not to say I’m opposed to doing the big budget things as well. I’ve never really had a game plan as such. It’s such a precarious industry and you don’t know where your next job’s coming from. You just have to wipe the slate clean with every new job that you take and have the mentality that you’re only as good as the last role you’ve played. You keep yourself fresh and buoyant and angry for it.

And one of the benefits of being a character actor, as we discussed, is that you get to do loads of different stuff?

It keeps me interested. It’s good to be scared sometimes. If someone offers you something and your initial thoughts are “how on Earth am I even going to attempt to play that?”, in a way that’s a really healthy place to be. It’s scary but if you can pull it off you have an amazing sense of achievement as well. I’ve had a couple of those experiences, which is really gratifying.

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I guess the next step, if Essex boy James Bond is off the table, maybe Essex boy superhero might happen?

Superhero? I can’t see me in spandex! I’ve already done Speedos in Swimming With Men and that’s enough with me.

Well, Speedos in Swimming With Men, life jacket in Fisherman’s Friends, it’s the next logical step, isn’t it?

It is, yeah! God, there’s so many superhero films, isn’t there?

Yeah, the odds are you’ll get the call eventually.

Maybe! Fingers crossed!

Fisherman’s Friends is in cinemas this Friday, 15 March.