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Home Interviews Alan Emrys on Young Wallander – Exclusive Interview

Alan Emrys on Young Wallander – Exclusive Interview

by Conor O'Brien

Welsh-born actor Alan Emrys has appeared in a number of projects since beginning his career. Alan worked alongside a cast including Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson and Kevin Eldon for 2018’s spy comedy feature film Johnny English Reborn, the third installment in a popular franchise.

Most recently, Alan Emrys has starred in the Netflix drama Young Wallander, playing the character ‘Gustav Munck’. The series is based on the work of Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, as was the 2008-2016 television series Wallander starring Sir Kenneth Branagh. Alan also appeared in Host, a 2020 horror film that is available to watch on Shudder.

Welcome and thank you for taking the time to do this.

Alan Emrys (AE): No problem at all, man. Looking forward to talking to you.

How have you been finding living in the pandemic?

AE: Ah, the apocalypse. Interesting… I have my opinions on the people running the show. I won’t go into that. It’s bizarre, you know? One of the biggest life-changing moments in our generation’s history. Short of having World War 3, I don’t think there’s much else that could have changed our lives so much in such a short period of time. It’s also this bizarre thing that’s going on at the moment. This weird denial of science, which is really not helping and it’s frustrating to see a potential repeat of history.

When we look at the Spanish Flu and all this second wave stuff, people just… it’s being put onto individuals. We have to realise as much as human beings that you meet are generally quite intelligent, the human race as a whole really is not. We can’t entrust the human race to do the right thing, sometimes. Which frustrates me because I do have a lot of hope for humanity. It’s a bizarre time to be living in, but also a very interesting time.

As an actor, you have a few different projects under your belt. How did you first get started in this profession?

AE: Oh, that’s a fun one, my Mum. My Mum was doing an amateur dramatics play, Shakespeare, I think Much Ado About Nothing. They needed a Messenger, someone to come on and say one line. I was maybe 10-11. For an 11-year-old Leo and middle child, to have an entire audience clap, cheer and whoop was a bit of an addictive drug. There was an old lady there called Mira Stanford Smith, she was a Guildhall trained actress back in the day. She sort of saw something in that energy that I gave the show and decided it would be a good idea to start training me.

As in actual: “This is not a bit of fun, it’s a profession. This is something you can start telling stories with. Telling stories not just from the point of view to entertain people but also to try to convey a message or something to try… I don’t like to say change the world because it’s not that important. I’m not saving lives but you can influence. The power of stories has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Ever since the human beings had language, we were telling stories. Even before that, we were clay painting before we had language to convey story. So yeah, from then on I just always had an obsession with this wonder in telling stories. I’ve always loved it but yeah, that’s how it started for me.

Which fellow actors or performers would you say have inspired you?

AE: Quite a few. Yeah, I mean I’d be lying to say that I feel massively inferior to some of the huge giants out there. The biggest one for me, the thing that made me want to be a performer of some sort, even before I wanted to be an actor, was David Bowie in Labyrinth, my all-time favourite film. It’s difficult to say that when you work in this industry. Or anyone really, if you ask them: “What’s your favourite film?”, you kind of have to say: “Favourite films? What genre are we going into?” For me, all-time favourite has always been Labyrinth. It’s just got this phenomenal story, it’s all puppets, it’s got this great energy around it. David Bowie is just mesmerising onscreen, he always was. He was always just completely spell-binding to watch.

That’s the biggest influence for me, performing-wise. Then there’s also people like Ewan McGregor. I’ve said it before, he gave a great speech in Long Way Round. It’s him and Charley Boorman travelling from London to New York, the other way around the world on motorbikes. He has this whole thing in there about: “Never aim to be famous and aim to be successful. You’ll never be quite famous enough.” That was something that really resonated with me when I was a young actor.

Anthony Hopkins, absolutely phenomenal and Welsh, which is even better. Bryan Cranston, as well. Just because he slugged away for so long. The thing you have to get over by the time you’re a teenager or in your early 20s is the desire to be famous. Cranston is the epitome of letting go of that, the best thing you can do for yourself. He worked so hard and if you look, he was doing commercials at the same time as doing Malcolm In The Middle. He was always phenomenal and was very underrated, now he’s incredibly acclaimed because he just did the work. He worked hard and wanted to tell stories, it was just about the desire to tell stories which then got him Breaking Bad, which then completely skyrocketed him to another level. People realised how wonderful and how generous of an actor he really is.

People like that are a huge thing for me. I’m not… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be famous. Everyone would like to be famous but I would like to be famous for the right reasons. Like people like Bryan Cranston, who are famous because of the amount of brilliant work they have put out into the world.

Outside of acting, what are your other passions or interests?

AE: Cooking. I love cooking, and drinking but I don’t want that to come across as alcoholism. I mean, good drinking, good food. I used to work a bit as a chef or a cook, depending on how you look at it. I’ve just always had a passion for it. I love cooking and I don’t want to just cook for myself. I love cooking for other people and studying other cultures’ food. Not just the commercial food that we get. Mexican is one of my all-time favourite foods. When I first had Tortilla Soup, I was like: “Wow! Who would’ve thought about putting tortillas in soup?” Then also when you hear about it, you just think: “Are they just making soup out of tortillas?” Spicy chicken and tomato, bit of lime I love having, to introduce different citruses into the food.

I love Mediterranean [Food], absolutely adore Mediterranean. Greek, Italian food. I haven’t really experimented very much with Spanish food. I feel like British food gets a bit of a bad rep for just being bland and potatoes. Mostly because a lot of people don’t realise how to cook. It’s something I think should be taught a lot more in school. You do little bits of cooking, like how to bake a scone and all that kind of stuff. But how to properly balance food and make it nutritionally beneficial to you as well. The whole thing with the UK, the US and other countries with obesity being a huge issue.

We introduce things like sugar tax to try to tackle it, sticking labels on food to tell you exactly what’s in there, all these warning signs. We’re not attacking the problem from the roots, that people just don’t know how to make a good, tasty, nutritionally beneficial meal. They’re also unaware of how many calories are in different things. How you can fill up your plate and have a really tasty meal. There are so many healthy meals that are absolutely phenomenally tasty. People just don’t realise or are afraid to cook it because they’re afraid of messing it up. I’d love to just own a cookery school and teach people that cooking is therapeutic and fun

Martial arts, I have trained in karate since I was kid. I got my black belt in 2013. Wado-Ryu means “peaceful way”. I love not only the physical training aspect of martial arts but more the philosophy of it. It’s a mental discipline, which I think a lot of people in this world could benefit from. It’s quite often, especially in this world of toxic masculinity that we live in… we’re not going to be able to completely talk and express their emotions over night, that’s not gonna happen. That is a bigger problem that we need to navigate. To be able to get every guy on the planet releasing that emotional tension stress or whatever it may be somehow. It would be an amazing thing for the world but also I’d never… there are exceptions, a******s in every part of the world. More often than not, if you’ve got someone who’s a trained fighter or martial artist, nine times out of ten they’re the last person in the world who wants to have a fight because they’re aware of how negative that is. How much damage they can cause not only themselves but other people. Not only physically but emotionally as well, they don’t want to do that.

One of your most mainstream projects is Johnny English Strikes Again. How did you feel entering such a popular franchise in its third film?

AE: Well, to be honest, I’m barely in it. It was a strange experience but a good one, a good learning curve. Essentially what happened was, it was my first ever job out of drama school. Originally, I was supposed to film for 6 weeks. I was playing the villain’s main bodyguard. A named role, really exciting, I would have got to travel a bit around Europe with it, as well. I filmed for one day then I got a call from my agent the day after. He basically said: “I’m really sorry, I feel gutted for you but they’ve written your character out of the film.” He stressed to me: “It’s nothing to do with your acting, nothing to do with that at all. They’ve just decided that physically, it doesn’t work.” Essentially, I and the villain were of similar build. It doesn’t exactly work that I’m playing his bodyguard.

It was quite a slap in the face in the beginning of my career. It was my first ever job, my agent Jonathan said that: “I feel so bad for you. I want you to realise that this happens sometimes. It’s just really unfortunate that this happened on your first job.” It just taught me that it’s not personal when these things happen, it’s purely business. Sometimes, they can’t tell until the cameras are rolling. They see two people together and either chemistry doesn’t work or, in this case, physicality doesn’t work. It has nothing to do with you, as an actor. Well, it is you as an actor but it’s not to do with your acting. It was a difficult pill to swallow, let’s say that.

Aside from Rowan Atkinson as Johnny, other co-stars included Emma Thompson and Kevin Eldon. That’s quite an impressive cast list to be on.

AE: It was very intimidating. I’ve watched Johnny English growing up and I’ve always loved Rowan Atkinson. Rowan Atkinson is a genius, he really is. I was surprised, I met him very, very briefly. He was in the scene that I filmed. He’s very different to what you would expect. This was from growing up watching Mr. Bean and Johnny English and all these slapstick characters that he plays. He’s very serious… not rude, not at all what I’m saying, he’s lovely. Very down the barrel kind of guy, very involved in the process of filming, very collaborative with the production team. I can’t speak much more about him because I only met him for 10 seconds or so, as a human being. I did the scene with him from about 30 yards away. It was exciting and intimidating at the same time.

As of 2020, you’re appearing as ‘Gustav’ in Netflix’s Young Wallander. Was that always the role you were auditioning for? What attracted you to Gustav?

AE: That was the role I auditioned for, yeah. I was brought in to audition for it by Sophie Holland, who is a phenomenal casting director. Sophie Holland and her associate Finnian. It was really really fun reading. There’s quite often when you go into castings, which is part of the business, that it will be an in-and-out experience. You go in, you read, you leave. They’re seeing maybe 50 people on that day, they’ve got time to keep. With Sophie and Finnian, it was very much a collaborative experience. We discussed what we both feel about the character. I got to share my opinion on some of the life choices and how I felt Gustav should be played. It was very much an enjoyable, playful experience for me, which I love about acting. I think it should always be playful and child-like.

What attracted me to the role? There was an element at the beginning of… when I first got offered it, I’d never seen Wallander or anything like that. I was offered the audition just through my agent. At that point, it was mostly: “I want to work.” I’m a working class actor, I want to go work. There’s a strange thing that happens when a script is well-written, it’s easy to learn. You can tell that the writer has put the thoughts together properly. There are occasionally scripts where you’re like: “I can’t learn this, just because it’s quite jagged. It’s like trying to drive a car and you haven’t changed the gears yet. With this script, it just flowed, I was able to learn the lines overnight, in an hour. It just sat so naturally with me that I was really, really hopeful that I would get the part. I did and got to go and play in Lithuania for 6 weeks with a phenomenal cast so it was amazing.

Netflix obviously has a large global platform. How different of an experience do you think Young Wallander is having, compared to being aired on traditional television?

AE: That’s the thing, there’s Netflix on almost every single country on the planet. Especially with Wallander, I haven’t checked exactly how many different languages they’re airing it in because I’ve only seen it in my native language. Might be quite interesting to hear myself in Italian. Wallander’s very much from my understanding, it’s kind of like Sweden’s answer to James Bond. I mean, minus the theatrics and secret agent kind of stuff, he’s their James Bond-esque hero character, the guy who’s going to figure it all out. It’s been in the top 10, number 1 of the Nordic countries, Germany… it’s insane. It’s literally being seen all over the world. It’s just mind boggling. Thinking about it is absolutely mind boggling. Literally all over the world. It’s brilliant, insane and crazy.

Another of your projects is the film Host, released in 2020. It tells a very timely story during the COVID-19 pandemic. What was your reaction to the story, upon becoming involved?

AE: I asked a lot of questions about Host which is fascinating. The horror film fan community is wonderful, they’re so vocal about what they love. They really invest into everything. I’ve been blown away by it. Myself, I have a cameo appearance because I was home. It’s filmed in our flat. My girlfriend, Radina [Drandova], is one of the main characters. There’s a strange part of me that feels a little like an imposter answering these questions about Host because I barely did anything. I was mostly helping behind the scenes.

I was Radina’s boyfriend within the imagined scenario that they were in. People like Jed [Shepherd], Rob [Savage], Radina, Hayley [Bishop], Jemma [Moore] and Emma [Louise Webb], they’re the real absolute bosses of that film. Absolutely incredible work. But yeah, it’s fascinating filming in that lockdown situation. It really did breed creativity for some. That’s talking from a very privileged point of view, I didn’t have to worry about being thrown out of my house or putting food on the table because I was only taking care of myself and my girlfriend. Same with Radina, she only had to think about herself and I.

Yeah, I feel very luck to have been able to work on that and also very lucky to have been one of the people who, in the grand scheme of things, managed to have a relatively positive experience during lockdown. Obviously, we all had our moments of complete insanity and banging our head against the wall. Trying to figure out: what is this life that we’re living right now? It’s fascinating to have worked on something set during one of the pinnacle moments of the 21st century.

Speaking of the pandemic, we’re obviously all living in trying times right now. If you could, what message or sentiment would you offer to fans of your work?

AE: Reach out for help if you need it. Please, there are people that can help. But also, look after each other. I mean, there’s lots of things going around at the moment that generate a division within our society. It’s a scary time. Care for each other. Really, honestly, just care for one another and don’t buy into this extreme paranoia of: “your neighbour’s out to get you, the person next door is causing problems” or the immigrants coming into the country are causing all these issues. Whatever it may be, just don’t buy into that divisive thought process. Realise that this is the biggest time that the human race should be pulling together and taking care of one another.

If you’re able to donate to charitable funds or in a fortunate position, do help other people. There are people out there who are seriously struggling. On a slightly different note, if you have a favourite bar or a favourite restaurant, please just go in. Don’t break the rules, have a drink, tip big because these people are terrified for their jobs. There are so many people who are in awful positions and if you’re one of them, like I said, please ask for help. The human race is a wonderful thing, people will help you. My general thing is just please, please help other people as much as you can.

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