Is The Gamechangers your first BBC Project?
Actually my first ever job was playing young David in David Copperfield for the BBC in 1999. It was amazing, the cast was phenomenal: Emilia Fox, Pauline Quirke, Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, Imelda Staunton, Paul Whitehouse, Ian McKellan, Zoe Wanamaker… the list goes on and on.
Lots of people that I ended up working with on Harry Potter years later. It was an amazing starting ground and for a lot of people would have been the best cast they ever worked with. One day on set, the director told me, “Dan, you’re never going to be in something with this level of cast ever again.” I’ve reminded him of this several times since! He just got really unlucky as he could have said that to anyone else and he'd have been right! Maggie (Smith) played my aunt in it and she was the person who recommended me for Harry Potter initially.
So that might explain your reason for deciding to take on the part of Sam in The Gamechangers?
When I was growing up there was more of a division between film and television. Now, that's gone out of the window entirely but regardless, I've always believed that a good script is a good script and I've never wanted to limit myself to one medium because of a misplaced sense of what I should be doing. That’s how you miss out. Particularly in the current climate where it’s really hard to get films made.
Owen (the director) and I were saying that one of the most attractive things about The Gamechangers, other than that it was a great script and a chance to do something that we really loved, was that it was definitely happening. That is something that you can't really say for many films ever. The Gamechangers was kind of the reverse as it was so fast as to be frightening! So it was bit of an adjustment from the usual way of thinking about doing a film in six months' time and start preparing. This was great, it was there, it was happening and had this fantastic script.
So you were on board instantly?
It was a very, very easy choice when it came along. I thought that the script was great and that it was very cool that the BBC were making it. Also, that this is capable of getting an audience way bigger than just the UK, because the game has an in-built global audience. Owen had exactly the same aspirations for authenticity, which was why we were so lucky to get such a big American actor like Bill Paxton. I still can't quite believe it. Bill was fantastic. He's like a cheerleader on set. I meet people half his age who are jaded so it's wonderfully refreshing to meet someone who still clearly loves being on set. Here’s my favourite fact about Bill… he's the only actor who's been killed by an Alien, a Terminator and a Predator! Isn't that a great thing to be able say?!
So a lot of the film was shot in South Africa?
It was one of those odd situations where you tell people you're filming in South Africa and they say, "So it's set in South Africa?” and you say "No, it's set in New York” and they say "What? How?!" So much shoots out there now; it's a combination of affordability and great crews. Any film now with a great stunt sequence seems to have a Cape Town Unit in the credits. You can lock off big sections of streets and are a lot more free to do ambitious things there. The crew was fantastic and it was incredibly chilled out for such a fast-paced shoot. It was just lovely. We didn't get to experience much of SA beyond great seafood restaurants, but it was a really fun and friendly time.
Did your character have any big stunts out there?
I did one really cool stunt where I got to walk out in the middle of the street. Cars screeched to a halt either side of me and then another car was speeding straight towards me. I had to watch it speed right up to me and just hoped that it stopped in time!!
I can't say too much as it's the last scene of the film but there was an awkward moment because I got so in to it. We rehearsed the stunt during the day when we went for a take later on, I assumed it was the same stuntman (as both were bald!) but after the take, he seemed a bit shaken so I asked him if he was OK and he said “No mate, can you actually not throw me?” Then I realised it was a totally different stuntman who had no idea of what I was about to do!
Any other funny moments?
Quite a few. Running jokes... I'm 5 foot 5, so in some shots I need to be on a box and that's something that I'm very used to. But, in this film, I’m on a box in so many scenes with Joe Dempsie, who’s a couple of inches taller than me, the joke was like, everyone knows I’m really short, so everyone's going to think you're tiny for this entire film!
Did you form close bonds with the cast?
It's lovely when you're playing a bunch of friends and everyone arrives on set with the same attitude and wants to find how you can get close to the characters’ relationships in a short amount of time. We all got on really well, Bill, Ian, Joe, Mark and me.
Any particular challenges?
I think generally that the amount we had to do in a short space of time was the main challenge. There was one week that was set in an office and basically, in this film, if I'm in an office then I'm delivering a big monologue. The main issue with this job was the sheer quantity of line learning. As always, your challenge is to capture the character and there were some scenes that were more intense than others, so what we were striving for in those scenes was challenging but hopefully they'll work.
How did you approach the character of Sam Houser?
I read a lot, though I feel that the Housers will be pleased about how difficult they are to research! There's not much info out there about them; there’s precious little video footage of Sam and there's a little bit more of Dan talking.
So the two clips I found I really latched on to. I found myself thinking that we're not that dissimilar - not in terms necessarily of how we interact with people, but how we are. I saw someone who talks pretty quickly, very specifically with a lot of energy and gesticulation and not that different from me in that way.
We're from very similar backgrounds - he grew up one postcode away and also has one parent who is an actor, and grew up around the entertainment industry. Our schools played each other at football - that's how close we were. In New York, we live in a very similar area so I've since been walking around feeling like I going to bump into him and if I see him I won't be able to resist saying hello! I’m coming at this film as someone who loved the games and who thinks they're really cool.
The games are one of the UK's greatest cultural exports. As a country, why do you think we're so good at exporting culture?
We're well rounded as a nation and the fact that these games, that are so American in their make up but created by British people, is proof of that. I think from Shakespeare, to the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols, any number of writers and filmmakers, we have always been trailblazers in terms of culture, art and poetry. I don't know why it is, but I'm really glad it is. Culture is our greatest contribution to the world and what a cool thing to contribute.
The BBC’s Make it Digital campaign hopes to inspire a new generation to be creative with coding. Why is this important for the future?
Because I don't understand it and there's a lot of 'me's out there, and if the future population of the country is like me, we're doomed!! Don't be like me… Make it Digital!!!
What did you watch on television when you were growing up?
The Simpsons, 6pm on BBC Two every night, and I used to really be into Neighbours. The Demon Headmaster, The Queens Nose, all those great BBC kids’ shows. And then of course there was Live And Kicking which I was actually on twice as an audience member. I think that clip has appeared on a 'Before they were Famous' show. I asked exactly the same question three weeks apart to Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Chuckle Brothers, which was, ‘What would you do if you didn't do what you were doing?’ I believe that The Chuckle Brothers said ‘Miners’, and even at the time remember thinking, is that a bit heavy for a Children’s TV show?
picture source: Joe Alblas