Sarah J. Edwards invited Emun Elliot over for a shoot and cup of tea. After his standout performances in "Prometheus" and "The Paradise", we got to learn about his beginnings as an actor, character preparation and who looks like they're having the dream career.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 3 Nø 4 print edition in 2013, this is an edited version.
Interview and Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Actor Emun Elliot is a solid Scot with the hint of a permanent grin and twinkle in his eyes that all says happy and that he’s likely got a cracking acting career ahead of him. He arrives for our shoot with his sweet girlfriend, Jess – also an actor and their puppy, John. Even having travelled the length of the country from set that morning, he’s eager to get involved. It’s this energy that is surely fuelling his succession of ladder-climbing roles. He was visually striking in Prometheus, full of character in The Paradise and is set to potentially bring out the OCD in all of us in the highly-anticipated Filth opposite BLAG cover star James McAvoy (Vol.2 No 7), the film version of Irvine Welsh’s novel that looks likely to put a mark on us just as its predecessor Trainspotting did.
When did you want to act and when did you realise ‘this is the profession for me’?
“When I saw Oliver Twist. I just wanted to be the Artful Dodger and that dream never came alive for me, so I moved onto Bill Sikes and that probably wouldn’t happen, so I’ll end up being Fagin or something.”
[Laughs] “Or Nancy in Panto, but I think it was when I saw that film and I went to Drama School and it became a bit more of a reality.”
How come you went on to study English and French before?
“Just because of the nature of the school. I mean, the idea of someone going to Drama School was just a bit foreign to them I think. I think there was one other guy in the history of my school I think.” Do you think it was deemed as ‘not proper’?
“I think maybe they thought it would never work out. So, they were doing it with good intentions and I just listened to that advice when I was 17 and I couldn’t study Drama at school, I just did it as extra curricular, so I just went with the advice and went to Uni and it wasn’t until I got out of that institution that I realised I could do whatever I wanted to do.”
It’s interesting for me, Sally and I studied Drama, because we were in the same year and when it came to choosing GCSEs they wouldn’t let us do Drama or Music because there weren’t enough people.
I think there were only four people in the entire school who wanted to do it, so they just didn’t run the course.
So I ended up doing loads of academic stuff I didn’t want to do. It didn’t hurt, I don’t think. When I was reading about you, I was curious, because I dropped out of a sixth form college, took six months off and went to Art College. I felt really weird, because at the time it was horrible to be a year older and there’s also that whole thing of rebonding. I wondered if you can remember anything about your early days and that competitiveness to finding the right kind of crew to be around.
“Totally. It sounds like a really similar situation, I went to Uni and left after nine months and I could only audition for one school, because there was only one Drama School holding auditions, because it was late in the day. Luckily I got in, I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t. I didn’t really know what to expect, I just knew it made me happy. So, I was doing it purely on that and just living very much in the present. Not thinking, I’m going to come out of this and become an actor, it was just what I was doing then. In terms of fitting in, I don’t know if that’s something that ever really happened to me at Drama School. There is this vibe that you’ve probably heard about with drama schools where everyone comes in bright-eyed and bushy tailed and everyone sings Kum By Ya and you just sort of reveal yourselves in this circle. I don’t know, I’ve just never been that comfortable doing that.”
Yeah, yeah, I can imagine.
“I’m more the person who sits back.”
Observe it all and pick things up.
“Let myself bleed into that.”
“It’s probably a protection thing.”
It’s probably a good trait for what you need to be already anyway.
“I think so.”
You really have to observe though, don’t you?
“Yeah. I’m always suspicious of people who within five minutes of meeting them, you just know everything there is to know about them. It’s protecting your privacy and identity. So, I was always on the outskirts of all of that sort of thespy banter and I still am. That vibe still exists a lot in the theatre and it’s something I find really hard to even play along with. I’m more someone who sits quietly and gets on with it and I think it served me well. I remember at the end of the third year they gave out this medal – which means nothing – but it’s just to say you get the gold medal and I got it and I can remember the other people in my class just thinking, ‘What? You’re the guy that never says anything. You’re never up for singing that song. He’s late now and again.’ So, good on them for giving it to me and it just shows you don’t have to buy into the industry that you’re part of. You also run the risk of becoming a character in it. I don’t know, I think it can narrow down your opportunities if you... [pauses] It’s like the popular kid at school thing theory. The popular kid at school has their moment, then...I’d just gone to Uni too young, I was 17 when I left, it was just too young. I went to Aberdeen and studied English and French and just kind of went off-the-rails a bit maybe. I don’t know, it feels like such a long time ago now. I can’t really remember how I passed the time.”
Let’s talk about when you get into a comfort zone on a job. You’ve seen today taking pictures, it takes me a while and then something clicks and I feel like I’m sailing.
“Yeah, I’ve never hit a point in my career where I thought, right I’m sailing now and in a comfort zone.”
No, but within a particular project or job, you get to a point where you know what the crew’s like, you know your relationship with your co-stars and director.
“I did Shakespeare for the first time and if that language [gestures turning key in solar plexus] clicks and you feel like you come together, you feel like you can almost switch off your consciousness and let the work do it for you. It makes me think of Pericles, which is the least performed of all Shakespeare’s plays because it’s just all over the place and it’s this epic tale that’s just really hard to stage and I played the lead. It was the first time I’d played the lead in something and I just completely went for it. I was 19 at the time and it helped that it was a brilliant script. That was the first time I felt, really on top of what I was doing and that’s something that doesn’t always happen.”
That’s cool. I wanted to talk to you about Filth. Can you tell us about your character and any interesting preparation?
“The character, his name’s Peter, he’s a Detective in 1990’s Edinburgh. He’s Scottish and he’s part of this ensemble of cops basically. They share an office together and he’s very straight down the line. He has zero ambition, he’d be happy to just float along for the rest of his life. He’s very well kept, well groomed and likes to have control in his life by moisturising his face at the same time everyday and going to the gym at the same time everyday. He puts himself at ease with that sort of minute control. He’s the antithesis of and I guess he’s kind of the counter-point to James McAvoy’s character Bruce, who’s just this vile, repulsive devil. So my character was really fun to play, I don’t often get to play really clean cut characters. So that was cool. He’s just an unfortunate, unlucky guy as well.”
It’s interesting to play that as well.
“It’s interesting to play someone who’s different to me. What initially interested me about becoming an actor, I don’t really want to go [into something] that just sort of involves sitting about being at the pub or being at home. It doesn’t really interest me so much, because I do that anyway. I’m an actor to pretend that I’m living this different life. The joy and magic to convince someone whether it’s the other actor or the audience that you’re someone else, it’s great to play different characters and luckily I haven’t been put into a box yet. Which is a massive blessing.”
Do you think you’ve got an equal balance with what you’ve done with film and TV or is film still fairly new-ish?
“I’ve done more TV than I have film. I think it’s fine, I don’t really think about it that way, I’m kind of someone that hopefully I can carry on doing theatre, film and telly. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s about the script.”
Who has had the dream career from your perspective?
“That’s a tough one.”
Someone who’s having a dream career. It’s interesting now, there are loads of things you have to take into the equation – there’s the roles, the calibre of the film and when it comes out, whether it’s as good as what it should’ve been from those early pitch and casting days.
“I was going to say Daniel Day Lewis...”
And all the publicity and if there’s been a nice journey with it. I think it’s quite hard to think of who’s really got it. Whether they’re enjoying their life I suppose.
“Yeah, I really like to see actors coming through when they’ve been in the game for nearly 10 or 15 years and they’ve really earned it. They’ve struggled, they’ve failed, they’ve made mistakes and finally they’ve... and it feels more like a craft that way. I don’t see how someone can just step onto their first set and just blow the audience away, that’s a really hard thing to do. It’s a dangerous thing to do as well. There’s this weird thing as well, if you’ve just come out of drama school and walk into this massive film you kind of know that you may be making a mistake. You’re laying yourself open to huge exposure, you can’t really say no. It’s the hardest thing to say no to. Again, when you first said that my initial instinct was Daniel Day Lewis, but I think my dream career would be someone who could leave the house quite happily without having to grow a beard or wear a hat. I know that he transforms for parts, but he’s also recognisable and also it would be someone who goes back to the theatre, all the time. I mean there’s so many of them, there’s a few actors who have brilliant careers and I know that some of them have struggled to get there. Look at people like Fassbender, with lots of little bit parts and suddenly, it was his time and he’s just doing great things now. James McAvoy, he’s really just built this empire of transformation. Now he’s starting to really call the shots in terms of ‘this is what I feel like doing’ and he goes back to the theatre every couple of years. I suppose he’s someone... I would never compare myself to anyone, but someone that I can relate to because he’s Scottish, he went to the same drama school that I went to and someone that – not just me, but everyone in my drama school looked up to. He was the guy that graduated four or five years before we did and he’s doing well. So maybe James. The funny thing is, I think they’re all British actors, I don’t know whether that’s to do with the form of training that we do over here or the fact that lots of people start off in the theatre.”
James does have that balance for sure.
“He does and he’s making some really bold choices, by refusing to fall into that bracket and he could’ve gone out to LA years ago and just become the next pin-up or whoever, but I respect the fact that he’s just serious about his work and cautious of the downfalls. I think anyone, any artist – never mind an actor – I respect, who manages to have a career for longer than a couple of years.”