The Small Axe star talks his lockdown experience, working on the extreme set of The North Water and what the future holds.
If you didn’t spend the whole of lockdown binge-watching Steve McQueen’s intense Small Axe, then what were you doing? Well, if like us you were utterly obsessed with the drama, then the name Sam Spruell won’t be new to you. Following on from the BBC show’s great success, the ingenious actor trusted with bringing Frank Pulley to life is looking to harness his electric acting skills and lend them to the Arctic-bound mini-series, The North Water.
When speaking on the conditions whilst filming his latest project, Sam confessed, “It was bloody freezing, the wind was harsh, and the sense of isolation was absolutely there both physically and psychologically. It was a complete privilege to witness the freezing beauty and the sporadic appearance of Arctic wildlife, but also to fully appreciate the effects of climate change. Polar ice that should have been there just wasn’t. The show partly explores man’s need to dominate and consume the natural world. The power of presenting that just wouldn’t have been there if we had not gone to the Arctic.”
Upon the release of his latest project, the actor sat down with Wonderland to talk his approach to lockdown life and his experience working in the Arctic. Head below to read our interview with Sam Spruell now…
Hey Sam, how are you? How has this past year been for you?
The second lockdown was tough, wasn’t it? I’ve been surprised by how compassionate and together society can be. Like everyone else, I think I was reminded that it is the lowest paid, and often overlooked, that keeps this country running. Hopefully, society can increase the respect for the nurses, bin men and women, supermarket workers, and curb our need to celebrate fame and wealth, neither of which was that helpful when the pandemic was properly taking hold.
A lot of people picked up some unusual skills during lockdown, did you try anything new?
I tried slowing down and enjoyed it very much. I attempted to face down the freneticism of London life. I also started growing fruit and veg, which was all part of that.
How did you first get into acting? What sparked your interest?
Youth theaters! What a brilliant thing to have access to as a kid. My mum is also an actress, so I’ve been around it all my life. I wanted to grow to 6ft 6 and be a basketball player, but as I realised that wasn’t going to happen, I found that I could take acting seriously and pursue it as a job. It’s a very good profession if you’re curious about people.
Last year you were in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series, how did you get involved in the series and what was it like working with the team?
The casting director, Gary Davey, got me in front of Steve. I read for him, and he said I was like a character from an Alan Clark film and promptly gave me the job, no messing around, which was lovely. Everyone was great to work with, very conscientious makeup and costume and great actors. But, my overriding memory will always be Mr Mcqueen. He’s a powerful personality to work with. He pushes you to be your best, and his drive is infectious. He is a true artist in every sense of the word and exactly the type of person I want to work with.
And now you’re in The North Water with Colin Farrell and Jack O’Connell, how did you get involved?
My agent had been speaking to a brilliant woman called Kahleen Crawford, and the offer came through. Sometimes you end up doing 4 auditions and not getting a job, sometimes they just fall in your lap. This was the latter. The director Andrew Haigh had seen my work, I met him for a coffee and that was that. I can’t believe I didn’t have to work harder for it because I love Andrew’s work, and the part was a peach. But, I’ll take it!
Talk us through your role as Michael Cavendish! How did you approach the role? Did you prepare for it differently from the past roles?
I use the same method as a starting point when I begin to build a character, but a lot of the time it’s thinking and sniffing around for inspiration. I read around the time and place, 1850s Britain, the whaling trade. I listened to interviews of Kentish fishermen and I tried to consider the physical condition of Cavendish. But, Andrew Haigh telling me that Cavendish was in love with Drax, aka Colin Farrell, really helped and seemed to unlock a lot of ideas. He also gave me some music by the composer Tim Hecker, which was almost sci-fi, but that really help me to understand the tone of what we were after. He also wrote a great script based on a great book, so there was no excuse to not be inspired.
Were you able to relate to your character in any way?
Cavendish has almost no morality or foresight, he’s not bright and has little empathy. So, hopefully, no overlap there. But I relate to his enthusiasm and his indomitable spirit, which seems to live amongst the chaos he causes. At times, I share his propensity for bullshit and bluster.
Filming in extreme conditions must have been intense, what was it like?
It was one less thing to act. It was bloody freezing, the wind was harsh, and the sense of isolation was absolutely there both physically and psychologically. It was a complete privilege to witness the freezing beauty and the sporadic appearance of Arctic wildlife, but also to fully appreciate the effects of climate change. Polar ice that should have been there just wasn’t. The show partly explores man’s need to dominate and consume the natural world. The power of presenting that just wouldn’t have been there if we had not gone to the Arctic
(LEFT) Coat MR P, Jumper BELSTAFF, Trousers OLIVER SPENCER (RIGHT) Coat and Roll Neck RICHARD JAMES, Trousers COLIN HARVEY, Boots GRESON
Looking back on the filming process, what was your favourite moment?
There were two aspects: the purity of the process when we were in the Arctic and having no distractions was a joy. I really loved working with Colin. He made me better which I think is the nicest thing you could say about another actor.
Who would you love to work with? What role would you love to do?
Loads of people! Andrea Arnold. I love her films, and I’ve heard she’s a force to be reckoned with. If not her then Lyn Ramsay, who is another director doing fantastic work. As for actors, if it can’t be Colin Farrell then it has to be Tony Sevillo, who is a hero of mine. But, I think I’d first have to learn Italian.
What’s next for you? What are you most excited for?
I’m currently filming in Norway, playing twins in a film called The Hanging Sun. The landscape here is wild and breathtaking. The edges of Norway are like a smashed plate, with the scattered jagged pieces surrounded by the stillest Norwegian Sea. In January 2022, I’m going to play opposite Monica Dolan in John Shanley’s play, Doubt. It’s being directed by the brilliant actress-turned-director, Lia Williams. Both her and Monica are proper big hitters. I’m excited and scared in equal measure.
Top: BELSTAFF, Jacket and Trousers COLIN HARVEY, Boots GRENSON