Tom Meeten is an actor, writer and comedian best known for roles in television shows The Mighty Boosh and Star Stories. He has also in appeared in many films such as Burke And Hare, Paddington and Sightseers, and can now be seen in British thriller The Ghoul. Tom took some time to talk to Starburst about crossing over to the dark side, his reasons for taking the role and the complexities of craft services.
Starburst: Gareth (Tunley, writer and director of The Ghoul) has described his cast as, affectionately we presume, “a bunch of clowns”. You are known for your comedic roles, though, so what was it that drew you to the darkness of The Ghoul?
Tom Meeten: What drew me to it initially was, well, being asked to do it. Gareth asked and I said “yes”. In all seriousness, you get typecast in things so it’s great to do different stuff. One of the reasons I enjoy this career is the variation of what you can do. With this, though, I’ve never really done any drama. Doing a serious role there’s a chance to properly explore a character in depth that you don’t always get with quirky comedy.
There’s certainly a depth to your character, and we wondered if you fully realised how dark you’d have to go in the role?
In order to properly prepare, we rehearsed a lot as it was kind of a first time for me and Gareth. When we came to filming, it became incredibly immersive. You can’t always prepare fully, and the role definitely took me to some darker places. And after all the edits and sound design you see it develop and when you finally see the film, it’s even more intense than when you played it. I’m lucky, though, as to be lead in a film, and a good film at that, is incredibly exciting.
Your character is very withdrawn, almost naïve and unresponsive.
That’s true. On the page he was very passive, and easily manipulated by those around him. In some ways, because I was coming to drama for the first time, I really tried to pare down the performance, and I was always critical with myself that perhaps I’d done too little. It was a conscious effort, though, to internalise the horror the character is going through. It also makes him unreadable as he’s almost playing two characters. In a strange way, it was easier playing the breakdowns rather than the cop, as you could release more. Gareth was great at getting the performance; we developed a shorthand.
You’re also a producer on the film, and we wondered how far that role went. Did you have to sweep up at the end of the day as well as act? How was it balancing those two roles?
Often, when you make bigger films, you’re just sitting around being well treated, with drinks and snacks being provided for you, and watching other people work really hard. Then you get called up, do a couple of lines, and then get whisked back to your trailer. The idea of chipping in; I like that. With The Ghoul, it felt like we were a little gang, and it’s exciting feeling more a part of things. Being a poncey actor doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather be pushing our home-made dolly, that came from a wheelchair, down the street. It’s more immersive. There are some things as a producer I’m not keen to do again such as contracts. It’s just paperwork which is really dull. Getting involved, though, and helping out is great and it can only really happen on a low budget film. Working out how many vegetarian pizzas we need for example.
We have images of you making cheese sandwiches with Alice Lowe.
(laughs) I didn’t make Alice do that, as she wasn’t a producer. She got to sit and relax in her chair. We knew everyone on set well, though, and had worked with them all before. And everyone’s on deferred payments so it’s like a team pulling together. So, no, Alice didn’t make cheese sandwiches. Maybe I’ll do a film about Alice Lowe making cheese sandwiches. With a dark twist.
Where do you go next as you’ve done both big and small films?
I just like working really. I did a little on Alice’s film Prevenge, and on my old comedy partner Steve Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! I guess you can hang on for the big stuff and wait years, or you can just get out there and make films. Gareth has another one in the works which will hopefully have a catering budget so I don’t have to worry about the cheese sandwiches. And I’m also writing something myself, and I’ll undoubtedly call on all my brilliant friends to help out. It’s like a collective or a movement making these interesting films.
Like a Ben Wheatley version of The Footlights.
Like a comprehensive or polytechnic Footlights, yes. Ben was one of the reasons The Ghoul got made. I met him a long time ago on an ill-fated sketch show for Channel 4 and it’s been amazing to see his rise. Many of us have all worked together on the comedy scene so it’s quite a gang; Simon Farnaby, Michael Smiley, comedians doing serious roles. It’s an exciting and kind of embryonic time.
The Ghoul is in cinemas from the 4th August and you can read our thoughts on it right here.