Growing up in the nineties we were huge fans of the TV Show ‘Renford Rejects’, so when the opportunity came up to speak to Martin Delaney, one of the shows main stars, we couldn’t pass it up. Obviously since the show aired Martin has gone on to have great success in the UK featuring in numerous prime time TV shows as well as featuring in a number of Hollywood movies. We wanted to talk to him about his latest adventure, this time going behind the camera to direct a short that he wrote, ‘Queen’s Mile’.
Hi Martin, it’s great to meet you.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the filmmaking business?
Well, I started acting when I a teenager. So whilst I was taking A-levels like most other kids, I was also appearing in the odd TV show, or film every now and then. I simply joined a young people’s talent agency, whilst attending open audition calls for theatre in London’s West End. Like everyone else in this game, I was tenacious but mostly lucky! Ha!
Ha! It must have been pretty hectic trying to juggle studying and acting.
You started out in theatre, how was the transition from working in front of a live audience to working in front of the camera?
In terms of moving into TV and film, it was really about where the work took me, though I have to admit I was fascinated by screen. I loved theatre, I’ve always loved doing it and enjoy returning to the stage when I can. It’s how I first really fell in love with acting, like most actors. However my real inspiration was always film. I loved the idea of watching movies with my dad. Old classics from the ‘golden age’ of studio films. As a child, I was intrigued by the idea that these people did not exist in my little TV screen, they weren’t really there, but they could still have such an effect on me, through their story telling ability – Many years on! As a result, I guess I just naturally gravitated towards screen work.
It sounds as though it was a very natural transition for you.
You starred in one of our favorite TV shows growing up, the ‘Renford Rejects’, how did you enjoy your time on the show?
Ha! Really? Ah, good old Renford Rejects. You know what, it was everything anyone hoped it would be. A real laugh and a joy to make. I mean, getting paid to play football each summer with a nice group of people isn’t a bad way to grow up! We had some wonderful guest stars on the show and that was always incredible. Working with Zola, and the 1966 boys was fun. Stan Bowles, the old QPR centre forward was hilarious. We got on well, Stan and I. He came down, some years later, to Kent to have a drink with my father and I… Funny when you think about it. Haha! I mean, there are just so many good Renford Rejects stories but we’d need a whole day to get through them!
What was so special professionally, is that we had a lot of creative freedom on that show. I mean it was a kid’s show, and we were basically kids – though some of us were older, playing down – but they trusted us. That’s the point I guess I’m trying to make – Incredible that these American Producers gave us that. It was my first time working in England with American producers and they let us run with stuff. We would sit and rehearse scripts for 4 weeks before we started shooting, I mean that really is an unheard of luxury these days! They let us come up with bits that we felt worked well, or the writers would observe us in read-throughs and tweak the scripts. A fantastic experience in that sense. We got nominated for a BAFTA in our opening season, and attracted some amazing guest stars over the years. It’s funny because I made that show almost 20 years ago now, and Nickelodeon showed it for so long, I still get people recognising me from it.
Well, I am not surprised you get recognised, it was a fantastic show and very popular, especially here in the UK. I am glad to hear you had a a good time on the show and everyone got on well, I think that came across on-screen. That’s a great story about Stan Bowles it’s great that you and Stan kept in touch after the show.
You have appeared in some pretty big movies including ‘Flags of Our Fathers’, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Now You See Me 2’. How did this compare to your TV work?
Though I was a very small part, yes, it’s been an honour to be part of them – especially those three you mention. I mean, just for the sheer fact that the first two were nominated for Oscars, with Zero Dark winning one. I guess, I just wasn’t thinking about that kind of thing, back in the day when I was making Renford Rejects for example, you know? Ha! My most humbling professional moment is Zero Dark Thirty winning Best Ensemble Cast at the LA critics awards that year. That’s when I felt a tiny bit of sincere pride.
It was a well-deserved win!
Not a huge amount is different from set to set anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the obvious ways they’re different from some of the TV work I’ve done, is that there’s more money thrown at the projects, so you’re looked after pretty well and you have maybe a little more time to get things done, when you’re actually on set. But it’s work, and I always approach the work in the same way, with the same respect. Personally, it’s different in that I’m used to playing the odd guest lead, or leads in TV shows in England, and here I was, being such an tiny part of these big films really. Then again, I desperately wanted to be part of them. I wasn’t going to turn down working with Clint Eastwood and Kathryn Bigelow. No way.
That is definitely a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, and I bet it is great to say you have been a part of something like that.
Did you enjoy the experience working on big budget movies?
I did yes, it’s lovely to be part of such great bits of writing. I also loved working with each of those directors. Mr Eastwood and Ms Bigelow are both relatively similar, in that they offer you so much trust. The notes they make are resourceful and detailed, to the point that you feel this overwhelming creative freedom, which part of you can’t believe they offer you, in terms of trust. Mr Chu (John M Chu) who directed Now You See Me 2, is very cool and a lot of fun. He creates a wonderfully relaxed, joyful feeling on set – In fact, each of them did. There’s no mad frantic pressure on those sets, no yelling, no screaming at each other. Everyone just happy to be at work! It takes real skill to be at the helm of big movies like that, in charge of big budgets, all this responsibility, and yet driving that comfortable atmosphere. There’s no doubt that you get the best out of people when they feel comfortable. I mean, what’s not to enjoy about that? I feel lucky to have those experiences.
They sound like very inspiring sets to work on.
Can you tell us a little bit about your debut short, ‘Queen’s Mile’?
I’d written the piece, so there’s a special feeling about trying to get your own work up off the page. I loved the experience! I was very lucky to be working with some special actors in Emerald O’Hanrahan, Amrita Acharia and Rez Kempton. Our crew were awesome too! We had a skeleton team, which was an important choice for us, as we were filming in a busy part of London. Even though we had scheduled a four day shoot, being in such a vibrant part of London with so many people around, shooting a 9 minute short film felt extremely challenging. But challenges are always useful. They force you to be more creative and I love that kind of challenge. I’m so proud of how hard that crew worked.
I can imagine it being challenging filming in a busy part of London and having a an excellent crew around certainly makes a huge difference.
You wrote and directed the short. Where did you get your inspiration for the film?
I just wanted to tell a classic universal story, in short format, with a particular audience in mind. I felt like LGBT audiences were somewhat under-served, so that was an interesting place to start. I also wanted my first piece in short film to have some meaning, to be a valid contribution to an area of film. I suppose I wondered why there wasn’t majority amounts of content in LGBT film, where the piece wasn’t focused on sexuality. Content with gay characters that wasn’t necessarily about being gay at all, but universal themes like love, hope, loss, anxiety, fear, grief. For example, how does one bring a story using gay characters into the 21st century? Well, for me it was simple, their sexuality is totally irrelevant, and an exploration of themes that have been used in classic film for years is far more appropriate, whilst bringing this particular story up to date. I’ve always been inspired by classic love stories, and found the romantic and tragic themes particularly inspiring for drama. Positioning the story here opened up other more subtle themes, but once I had decided on that, the barrier, naturally, was how to explore all this in under 10 minutes! It was at that point that Queen’s Mile really became whatever it has ended up as. Whether it’s a tale about love, loss, tragedy, beauty or hope, these decisions are up to the viewer. Though it has a simple and clear narrative, I hope that it’s ambiguous enough that the audience can see whatever they wish in it.
That’s a fantastic idea and I am sure the short will do very well. I think the LGBT audience is definitely under-served so I think there will be a big market for your film.
How did you feel about the completed movie and the positive feedback it has received?
I think if you’re sensible about your work and career, there’s always things you would wish to change about a performance if you’re an actor, or a shot when you’re directing. I think it’s healthy to realise there’s room for improvement. At the same time, its art and art has its own life. Something maybe happening in the moment that you can’t go back and change or effect, and there’s a beauty in that. In letting something be exactly what it is. So on the whole, I’m happy. I truly believe we achieved what we set out to do with Queen’s Mile. Did things change along the way? Yes. Are there moments, or shots I would do differently if I did it again? Yes. But the film is exactly what it is. There’s a serendipity in that. The feedback has been something else, because you’re not thinking of feedback when you make it. Yes, we made Queen’s Mile with an audience in mind, but actually you don’t think of what it will be like when you hear from them! It’s just humbling, pure and simple. When someone tells you that they like something you created, there’s an instant connectivity that happens when you realise you’re a little bit similar, you and this person that you may or may not know. That you’ve communicated with them, just via some pictures and sounds that you put together, or whatever. There’s a spirituality in that moment, where the only place you can go to, is humility and gratitude.
Were you surprised that it has been nominated for ‘Best British Short Film’ at this year’s Iris Prize Film Festival?
If I’m honest, yes. We’d been accepted into some wonderful festivals prior to Iris’ acknowledgment of our film, however there’d been some festivals we’d pinned hopes on, that hadn’t taken the film. So it became hard to know who would, or why the film would be taken. As much as we really wanted, and hoped for us to be involved, we just couldn’t predict how it would go. It’s particularly special with Iris because it’s a British festival, in it’s 10th year this year, so a unique one to be part of. It’s one of the world’s top 50 film festivals currently and I believe it a crucial and important festival on the international circuit. It’s an absolute pleasure for us to have the film involved!
Congratulations, getting the nomination is a reward in itself.
How did you find you first experience in the directors chair?
I really enjoyed it all, if I’m honest. Even in my early career, spending time on sets, I never wanted to leave when I had wrapped for the day, I always enjoyed watching others at work. I took great interest in all these skillful roles coming together, to create something special. I was always a fan of the work directors did and hugely interested in the way they worked, so I’d always known I would do something at some point. It took me a long time before I actually transitioned and started working the other side of the camera, as well as acting. But even since I was a kid, I was always making comedic home-videos. My poor siblings were often forced into playing characters, but the most willing was my younger brother Pat. He was always so funny in them, a real natural. He actually went on to play younger versions of me in films I starred in. He was always so good! Strangely Pat & my older brother Mike, both now work behind the camera too, designing football ads. Mike has choreographed some of the biggest footballing ads in the world, over the years. Pat does similar work but he’s based in the states. It’s funny that we each have a desire to be that side, to observe the big picture and tell stories through pictures.
Working in film must be cemented in your genes!
Are you looking to get back behind the camera and doing more films?
I am, for sure! I have some short ideas that I’m developing, as well as a couple of script ideas for features which I’m fleshing out. I’ve not worked out exactly when I’ll do my next one, but I’m very keen to direct a comedy short too. In fact, I’m developing one idea with Susan Nickson (Two Pints of Lager, Birds of a Feather) and Tim Dawson (Two Pints of Lager, Grown Ups), both of which are working on the new ‘Carry On’ series of films. So, it won’t be too long with any luck!
We will be looking forward to that in the future.
Have you got any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Well in September I have a couple of screen projects coming out. I’m in a film called Bonded By Blood 2, which is a classic British gangster movie. I’d never done anything in that genre so it was an enlightening experience making it – That’s out this month. I’m also appearing in the new series of JOSH starring Josh Widdecombe. This is season 2, and I guest star in the second episode, playing Danny. Danny and Natalie are the classic, pain-in-the-arse, power couple from Josh’s old uni and unfortunately for Josh, they’re on the next table in the restaurant he’s eating in. Freya Parker plays Natalie and she’s wonderful, a terrific comic actress. We had a real laugh filming it actually. The entire team are great, and I had a lot of affection for Jack Dee on the project. He’s just a lovely guy! That starts on BBC3 on the 22nd of September, with BBC1 showing it the following week after Graham Norton.
Sounds great, I will make sure to watch it.
What does the future hold for Martin Delaney?
Oh I don’t know… It’s a wonderful industry and I love acting and telling stories. I have some American projects on the way, that I can’t say much about at this stage, but I’ll be starting work on those soon. If I had my way, I’d love my career to continue to be varied and diverse. To date, I’ve really enjoyed the variety in my career, it’s something I have always gone after. So, I’ll just keep on with that path I guess, it keeps me fascinated. I’d like to be directing a feature within the next couple of years, so we’ll see. But then again, a wiser person than me once said: Don’t talk of what you will do, just do it… Good advice… Good advice.
We are sure your more than capable of it! Well, thank you Martin it has been a pleasure talking to you. We would just like to say good luck with your upcoming projects and we will be keeping an eye out for ‘Queen’s Mile’ on the festival circuit.
You can find out more information about Queen’s Mile HERE and for everyone in the UK be sure to tune into JOSH on BBC.