'I'd have made The Full Monty flop'

Ian Hart is fed up with being asked why he isn't a bigger star. He's as baffled as everyone else. Fiona Morrow meets a talented actor struggling to stay honest... and cheerful
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The Independent Culture

Ian Hart plonks himself down and tells me he feels "like shite". He's suffering from a chest infection and has come to the interview via the chemist. His miserable mood is summed up by a hang-dog expression framed by a baseball cap pulled way down on his head, coincidentally accentuating his already prominent lugs.

Ian Hart plonks himself down and tells me he feels "like shite". He's suffering from a chest infection and has come to the interview via the chemist. His miserable mood is summed up by a hang-dog expression framed by a baseball cap pulled way down on his head, coincidentally accentuating his already prominent lugs.

Hart has been bubbling just beneath a major breakthrough part for what seems like years, holding instead perhaps the unenviable position of an actor with a reputation for turning in a good performance whatever the relative merits of the film as a whole. Press cuttings show that with almost every role, from Backbeat to Land And Freedom, he has been touted as the next big British thing, yet while the likes of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Jude Law are household names, Hart has remained in relative obscurity.

It's an irony not lost on him, "Some guy stopped me on the street and asked me in an accusing way - 'Why aren't you bigger?'" Hart snorts, "Like it's my fault. Why aren't I bigger? Because none of the films I've done have made any money. I'm no worse an actor than half-a-dozen people who are massively famous. It's got nothing to do with the ability to interpret a part, it's all about whether the film as a whole connects to a larger audience."

It could have been a different story. After a believably chilled-out performance in Oliver Parker and Peter Cattaneo's ecstasy drama, Loved Up, Hart passed on director Cattaneo's follow-up, the film that might have made him a star. "I read the script for The Full Monty and I didn't think it was the best script I'd ever read. I thought the film was all right," he shrugs. "I didn't audition for it, but if I had, and they'd given me the part, I'd have probably made it a different film and it would have flopped."

He says this without any suggestion of sour grapes; Hart is an actor who was initially so happy to be able to earn a living at the job he loves that the fame and financial trappings weren't ever really an issue. But on a bad day like this, he admits to frustration at his career having stalled. Not in terms of the projects (he's more than happy to be associated with the work of directors such as Ken Loach and Neil Jordan) but in the little things, like still having to audition. "I don't know when that stops," he sighs, "Anything I'm simply offered is usually crap - something that every other bugger has already turned down. I'm not getting anywhere doing this job, am I? I'm not making massive strides."

Hart speaks fast and furiously, his Liverpudlian brogue becoming thicker in relation to the animation of his delivery. As he talks, he scratches his head, pulls at his chin, and, on occasion, stands up and stretches. There's no bullshit about him - ask him a question and you get the answer - a fact which journalists love, but which must put fear into press officers and producers; he's not about to gloss over his feelings to save someone else's neck.

He's often quoted as saying that he has no interest in acting in comedies, yet his latest film, The Closer You Get, directed by Aileen Ritchie and produced by Full Monty man Uberto Pasolini, is just that. So what made him change his mind? "Saying that probably," he smiles, "I bored myself to tears with my own dislike, so I thought I'd try a comedy and see what it's like."

And how was it? Hart doesn't pause long enough to blink before answering with gusto. "It was horrible. It's trying to be truthful and trying to be stupid at the same time, and truthful is much easier than stupid. I loved the people and the place, though, but there was too much messing around. It happens between producers and directors on lots of sets, and sometimes it's a pain, and other times you're not aware of it, but on this it was like 'Will you'se two pack it in, We're trying to make a comedy here!' There just weren't any good vibes." Shot in rural Ireland, The Closer You Get follows the hopes of the sexually frustrated men of the village in their efforts to attract American women to attend the local dance. It's not very good and, for once, neither is Hart, who spends much of the film as a bleached blond with a penchant for scratching his crotch.

"It's not my cup of tea," he admits when I ask him what he thought of the finished film. "But then my cup of tea hasn't got me anywhere. The things I like have been massively unsuccessful - half of them haven't even got distribution."

A lot was done to try and make The Closer You Get work. "There were reshoots, scenes were moved around. I'm sure they did what they could." He would have done more; "My major criticism would be that it was shoddily edited and poorly scored." He pauses, and allows himself a smirk before concluding, 'That won't go down well - the composer was the producer's wife."

Would he dip his toe into comedy again? "Where's the blue moon?" he laughs, before qualifying himself. "Nah, you have to see what happens. I auditioned for a Farrelly Brothers' film and I'd have done that in a heartbeat, it was hilarious."

He doesn't waste time regretting his choices, nor does he welch on his commitments, but he admits to occasions when he would have loved to just walk away. "Oh aye, you want to get in that cab. How do they do it in America? Get me a lawyer," he shouts to a disinterested hotel lobby. "Have I got a lawyer?" He tones it down a few decibels, "You have to get on with it, like everyone else who's got a job. Actors don't deserve any fucking dispensation."

Quick to voice his own opinion, Hart could doubtless be seen as difficult to work with. One director has described the actor's anger as "never far from the surface". Hart looks bemused by this revelation, but he's clear about what makes his life more difficult; "The sort of thing I do tends to be half-written, fourth leads - you've got to do a lot of work not to make shit look as bad as it is. A lot of directors don't direct, they're waiting for you to provide for them. It's 'What can you offer me?' And I can offer this, but it might not be right, I was hoping that you'd have an overview. And then, when it's not working and they feel threatened, they start exercising their authority, but that doesn't work at all with me. I'm more likely to carry on barking. I can do that all day, shouting doesn't bother me, but if you'd just had a fucking conversation with me I wouldn't be doing it."

He shakes his head and looks at his feet, "This is really embarrassing, I'm coming across as a seriously boring depressive here, but sadly I'm a moaning git today, so that's the conversation we've had." Then he looks up, gives me a sly smile, and says, "If you can edit it all down to make it sound positive, I'll give you a tenner."

The Closer You Get is released on 8 Sept