Dave Johns is a veteran standup comedian who got his big break at 59, when Ken Loach cast him as the title character in I, Daniel Blake. The film was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes film festival and went on to win a Bafta. Johns grew up in Newcastle and worked as a bricklayer before turning his hand to standup comedy. Though he has acted on stage before, I, Daniel Blake was his first big-screen role and transformed his career. His new standup show, I, Fillum Star, currently at the Edinburgh fringe, reflects on the experience.
Tell me about the show…
Everybody has a secret fantasy about being a film star, but never in a million years did I think it would happen to me. I’ve been doing standup for 30 years and I was getting to the point where I was thinking: “I can’t be travelling to Hull for £130 any more.” Just as I was about to pack it in, Ken Loach got in touch.
So the show is about the craziness of my new life on the red carpet. I’m the most unlikely film star – I don’t think there are any others out there called Dave.
What were some of the more surreal moments?
On my second day in Cannes, I had a really strange conversation with Steven Spielberg about giants (he was making The BFG at the time). There are two ways, I find, that working-class people deal with uncomfortable situations: they either spout mad streams of consciousness or they go to the bar to get drunk. As it was early in the morning I couldn’t go to the bar, so I went on and on about giants. I kept saying to myself: “OK Dave, could you stop now?”
What did Spielberg make of it?
I think Steven thought I was insane [laughs]. But funny-insane, you know. Another surreal moment was when Juliette Binoche came over to me at a party and said: “Your film broke my heart, you were wonderful in it.” Then she gave me a cuddle and I think I might have held on to her a little bit too long – I had a vision of her entourage coming to drag me off. But the reaction to the film has been unbelievable – from people in all walks of life.
Did you have to pinch yourself sometimes?
Mate, I had to punch myself in the face a couple of times [laughs]. Even now, when I’m on set – I’ve made three films since I, Daniel Blake – I think: “How the hell have I got here?” This is how crazy it is: I won best newcomer at the Empire film awards and the day after I got an over-60s bowel cancer testing kit from the NHS. But I’m so glad that it’s happened now that I’m 61.
Don’t you wish this break had come a few decades earlier?
I think I would have gone a bit bonkers. But because I’m this age, I know that it’s all fluff… you’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt.
You grew up in Newcastle, where the film is set. How closely did you identify with Daniel Blake?
Aw, very much so. We filmed some of the scenes on Shields Road in Byker, where I was brought up. Byker was working class – my dad was a joiner – but it had some sense of community and I never felt deprived. Now, because of this austerity, Byker is struggling to keep its identity.
Has working with Ken Loach made you more politically aware?
I have always been a Labour supporter and when I worked on the building sites I was a union rep. I’m not militant, I try to see both sides of the argument. But Ken has radicalised me. I spoke last year at the Labour party conference – they had me on stage with Len McCluskey from the Unite union and Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, and I’m thinking: “If my dad was alive, he’d go, ‘How the hell did you get yourself into this?’”
Would he have been proud?
Oh yeah. My parents never got to see me doing standup – when they died I was still working as a bricklayer. I think they would be proud. Totally baffled, but proud.
Do you feel optimistic about Labour under Jeremy Corbyn?
I wasn’t sure about Jeremy Corbyn at first, I’ll be honest. But now I can see he’s got the passion to change things and his ideas feel right to me. We need proper change in this country. We can’t go on like we are, with the wealth in the hands of the few, because that’s where you get crime and discontent and people feeling left out. There has to be radical change and I think Jeremy Corbyn could deliver it.
Can you understand what drives people to vote for Trump or Brexit?
Yeah, I think it’s the result of fear. The debate around Brexit was so badly done. I voted to stay, but I don’t think anyone over 50 should have been allowed to vote on Brexit, because it’s not our future – this is going to have an impact on my kids and everybody’s kids.
After the success of I, Daniel Blake, does it feel weird going back to standup?
It’s weird that half of the audience know who I am. That never happened before on the circuit – they’d go: “Oh yeah, that Geordie guy was funny” but they wouldn’t know my name. I think people might be surprised because I’m not overly political in my standup, I’m more silly and surreal, though in this show I’m trying to make a few points and talk about what the film meant, so it’s interesting to see how people react.
Is it nerve-racking?
It would have been when I was younger. At my age, you’re more interested in why you’re getting up to go for a pee four times in a night than what’s going to happen during a standup show in Edinburgh.
Has your new film-star status affected your everyday life?
No, not really. I think I’ve passed my midlife crisis, so I haven’t bought a speedboat, I haven’t gone hot air ballooning with Richard Branson. I’ve got a 12-year-old daughter and it’s very important for me to spend time with her, so it’s given me more time to do that. And making films is fascinating. Nobody tells you anything when you go on a film set, you have to learn on the job, but I’ve found I’m not too bad at it. I don’t know how long all this is going to last, but I’m having fun with it.
Dave Johns: ‘I was about to pack it in when Ken Loach got in touch’ have 1218 words, post on www.theguardian.com at 2017-08-13 08:02:08. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.