The Resident catches up with actor and father-of-two Jason Flemyng at the new Merton Arts Space in Wimbledon to discuss his Lock, Stock legacy and why its important to support local arts spaces
Clapham local and A-list actor Jason Flemyng is perhaps best known for his role as Tom in Guy Ritchie’s magnum opus, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Never a day goes by, he tells me, when someone doesn’t ask him what he did with those guns (famously, the film has a humdinger of an ambiguous ending – but no spoilers).
Although he plays bad well, Flemyng is no one-trick pony. As well as bagging roles in the likes of X-Men, Snatch, Stardust, and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, his portrayal of Joe Gargery in the 2012 adaptation of Great Expectations was, for him, a turning point in his career. ‘I’m romantic about the novel, because Great Expectations was one of the first projects I worked on that broke away from urban street films,’ he reflects.
Ritchie’s movies have defined his career, he admits. ‘You just hope that you’re not only remembered for one thing,’ he says. ‘For a lot of years it was like, “it’s that guy from Lock Stock whose name I can’t remember”. Everyone else married supermodels or became millionaires,’ he jokes. ‘You know what I mean? Like Statham and Vaughn and all those guys. Luckily for me, Great Expectations came along, as well as X-Men and Benjamin Button.’
The story of Great Expectations still has an element of criminality and darkness, so what kind of role is he naturally drawn to? ‘Joe is a lovely character, but I think all my no-good villains have still got a sensitivity and likeability to them. When I play a part it’s very simple – I just think what would I do, and how I would behave in that situation. Dickens gives you all the keys, so as an actor, you’re onto a winner.’
When we catch up, he’s about to give a reading from the opening chapter of a Dickens novel at the new Merton Arts Space in Wimbledon Library, prior to a theatrical performance of the tale from the Attic Theatre Company – the launch production for the new venue.
Supporting libraries and local arts spaces in his hometown (‘Clapham is my manor – I’m a big fish in a small sea and that’s how I like it’) is close to his heart. In fact, it’s how he himself started out growing up in Putney.
Reading is one of the great joys of life and, thanks to libraries, it’s free, and it’s classless. Whether you go to private school or not, no-one can keep Dickens away from the kids
‘I used to go to Saturday morning clubs at Putney cinema, and I started acting in Putney Arts Theatre on the Upper Richmond Road,’ he explains. ‘Growing up, the library was part of our upbringing. Reading is one of the great joys of life and, thanks to libraries, it’s free, and it’s classless. Being an old leftie, that’s important to me. Whether you go to private school or not, no-one can keep Dickens away from the kids.’
As the father of five-year-old twins, the library has become the go-to hang-out for Flemyng and his boys. ‘Apart from being shelter from the weather, it’s a great destination for the kids. My favourite thing in the world is reading with them.’
Judging from his wonderful characterisation in the reading I attended, as well as his impressive filmography, the two of them are lucky boys.
He’s never likely to stray entirely from SW, he says. ‘We lived in Putney growing up and my mum did this thing when I left home. She got out a compass and drew a two and a half mile radius of how far away I could move – and Clapham Common was just on the edge of that.’ Over in Battersea, he even bought into a local boozer, former gin palace The Duchess.
Although the now 50-year-old Flemyng tells me that although one of the greatest perks of his career in film has been the opportunity to travel the world, his priority now is to stay close to his children here at home. ‘It’s been the best thing I could possibly have asked for. You know, nine weeks in Jordan or in the Himalayas or wherever it is, places that you wouldn’t normally go to.’
Now, he’s focussing his energy on making a move behind the camera. ‘After 150 films in front of the camera, of which about 130 are unwatchable, my thing now is to make my own films,’ he reveals.
‘I’ve just finished my first one, Eat Local, which I’m really proud of. I just rang some of the guys up and said look, help me out. It’s a vampire flick about a make-up company who are sourcing a vampire to take a blood sample from, in order to make the world’s greatest night cream, and all the shenanigans that happen the night they find a vampire and pin it down.’
He loved every second of it, he tells me, and the best thing about it is that he can work on the pre-production and post-production after the school run. But that’s not all. He’s also been working on TV shows for the first time – look out for detective series SS-GB out later this year, as well as Jamestown, a drama from the producers of Downton Abbey, about a group of English settlers in America set back in 1617.
It seems to us that he’s got it all sussed – lock, stock and barrel.