DAVID MORRISEY: An illuminating journey from actor to director

For some time, David Morrissey had been searching for a film he could set in his hometown of Liverpool. After finding a script by chance, he then faced the task of bringing it to screen, he tells Marianne Gray David Morrissey was born and brought up

For some time, David Morrissey had been searching for a film he could set in his hometown of Liverpool. After finding a script by chance, he then faced the task of bringing it to screen, he tells Marianne Gray

David Morrissey was born and brought up in Liverpool and his new film, Don't Worry About Me, is a pure love letter to his hometown.

With a painterly flourish, he manages to render the city interestingly beautiful - whether it's through the classic shots of the Liver Building or a desolate high-rise estate.

"For some time, I'd been looking for a film - a low-budget love story to shoot in Liverpool," the actor/director tells me over a cup of coffee in Highgate, where he now lives with his wife, the novelist Esther Freud (who wrote Hideous Kinky) and their three children.

"By chance, I saw a play at the Arts Theatre, in Soho, called The Pool about two people in one city over 24 hours. I loved it and asked the playwrights, Helen Elizabeth and James Brough, if I could work their idea into a film script with them."

It took them three months to get together the bare bones of the script, which Elizabeth and Brough would star in. Then Morrissey had to start the round of meetings to raise the cash to make the film.

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"I actually spent three and a half years trying to raise �3.5million and several times I got close to it but it would fall back. So I decided to find out how much I could raise.

"I eventually got the funding (�100,000) privately and, because I have some profile, I didn't have to sit in rooms with people who wanted to change my script.

"I was lucky. Being an actor and having some sort of recognition, I got into meetings. It would have been much harder for a younger, less known film-maker.

"Although I'd directed shorts and TV dramas, it was my first feature as director. Because both Helen and James were classically trained and new to film, we had quite long rehearsals, and then we shot the film quickly as I had to go off and be an actor for a while. It took another two years before the film was edited and completed."

The film was made by the production company Morrissey formed with his brother Paul and wife Esther.

It tells the story of a southerner who ends up in Liverpool with just small change in his pocket after a one-night stand goes wrong. Placing a bet in a bookies to try to win his fare home to London, he meets a helpful local girl and plans take a different turn.

"In the original play, they were brother and sister. But I didn't want to 'do' incest so they became strangers," says Morrissey, who does not appear in the film.

"We discovered that Liverpool is a great place to film in. It has a good sense of place and I think it always has - even when I was growing up there on a council estate in the 70s, when the city was in a state of flux post-war.

"Luckily, I still have many contacts and family there and we found that everyone was so keen to help. Total strangers would bring us sandwiches when we were shooting on location in their street. Some people even offered us their back rooms for meetings or the use of their loo on cold days.

"Directing a feature film for the first time, I really discovered the difference between being an actor and being a director.

"As an actor, you can think it's about you and isolate yourself in your role and forget about the paraphernalia around you.

"But as a director you do everything, the whole paraphernalia, and you become aware of what an incredibly collaborative process film-making is."

The 45-year-old, very tall and forthright, got the acting bug somewhere between school plays and time with his best buddy actor Ian Hart at Liverpool's Everyman Youth Theatre.

In 1982, both of them were cast as Liverpool lads who run away to Wales in the Willy Russell-scripted Channel 4 series One Summer and the die was cast. RADA and working at the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre followed.

Since then, he has had what he calls a lucky ride - on television, playing everybody from Gordon Brown in The Deal to the South African interrogator Theunis Swanepoel in Mrs Mandela, and in films from Basic Instinct 2 with Sharon Stone to a Nazi officer in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Nowhere Boy and a Roman soldier in the upcoming Centurion. Most recently, we saw him on stage at the Almeida in Neil LaBute's In A Dark Dark House.

"I would like to do more stage but that play frightened the pants off me," he admits. "It was the first time I'd been on stage in 10 years and it rather shook me. Exhausting, stimulating and arse-clenchingly frightening.''

Don't Worry About Me will be shown on BBC1 in early March. The DVD will be available on March 8.

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