The Interview: ‘Peaky Blinders’ actor Joe Cole talks to YM Liverpool
Joe Cole shot to fame as dapper but deadly gangster John Shelby in TV sensation ‘Peaky Blinders’.
For his next role he’s gone from the Midlands to Thailand via Liverpool to play a troubled amateur boxer in gritty big screen prison drama ‘A Prayer Before Dawn’.
We caught up with Joe to talk about the new film, learning to speak Scouse and saying goodbye to his Birmingham blood brothers.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
Can you tell us a bit about ‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ and the character you play?
It’s about Billy Moore, a young amateur boxer from Liverpool who got addicted to drugs and was in and out of young offender institutions.
He moved to Thailand where he became a Thai boxer. He started getting involved with drugs again and was arrested.
This film is about his life inside a Thai prison fighting his addiction, fighting himself and everyone around him, and using Muay Thai to find inner peace and redemption.
Did you meet the real Billy Moore before you made the film?
Yes, I became good friends with him. When I got the role I was shooting ‘Peaky Blinders’ and not long after that we were in Liverpool so I had the opportunity to spend quite a lot of time with him.
He was a fantastic resource and very helpful to me. He couldn’t come to Thailand because he’s banned at the moment, but I was able to speak to him on Skype if I had any questions or queries.
Sometimes I’d just call him up of an evening when I was in Bangkok shooting and he would talk through various things with me.
You’ve previously said you don’t see yourself as a method actor. How did you get into character for this role?
Method is a funny word. What is method? Does that mean you walk around and pretend to be the person when you’re not shooting? I definitely use elements.
I kept the Liverpudlian accent the entire time I was in Thailand because I wanted it to be very natural and we were improvising quite a lot. I didn’t want to slip into my own accent.
I got into shape and learnt to fight to a pretty high level, which meant when I got to the set I was very relaxed. I use elements [of method acting] but I wouldn’t go home and punch a wall or take some heroin.
Did you have any experience of boxing or any combat sports before making the film?
I’d done boxing and judo, but I hadn’t done Muay Thai so that was interesting.
I had to kind of unlearn some skills because it’s different to boxing in a sense that you’re not meant to move your head and things like that.
When I was out in Atlanta doing a film called ‘Thank You for Your Service’, every day and night I wasn’t working I’d go and do Muay Thai.
That was for a few months. Then I went to Thailand for the film and trained in the camps out there for a while in the build up to the shoot.
How did you find picking up the Liverpool accent?
I found it all right actually. I worked with a voice coach and I think I’ve got a pretty good ear. It came relatively easily. I really love Liverpool.
“We couldn’t do ‘movie punches’. The sparing is real. It’s a bit different to ‘Peaky Blinders where it was more choreographed.”
There are some brutal fight scenes in the film. How much of those did you do you do for real?
It’s all me – you can’t fake that. It’s all long takes with no cuts, which means the punches have to connect. We
couldn’t do ‘movie punches’.
The sparing is real. It’s a bit different to ‘Peaky Blinders’ where it was more choreographed.
The film was partially shot on location in Nakhon Pathom Prison, Thailand. what was it like working in that kind of environment?
That prison recently closed down and it was populated with ex-convicts and prisoner boxers. But the second prison in the movie is a real prison in the Philippines.
There were 2,700 prisoners and they put a boxing ring in the middle of it – in a kind of a courtyard. They put me up against a champion Thai fighter with all these prisoners watching – it was pretty crazy.
A load of people tried to escape on the day we shot and our make-up artist had two bodyguards, but they all actually loved me and were really supportive.
Your character left ‘Peaky Blinders’ at the start of series four. was it hard to say goodbye to such a successful show?
It was my decision. It was the right time for me, I wanted to explore different roles and have some variety in my career.
I felt like I’d explored [‘Peaky Blinders’] enough. I’d been on it since 2012 so it was the right time to give others a chance to come to the floor.
[If I’d have stayed on ‘Peaky Blinders’] I wouldn’t have been able to do ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘A Prayer Before Dawn’, so it wasn’t really a hard decision.
‘Peaky Blinders’ has been hugely successful and your character was popular with viewers. How does it feel that so many fans were upset when you left?
That’s what you want as an actor – people to be moved emotionally. If no one cared then I haven’t done my job.
The fact people were upset is good because it means people like the character and enjoyed watching him.
I suppose I can only be pleased by that and also be very grateful for all the amazing support we’ve had. It’s insane, this ‘Peaky Blinders’ phenomenon.
It will be exciting to see where it goes now. [A main character leaving] can make the show better because it means they have to push on and write new stories.
The show has sparked a fashion trend and even has its own themed bars. Why do you think it has captured people’s imaginations in this way?
I think it’s because it has a very American style. We tried to make it cool. Steve Knight, Otto Bathurst and all the directors and producers tried to make it glamorous.
They tried to glamourise [the ‘Peaky Blinders’] history, whereas normally in the UK it’s quite depressive. You watch these period pieces and they are quite slow and still. We tried to do it the opposite way and make it into a mythology.
There’s a certain swagger [to the show] and we pull it off.
After ‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ where can people see you next?
After this I’ve got a TV show for Channel 4 coming out called ‘Pure’ which is about ‘Pure O’, a form of obsessive compulsive disorder.
I’ve also got a couple of films but I can’t really talk about them yet. You’re going to be seeing some more of me.
‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ is in cinemas now.