Michael Alexander speaks to veteran Scottish actor David Hayman about his new film, The Ballad of Billy McCrae.
Veteran actor David Hayman is no stranger to films featuring dysfunctional human beings and the darker side of the human experience.
The 73-year-old Trial & Retribution star featured alongside Michael Fassbender in Macbeth, and played concentration camp inhabitant Pavel in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Last week he appeared in Channel 4 hit Help alongside Killing Eve superstar Jodie Comer and This Is England’s Stephen Graham in a hard-hitting drama following a care home, its staff and patients during the coronavirus pandemic.
But despite his new British thriller The Ballad of Billy McCrae also being very much a film about real people and the ugly and cruel trappings of the human condition, the Glasgow-born actor remains optimistic about the fundamental goodness of the human spirit.
“Nelson Mandela said no child is born to hate,” David tells The Courier.
“Every child is born to love. So therefore they must be taught to hate, taught to be a bully, taught to be a racist, taught to be exploitative, taught to be a criminal.
“Therefore in every bad person’s past, they’ve been damaged somewhere.
“I think all humans are capable of extreme acts of love and compassion.
“At the same time, given certain circumstances, those same human beings are capable of extreme acts of violence.”
Described by director Chris Crow as a “fly on the wall Jacobean tragedy for a post-Brexit Tory Britain”, The Ballad of Billy McCrae, which is released by Munro Films in cinemas on September 24, tells the story of Chris Blythe (Ian Virgo) who returns to his home town in Wales after losing a fortune in Canada.
Billy’s daughter Elen (Sianad Gregory) is a volatile and charismatic woman. She meets Chris and they fall in love.
However, quarry owner Billy (David Hayman) is a dangerous man and his daughter is a damaged and dangerous woman. The result is that Chris finds himself torn between love and hate…
David explains that the tense film was shot in Port Talbot, Wales, at the tail end of 2019, before lockdown. It’s release has been delayed to await the re-opening of cinemas.
What’s particularly “smashing” about the theatrical release, however, is that the film was made independently over just three weeks with a budget of just £110,000.
“It’s been produced by a group of businessmen and film makers in Wales who want to prove we can still make independent movies,” he says.
“Nowadays the big blockbusters are taking all the money and independent films have been pushed to the wall, which is a real shame. So it’s great they’ve had the courage to say ‘look we want to make this on a shoestring’.”
Director Chris Crow explains that for him, the film is part thriller, part melodrama, part tragedy and part Western. However, it is also very much a film about real people and the ugly and cruel trappings of the human condition.
“There’s a cruelty to this world, selfishness, and we watch people infected by all this unravel and turn on each other to gain something that will never be as fulfilling as they imagine,” he says.
“I chose a gritty hand-held style but we also shot with degraded 70’s prime lenses, they add beauty to the footage, natural flares and light leaks.
“And visually I wanted to replicate our world where there’s dirt and noise in the grain and in the shadows.”
Impact of pandemic
There’s no doubt the pandemic has been a challenging time for the arts sector, and everyone is hopeful that the current re-opening of theatres and cinemas will continue.
However, the pandemic has also shone a light on the frailties of the care sector.
In Help, starring the “excellent” Jodie Comer, and written by BAFTA award-winning His Dark Materials writer Jack Thorne, David played Hercules, an elderly resident, prone to losing his temper during the Covid crisis due to his distress over the virus.
David admits he drew on his own experiences with mum Mary and dad David to make his Help role as realistic as possible.
The screen star’s mum had Parkinson’s Disease for 18 years and had dementia towards the end, as did his father.
More than that, however, Help was an opportunity for him to draw on those close-up experiences and, in a sense, pay tribute to his parents.
“I was blessed to have a mum who was an angel barely disguised as a human being”,” he smiles.
“We never had much money in the family growing up in Bridgeton and Drumchapel, but she always saw the best in people, she always had time for everyone.”
David says his mum’s spirit lives on through the humanitarian charity Spirit Aid he set up 20 years ago.
It’s dedicated to children of the world whose lives have been devastated by war, genocide, poverty, abuse or lack of opportunity at home and abroad.
In the last 18 months alone, the charity has delivered thousands of pounds worth of food and supplies every week to desperate families.
In that regard, David finds it very humbling that the pandemic has helped bring out the best in people.
Born in Bridgeton, Glasgow, David studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.
He began his acting career at the Citizens Theatre in the city, playing a variety of roles, including Hamlet, Figaro and Al Capone.
He gained national prominence playing notorious Barlinnie Prison convict turned sculptor, Jimmy Boyle, in the film A Sense of Freedom.
His extensive list of film credits include supporting Pierce Brosnan in The Tailor of Panama, Bruce Willis in The Jackal and Kevin Spacey in Ordinary Decent Criminal.
He also appeared in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boorman’s Hope and Glory, Macbeth opposite Michael Fassbender and Finding Your Feet opposite Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie.
Recent releases include Fisherman’s Friends (he has just wrapped on Fisherman’s Friends 2) Blinded by the Light and The Corrupted and Our Ladies.
David’s recent television credits to name but a few include: The Nest for BBC, Hatton Garden (which he starred in opposite Timothy Spall) Bang, Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes, Taboo opposite Tom Hardy, London Spy, Shetland, Top Boy, The Paradise and Henry IV, Part I.
As a broadcaster/presenter, David has also fronted 24 documentaries including the ‘In Search Of Series…’
Next month at the London Film Festival, David has a film out called Bull and also has a murder TV series called Landscapers with Olivia Coleman.
Then after New Year a film called My Neighbour Adolf will be premiered at Berlin Film Festival with Fishermen’s Friends 2 coming out in the spring as well.
*The Ballad of Billy McCrae is in cinemas now.