CS Interview: James Purefoy on Fisherman’s Friends & possible sequel!
Ahead of its debut for American audiences on digital platforms and VOD, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with star James Purefoy to discuss his role in the British music dramedy Fisherman’s Friends and the potential sequel in the works! Click here to rent or purchase the feel-good hit!
Purefoy may have starred in a number of comedies in the past, but audiences are generally used to seeing the 56-year-old star take on more dramatic roles such as The Following or Altered Carbon but when it came to wanting to be a part of this project, he found it was more the story that drew him in than the change of genre scenery.
“I live in the west country of England, which is that middle bit that sticks out from the bottom left-hand corner, and Cornwall, where the movie is based, is not far from me,” Purefoy explained. “It’s only a couple of hours’ drive, and one of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing in my time as an actor is playing myself. The story is about our region of England, where we come from. And because it’s wildly underpopulated in terms of the cultural landscape over here, we don’t get much stuff set in the west country of England. So, whenever you do get a good film coming along, that is able to tell one of our stories, then you kind of work it in there and be in it because it makes you proud to be part of where I come from.”
The Hap and Leonard alum also joked that he wanted to be in the film as it gave him the opportunity to sing, remarking he is “a terrific singer in the shower” and that he “should be centerstage at the Royal Opera House” when in the shower, but noting the second he steps out, he’s “terrible” and required some training to hone in on the vocal talents needed for the film.
“It’s an awful, awful sound like dogs being killed or something, it’s an awful sound,” Purefoy laughed. “I was able to find a film where I could sing and extend that muscle, if you like, and train that muscle, because as you get older as an actor, you tend to get asked to do the same thing over and over, whether it be serial killers or billionaires or men with swords, they’re the same kind of part oftentimes. And this wasn’t the same kind of part, and it was about somebody that I knew very well. So that’s the reason I wanted to do the film. I’ve never done a musical on stage. I’ve barely sung on film, and certainly not in front of audiences. So it was a good experience, though, and it was something that I came out of it going, ‘Oh, okay. I can do that. I’m not so bad at that. I’d enjoy doing that again,’ is how I came out of it.”
Though the smaller nature of the production didn’t allot him the chance to get to work with a singing coach for the film, he did recall his singing rehearsals being in the same vein as what the characters in the film would most likely have done whilst growing up in the small town.
“What we did do is there is a pub in the middle of the village called the Golden Lion, and in the middle, it’s very, very small, this beautiful, incredibly picturesque Cornish fishing village,” Purefoy warmly described. “But it is very small, it’s got one road in and one road out and that’s it. And there is a pub, sort of snuggled in down in the village and we would rehearse late into the night with the Fishermen’s Friends themselves. They’d teach us the songs. We got on very, very well with them. I’d count them as my friends now, they’re good guys. Then, we were very fortunately billeted only a short crawl away from the pub, all of us, you know, our own sets were little cottages. But no, it was terrific. I mean, the crimps of my knees suffered somewhat after the shoot was done. But it was instructive, learning the songs from them.”
With the film’s story taking a somewhat loose approach to the true story of the Port Isaac music group, the majority of the group characters seen on the screen are an amalgam of the real band members, with Purefoy saying believes he knows which his role was based upon but shut down stating who, cheekily citing the reason as “they’d love the press, but I don’t think the should have it.”
“They are 10 fiercely independent men, the Fishermen’s Friends,” Purefoy noted. “All of them have got good sized egos, and I don’t mean that in any kind of critical way, I just mean that that’s the truth of it. They’re all very strong men. I think the writers felt that if we actually did tell the story of one or two or three or four of those men, that it was going to cause trouble with the rest of them. So it would be better to make an amalgam of composite characters of all of them. But there are two fellows and they’re both very, very strong-willed individuals, and Jim is a very strong-willed individual. He’s a man who’s quite cantankerous and he’s stubborn and he’s a bit difficult, but he’s also incredibly honorable and faithful to his community and he only wants the best for his community. But he’s a man who doesn’t suffer fools very gladly, particularly London music industry types who come down to the Village to try and sign them. So yeah, he’s not big on London folk, unless they’re coming down to rent his cottages.”
Much like his connection with the real group members themselves, Purefoy found building a rapport with his fellow cast members came easily and believes it stems from many English actors being “used to forming an ensemble” as many are “trained for the stage.”
“The idea of ensemble and how that works and you’re all working for the scene rather than for yourselves, that makes it a much more complete experience, when you’re trying to build rapport with people,” Purefoy opined. “You’re just very aware that that’s the important thing. The important thing is that we all play a group of people who are very hard to get into, if you are an outsider, if you are what they call in Cornwall, they call tourists emmets. An emmet is a Cornish word for an ant, which is, you could have plenty of them, and they will say that you have plenty of them, but they’re a bugger to get rid of. So that’s what they’ll call tourists coming in. And they present a very united front, so it was just important that we did that as a group of actors ourselves, coupled with the fact that we were filming in Port Isaac off season. There were very few tourists around. There wasn’t much to do apart from sit in the pub and learn the songs.”
In addition to having been somewhat familiar with the story of the group, Purefoy said he was familiar with some of the music while also relating that sea shanties “have an odd and beguiling way” of embedding themselves in people’s minds at a younger age, especially when growing up in the area.
“Despite the fact that I probably would not have known any sea shanties word for word when I started the film, within a matter of days, these sea shanties were imprinted on my brain very, very quickly,” Purefoy chuckled. “Coupled with remembrances of singing them in the car or on vacation with my family or in pub gardens when we were kids or around bonfires or on campgrounds. They’re very much part, I think, of a British DNA that is buried deep within us and only a little film like this comes along, and suddenly everybody comes out of movie theaters singing them.”
Aside from the singing element of his role, Purefoy found it “wasn’t as hard for” him to step into the role and get to the heart of Jim, being able to rely on his upbringing in which he knew “these men of old” from the west country of the United Kingdom.
“I know what men in the west country are like and it doesn’t take me long to understand them, and especially if they’re well written, and Jim was very well written,” Purefoy stated. “I think some of it was based on one of the writers, Meg, her father was, shall we say, a challenging man. And she had came from Wales and a similar, sort of very small community in the valleys in Wales. And I think that she knew that kind of man, a man who likes to be alone, you know, a man who can walk the fields all day with a gun under his arm, or in Jim’s case, out on the ocean catching lobsters and do that for 16 hours straight and never complain about it and never even think to worry about the fact that he’s out there on his own. You know, so those kind of men. And I think if you come from that background, you understand those men a lot easier than some people who might not have come from that background.”
Earlier this year, following its debut in the film’s home country of the UK, word initially began swirling that a potential sequel was in the works for the box office smash and Purefoy has confirmed that the filmmakers and producers involved are “looking at a sequel” but assured that they plan to “get the script right” before moving forward with anything.
“You know, I’m not somebody who wants to flog a dead horse, I think it’s really important that we make sure that the story we’ve got to tell tells us something new and fresh about these people,” Purefoy expressed. “But they are so extraordinary, the Fishermen’s Friends. And one of the big things that they did is they went and played at the Glastonbury Rock Festival and in front of 100,000 people. And they were the support act to Beyoncé, if you can believe it. So, that was a big moment in their lives. And I think that we might be making a film somewhere based around that story. But as I say, you know, as long as we get the script right and we feel that we’re doing it for a good reason other than just to cash in, then that’d be a good reason to do it.”
A fast-living, cynical London music executive (Daniel Mays) heads to a remote Cornish village on a stag weekend where he’s pranked by his boss (Noel Clarke) into trying to sign a group of shanty singing fishermen (led by James Purefoy). He becomes the ultimate “fish out of water” as he struggles to gain the respect or enthusiasm of the unlikely boy band and their families (including Tuppence Middleton) who value friendship and community over fame and fortune. As he’s drawn deeper into the traditional way of life he’s forced to reevaluate his own integrity and ultimately question what success really means.
The movie stars Daniel Mays (1917), Purefoy, David Hayman (Blinded by the Light), Dave Johns (Blithe Spirit), Sam Swainsbury (Fearless), Tuppence Middleton (Sense8), Maggie Steed (Paddington 2), Vahid Gold, Christian Brassington (Poldark) and Noel Clarke (Bulletproof).
Fisherman’s Friends was directed by Chris Foggin (Kids in Love) from a script by Meg Leonard (Finding Your Feet, Blithe Spirit) and Nick Moorcroft (Blithe Spirit).