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Features / Actor Robertson sings praises of Screenplay

Actor Steven Robertson with Screenplay's Kathy Hubbard. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell

ISLES ACTOR Steven Robertson has applauded the local work shown during the “phenomenal” Screenplay 2014 festival – in particular commending Robert Gear’s documentary for capturing the “push-pull” dilemma faced by islanders trying to decide whether to stay or leave.

Robertson took part in Q&A sessions following screenings of his own work, and said the festival programme featured films “you’d struggle very hard to see at any other film festival in this country – possibly even in Europe”.

He thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Ebb Tide’ project, featuring six shorts made by local filmmakers, singling out Gear’s ‘Da Old Rock’ll Do Me’. It splices modern day interviews and archive footage to explore the struggle Shetlanders face when they consider emigrating.

“I struggled with being away all the time – I still do, I wish I could spend more time here every year,” Robertson, who grew up in Vidlin, says. 

“I’ve said it 100 times – there’s part of me that never left, so watching that and feeling a bit like an economic migrant myself… I wasn’t being forced out, but I did feel like I had to go away to make any kind of start in something else.”

He feels Screenplay’s organisers have done “a great job” and “if people don’t know what is going on, I can only urge them to take a look next year… because this is not your standard fare in terms of multiplex cinemas. When a festival like this has been specifically organised to bring different things in, and to show other films, it’d be a shame to miss out on it”.

Robertson also spoke highly of the animation ‘Ernest and Celestine’: “This is about a mouse and a bear that are friends, and we need to remember there are gentler ways of telling ultimately more complicated stories. That’s what a festival like this can be in the right hands, and I think that’s what Kathy [Hubbard] and her team have achieved.”

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The 37 year old says sitting through screenings of ‘Inside I’m Dancing’ and ‘Joyeux Noel’ was a strange experience, with his thoughts often drifting back to what had been happening on set on the days when scenes were shot.

“Obviously it [‘Inside I’m Dancing’] was an incredible time, my first film, I hadn’t been a professional actor for very long. Re-watching it was really strange – I see so much of the working day, how certain things had to be overcome, things you were dealing with story-wise.

“To me it’s a very different emotional experience to probably what anybody else watching the film has, apart from maybe James [McAvoy] or Damien [O’Donnell] – it was a very intense four months, and so many memories.”

There was a big turnout for last Saturday’s showing of ‘Inside I’m Dancing’, an immensely touching, bittersweet tale of two men who move out of an institutional home to create their own “cripple heaven”.

Robertson plays Michael Connolly, a 24 year old with cerebral palsy, and he feels the 2004 film, shot in Ireland, is wearing the test of time well.

“What I was really glad of, very proud of the fact, was that the film seems to have weathered the 10 years quite well,” he said. “I know things have changed radically – the ‘Celtic tiger’ was very much on the go, a feeling that anything was possible. I’ve worked in Dublin since – it’s been through a very rough time which has been sad to see – but it seemed to me that [the film] hadn’t really dated.”

A screening of ‘Joyeux Noel’, about the Christmas 1914 armistice – which saw German, French and British soldiers put down their weapons for a game of football – last Monday was followed by a Q&A session with 160 school pupils.

“They asked great questions, very astute little things, intelligent questions about how much it cost, how long did it take…It’s not all trenches and guns, so they’d obviously got something out of it.”

It was an apt time to revisit the 2005 film, Robertson feels, coinciding with the 100th anniversary commemorations of the First World War.

‘Joyeux Noel’ clearly retains fond memories of working with “so many actors I admired then and still do”, including Daniel Brühl and Diane Kruger, on a “splendid and solid piece of storytelling”.

Director Christophe Rossignon made the film “because he really cared”, and many different nationalities came together. “It just felt great to be part of that, and telling a story about something so extraordinary.”

Robertson admits he has a habit of speaking about his acting career in the past tense, but a cursory glance at his filmography gives lie to that. Indeed his wife Charlotte, who is expecting their first child, sometimes ticks him off for talking himself down.

In recent years TV roles in programmes including ‘Luther’, ‘Being Human’ and, of course, ‘Shetland’ have been interspersed with spots in major cinema releases including ‘Neds’, ‘The Tourist’ and 2010’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel ‘Brighton Rock’.

“I don’t know why, I have a terrible habit of talking about my career if it was over!” Robertson laughs. “I’ve been doing so much TV of late, and really enjoyed it – some if it is more like being on a film set than some film sets.

“If you look back over the last few years, actually, even though they’ve been maybe not a lot of scenes in some films, very often they’ve been quite important in a way – come at a good time, or reminded me that there are directors and people out there that seem to remember my work.”

‘Luther’ saw him working closely with Idris Elba, shortly before the English actor went on to play Nelson Mandela in ‘Nelson: Long Walk to Freedom’. Elba’s acting ability and attitude towards filming made it “a joy to go into work”, Robertson says.

Filming should begin on another season of ‘Shetland’ in 2015. The crime drama got some mixed reviews when it was broadcast earlier this year, but Robertson is philosophical about it.

“We certainly had a degree of that after the pilot episode, and quite a bit of negative local press as well. In a way, it’s to be expected.”

While Shetland is “very close to my heart, for obvious reasons”, he expected people to dislike it and the response was a reminder of why he often doesn’t tell friends and family to watch something “they don’t normally watch just because I’m in it”.

“If you don’t like crime dramas and you watch one just because it’s been made up here, you’re probably not going to like it!”

He says it is rare for a production company to put so much time, effort and money into coming somewhere which “doesn’t have the sort of amenities and resources on tap all of the time”.

“They’re not some bunch of yahoos, they’ve committed above and beyond the level that many dramas ever have to. One of the best cop shows ever made is Morse, and I think the production values on all 12 years of that are incredible – but they didn’t shoot that on an island peninsula in the North Sea.”

He added: “They are writing a new series now, and as far as I know we will start shooting that hopefully at the start of next year, or into spring next year. It should be another six episodes, I believe, and much more than that I do not know.”

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