Timothy Spall has spoken of his apprehension about playing Dr Ian Paisley in his latest film The Journey. The Harry Potter actor revealed this ahead of the movie’s general release and after meeting the family of the late Northern Ireland first minister before its premiere in Belfast. A fictional account of the relationship between Paisley and Martin McGuinness – who is played by Irish veteran Colm Meaney – it centres around how the two sworn enemies from opposite sides of the political divide in Ulster became firm friends.
But could such a seasoned pro, a master of both stage and screen, really get so nervous?
“Yeah I did, enormous. For a start I thought I never saw that coming round the corner, I never thought that I would be in the frame for something like that, but then I was incredibly intrigued by it. Slightly afraid of it because I thought this is such a sensitive subject and then I start fearing it I think well it’s a challenge. So I swallowed all that, took a deep breath, checked out a few things – that I wasn’t going to upset anybody hopefully. And I went ahead.”
His co-star Meaney concurred: “Having read the script and being very moved by the script, and impressed by the writing in that it humanised people that are often demonised and I think gave a great insight into the incredible complexities of the political situation in the north of Ireland. Having been impressed by the script I was also very aware of the pitfalls, the dangers and just as Tim said, being very, very careful about it.”
And it wasn’t just the subject matter that was on Spall’s mind. The actor, whose big break came in the 1980s with the comedy drama series Auf Wiedersehen Pet, had to undergo a mountain of makeup in order to look the part. Also height was an issue because Paisley “was about a foot taller than me so I was wearing raised shoes at the time,” he added.
The Journey received a warm reception at last September’s Venice Film Festival. It begins its run in UK cinemas today.