Interview: Tamer Hassan Talks City Rats and… Batman?
With Tamer Hassan, everything is great. Acting is brilliant. People are fantastic and he, well…. he is about as good as it gets. Chatting away at ten-to-the-dozen he’s an unstoppable wide-boy juggernaut with acting ambitions as big as his stature.
For a guy who has made a career out of playing hired muscle and performing a facial surgery with his fists, naturally Hassan admits that he didn’t think twice about giving David Kronenberg tips on directing or even going to toe-toe with the caped crusader. Yeah, that’s right, HE HAD A FIGHT WITH BATMAN!
By his own admission he is ‘a man’s man’ and, as part of one of the greatest fights in cinema history, who are we to argue?
What is it that attracts you to hard men roles?
Those films to me are a no-brainer, I’m a man’s man and I grew up in that society and I love doing them. Footballer Fred from The Football Factory and Charlie the Playboy from The Business: they’re great roles to play for me. I just did another one with Danny (Dyer) which is a caper movie with 50 Cent and Brenda Blethyn called Dead Man Running.
Wait, 50 Cent and Brenda Blethyn?
Yeah, we brought 50 Cent over from New York and we shot the film in East London. Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole exec produced it and put the money up. Me and my partner’s production company raised the finance and we put it together with Alex De Rakoff the director. It’s going to be released at the end of summer. It’s a fantastic cast. Brenda Blethyn plays my mum, while Phil Davis plays the hitman and Danny Dyer’s my sidekick. Basically my character Nick Cane has got 24 hours to find 50 Cent’s organisation £100,000 or he’s going to be killed along with his mum. It’s a caper movie and a lot of fun, but basically it’s 24 hours of me and Danny on the run from London to Manchester pillaging, looting and raping. There’s everything you could imagine in it and it’s a lot of fun.
Jim in City Rats is a bit of a departure from the hard-man/ gangster roles you usually play. Was that a conscious decision and is it a path you wish to pursue?
Yeah, absolutely. The part they originally offered me was a character called Marco which was more like the stuff I normally get offered so I declined. But they wanted both Danny (Dyer) and me to be in the movie so I got a call from Steve Kelly the director who said ‘well, have a look at the part of Jim’, which is the lead role. And automatically I thought what a great role.
For me it was an actor’s piece. I don’t like to use the word ‘method’ but I definitely had to go there with it. For me it was great because I could change the gamut and show people what I can do with my range and what I can do as an actor. Everyone who puts me in a movie wants me to be handsome and slick and suave and the man’s man and this was great because I didn’t have to shave, I could push my belly out, wear a bad suit and just get on and do it.
Did you feel it was pushing you as an actor a bit more than stuff you’d done before?
It pushed me more than anything I’d done before to tell the truth. I was turning up, I’d have a drink the night before, I wouldn’t shave, I’d have just a couple of hours sleep and I’d turn up on set and I’d kind of be in that mood. Jim’s character background isn’t in the movie but basically he’s an ex-boxer, a loving husband and a great father to his kids but then in a mad moment of rage he hit his wife and she left him. It was the start of a decline for him. He becomes an alcoholic, he gets depressed and becomes suicidal so for me it was hard to just snap out of that character.
It was probably harder work for my wife and kids than anyone else. I had two weeks of it to be in it, to stay with it and make it believable, you know? It got nominated at Sundance, we’ve all been critically acclaimed, and everybody in the movie is brilliant, so it was well worth going through.
Is this a new chapter in your career?
It’s funny you should say that because before you called I was sat here reading a script which has been offered to me about playing a 40-year-old man with an 8-year-old’s mind. Probably one of the best scripts I’ve seen. I don’t want to say too much about it because we’ve not sat around the table yet but I’m reading it and it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s basically Rain Man meets The Wrestler. It’s great, it’s challenging and it’s frightening to even commit yourself to something like that because if you get it wrong it’s going to be really wrong.
The city in the movie is shot in a very unique, grimy light. Is that something you can relate your London experience to?
I deal with all walks of life, everything from city brokers to spielers on the street so I’m quite familiar with all of it. Credit to Stave Kelly who shot it, I mean I’ve always pined for London to look like New York in a movie and I think he kind of captured that. He does capture London brilliantly and in some areas it’s funny and in other areas it’s so depressing because I think for me it’s got that grey, eerie depressing side of 21 Grams come Crash.
How did your parts in Batman Begins and Eastern Promises come about?
With Batman Begins you blink and you’ll miss me, I think there were about a hundred and something cameos in that one. But for me I cast and went in for it, I was going to play Faden’s chauffer. There was a scene where I had a fight with Batman which got cut, which is fine because for me it was more about getting on the set and seeing Gotham City and seeing how it worked and meeting Bale and the director and the cast. For me, I would have gone on there for nothing. You couldn’t pay money to be on this set. That was great and, if I’m not noticed in it, I might get to play Batman one day, you never know!
With Eastern Promises, when I got asked to cast for it I read the script and was to play a Chechen assassin. Again I’ve done all of that stuff, I’ve sort of moved on from all that, I’ve worked with Wesley Snipes, Morgan Freeman, Jet Li and I’ve done all of these sort of movies before. It wasn’t a big role and I spoke to my agents in LA who said “look it’s Viggo Mortensen and David Kronenberg man, they’re the two biggest names in Hollywood just get in there, just do it!’”
And I thought, ‘yeah’ so I went in and David Kronenberg was a different class. The saying I’ve got is it don’t matter how big or small a role is, if you can make it memorable and if it’s worth being in there then do it. This is a prime example, it got rated the movie scene of the year. It’s the best scene in the movie. It got a standing ovation and so many people speak to me about it. I spoke to David and, knowing him from A History of Violence, I know he’s a twisted man. I spoke to him about the scene even down to the knives, I designed the knives, I said ‘look lets have kind of carpet cutter knives’ and I spoke to him about some martial arts that they use in Russia which a friend of mine does.
We had a long chat and he said “you haven’t got no more after this but I want you to die”, because originally we weren’t going to die so I said “ok well if I’m going to die will you let me work with the fight choreographer?”. He said ‘”what do you mean?”, I said “well I want to get stabbed in the eye and I want to die the double death”. And we rehearsed it for a week and he came in and looked at it and he said, “Tamer you’re a sick man but I love it”. And I love it, because if you’re going to die, die memorably, that’s what I say.
To watch someone like Kronenberg work, I’ve worked with second and first time directors, directors that are still finding their way. But when you’ve got someone of Kronenberg’s calibre it’s different. We were doing this fight scene and I’m saying “how do you feel about if the camera would go…” and he came up to me and it was so lovely, he could have said to me do yourself a favour and do one, don’t tell me how to do my job, but he stroked my earlobe and said, “Tamer, what you’re doing, you’re doing brilliantly. Concentrate on what you’re doing my friend, don’t worry about what we’re doing here, we’ve got it in hand”. Basically saying, thanks mate but I’ve been doing this all my life.
And it’s a joy that you can go on set and know that someone like Kronenberg is going to make you look the b*llocks.