Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan and Nick Frost tell ShortList’s Tom Ellen about donning prosthetics and getting on their knees to play the dwarves in Snow White & The Huntsman
Most people aren’t allowed to smoke in hotel rooms. But, then, Ray Winstone isn’t most people. “Do you want one?” he asks, sparking up and prodding a packet of Benson & Hedges across the table towards us. We don’t usually smoke, but then we don’t usually get offered cigarettes by Ray Winstone, so – despite the visible disapproval of a glass-polishing member of hotel staff – we gratefully accept.
We’re speaking to Winstone – and, later, his co-stars Eddie Marsan and Nick Frost – about Snow White & The Huntsman – an enjoyable action fantasy in which the three of them (alongside Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson) play dwarves. However, if you’re picturing the cheery, hi-ho-ing little chaps from the Disney fairytale, you couldn’t be wider of the mark. “Oh, we’re horrible,” laughs Winstone, exhaling another thick plume of smoke out of the window. “Don’t you worry about that…”
Tell us a bit about your character…
Ray Winstone: I see it as a Mafia thing. Ian McShane is the Don, Bob [Hoskins] is the consigliere and I’m the guy who gives the orders. I send the worker ants – Toby [Jones] and Eddie – out to go and mug people. This film’s taking it back to the original horror-story, nightmarish side of fairytales.
Eddie Marsan: Me and Toby Jones are like the ‘ninja’ dwarves. If there’s trouble, they send us to sort it out. We kick arse. I’ve got an incredible head-butt too; I nut people. In the goolies, usually, because of my height [laughs].
Nick Frost: I’m one of the moody ones. Ray and I worked out that, because we have similar hair, we’re from the same clan. When you meet us in the story, we’re a gang of disparate animals who’ve turned from once-noble men to utter f*cking monsters.
Playing a dwarf in a fantasy blockbuster is a little off-piste for all of you. Were you ever dubious about taking the part?
RW: At first, you think, “Five hours of prosthetics every day? F*ck that.” But there was something I liked about Rupert [Sanders, the director]. He is a very bright man and he showed me some initial artwork and I was blown away. Then I found out who else was in it and I was sold.
EM: No. I don’t really have a career plan – I just work. I’m like, “Someone wants me to be a dwarf? Great!” Plus, I’ve always wanted to work with Bob and Ray, so that helped. I used to tell Bob every day, “I think you’re great. You’re the reason I became an actor.” He’d say, “Shut up and get on with it! What’s the f*cking matter with you?” [laughs]
NF: Not at all. Just because you’re a little person, doesn’t mean you haven’t got an amazing character arc or great scenes. Look at Peter Dinklage in Game Of Thrones. Actually, look at Peter Dinklage in anything.
You went through intense training to help you walk like a little person – did you find yourself going ‘method’ and doing it in your downtime too?
RW: Yeah, there were times you’d be daydreaming at home on the settee and you’d get up and walk across the room like a dwarf by mistake. I was filming The Sweeney at the same time, so I’d find myself walking like a dwarf in scenes for that, thinking, “F*cking hell, what am I doing?” [laughs]
EM: Yeah, you’d find yourself doing it all the time. My wife would get quite p*ssed off with it, actually.
NF: Oh, I was walking like that everywhere. I walk my dog in a place called Frensham Ponds in Surrey – a giant forest with no one around. I spent a lot of time walking through that forest as a dwarf [laughs]. I’d be looking around, thinking, “I hope no one sees this and thinks, ‘What the f*ck is going on there?’”
How was working with Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Chris Hemsworth (The Huntsman)?
RW: They’re both great. Chris is a pretty tough bloke. Could I take him in a fight? Oh, without a shadow of a doubt. No problem at all [laughs]. But, seriously, he’s a good boy, really down to earth. F*cking good actor too. And Kristen, she’s a game little girl. When you’re surrounded by eight hairy-arsed ‘dwarves’, you have to be. She’s got balls. Not literally, obviously. But she’s a good sort and a fine actress.
EM: Chris is a bit of a lad anyway, so he had a good laugh with us. And Kristen’s no pussycat, so she got into it too. I think American actors presume that British actors will be a bunch of John Gielguds – all quite serious – but once she got on set and saw we were all farting and burping and smoking, she had a laugh and went with it.
NF: I spoke to Chris mostly about Thor and sport – he’s a big Aussie rules fan. We [the dwarves] all got on really well with Kristen too – we didn’t just keep to our own little group of tightly-knit British character actors. We weren’t like, [adopts gruff voice] “F*ck off, American girl! Get lost, Yankee!” [laughs]. What struck me about Kristen is that she’s really f*cking brave and hard-working. You’d be forgiven for thinking she’d drift in late and work half a day, but it’s not like that at all.
Who was the funniest member of the dwarf troupe?
RW: Oh, Nick Frost. He’s a comedian, isn’t he? Although, every time we did a scene we’d wind him up and say, “I thought you were supposed to be the funny one, Nick?” [Ian] McShane’s hilarious too.
EM: We all had our moments, off-screen and on. That’s credit to Rupert, really, because he was dealing with the preconceptions of the Disney dwarves and we’re definitely not the Disney dwarves. We’d have the Disney dwarves in a fight, no question. Mind you, we’d probably have a bunch of Millwall fans in a fight [laughs].
NF: Ray said it was me? That’s nice. I think Eddie was funniest, actually, because he can keep a great straight face.
Were there any on-set pranks?
RW: Oh, mate, come on. We’re talking about a load of ‘dwarves’, sitting around having a fag and a coffee in full prosthetics. We used to f*cking do one another up all the time. Old Bob used to get it a lot. We’d wind him up by saying, “You know they want us in full make-up and costume for every premiere, Bob?” He believed us! He’d have the hump all day: “I’m not f*cking doing that!” [laughs].
EM: The wind-ups became an art form. We’d stand behind Bob when he was having his lunch and one of us would say, “I told my agent I’ll do Budapest but I won’t do Tashkent.” Bob would say, “What you on about?” We’d tell him, “It’s in the contract, Bob – every red carpet we’ve got to be in full dwarf get-up”. He’d go, “Get my f*cking agent on the phone! I’m not having it!”
NF: I think the Bob wind-up might have been my idea [laughs]. But everyone assumes there are always tons of pranks on a film set and there usually aren’t. It’s because people hear about [George] Clooney clingfilming some poor f*cker’s toilet or dropping a Mars bar in so it looks like he’s done a big sh*t. Most actors haven’t got the time to do that stuff.
Did you ever leave your prosthetics and make-up on at the end of the day to freak out members of the public?
RW: Definitely. One time, we were driving back to the studio and I’d left my costume and make-up on. We stopped at the lights and I was staring out the window at the cars next to me, with all this f*cking sheepskin on, massive fake nose and forehead, freaking people out. I was wearing my sunglasses too, nodding at them, like, “All right?” [laughs]
EM: No, I tended to take my stuff straight off. Mind you, I’m funny-looking anyway, so I already get that reaction at traffic lights, even without the prosthetics.
NF: I didn’t get into any of that. I tore it all straight f*cking off and put the biggest, hottest flannel in the world over my face.
Which fairytales used to scare you as a child?
RW: They all did. As a kid, you like being frightened, but you don’t know why. In a way [those tales] were an education. It put that fear into you – don’t talk to people you don’t know, don’t accept sweets from strangers.
EM: Weirdly, one of my earliest memories was being terrified by seeing a dwarf in real life. I saw his shadow before I saw him and it terrified me because I knew he was an adult but he was also the size of a child. He was a really nice bloke, of course, but that really scared me when I was a kid.
NF: God, that was a long time ago. I don’t know if there was a particular one, but I used to have a lot of nightmares as a kid. There was one I used to have about boulders. And one about a ship the size of a planet. Just weird sh*t [laughs]. The thing is, my parents let me watch what I wanted from when I was about 10 onwards, so the first films I saw were probably The Exorcist and I Spit On Your Grave. The Little Mermaid didn’t have much of an impact after that [laughs].
Snow White & The Huntsman is at cinemas nationwide from 30 May
(Image: All Star)