So there I am on a red carpet, in LA, with Matt Damon on one side and my old comedy partner Ed Weeks on the other. Which I think means I can finally mention a little of what I’ve been up to this year. It’s been a fun one.
The short version is Ed Weeks and I, 4 years after last filming together as a giant prawn (me) and a Scottish dog (Ed) for kid’s TV, have just been to the premiere of our first Hollywood feature film together. We had a lovely time.
In fact we were reunited quite by chance as part of an HBO TV show called Project Greenlight (which begins airing Sunday, September 13th in the US.) The show, as you might know, is a documentary series following a first time director making a feature film under the tutelage of, amongst others, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. There have been 3 seasons before this one, although the last one was 10 years ago.
The director this year is the very brilliant Jason Mann, whom I had worked with 4 years ago on a short film called The Leisure Class. We had shot the whole thing in 2 days for close to zero budget, or perhaps there was budget, but certainly I didn’t get any of it. Despite this, the short had already been fairly successful, playing at Raindance Festival and a few others, but years later the Project Greenlight crew, looking through Jason’s past work, were so impressed by it that they agreed this year’s show would attempt to make a feature version of this very short. Kudos to Jason for having previously written the feature version on the off chance this exact set of circumstances would happen. Be prepared, folks.
Just as I was congratulating him on all of this he mentions I might want to keep March free as they were considering offering me the chance to reprise my role from the short film. I, and the rest of the cast, had helped Jason write and improvise the original piece and enough of the right people agreed I had made the role my own and should be given the chance on the big stage. Trust me, I was as surprised as you. It would be easy, though, to call this a ludicrous piece of good fortune, but in truth I like to think that more than anything it proves the importance of working hard and putting your all into everything you do as you never know when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck will cast you in a movie of the back of it.
What happened next, on the other hand, genuinely was a piece ludicrous piece of good fortune. The studio has decided that they needed a name to play alongside me. Of all the actors that had auditioned there was one that had stood out above the rest, and they asked me out of interest if I had heard of him, Ed Weeks. Well yes, yes I had. Ed and I first met in 1999, amid the raging terrors of the Millennium Bug, when he won the coveted role of Sherlock Holmes in the university pantomime and I, bereft, was left uncast and unloved. 3 years of jostling in the student comedy scene later, we performed our first Edinburgh Fringe together. Later in 2007,08 and 09 our double act “Tommy and the Weeks” wowed crowds of up to 40 Scottish people a night in sweaty portakabins and recorded ill fated pilots in damp warehouses. But, perhaps stung from the mixed (zero) critical response to our iconic Dog and Prawn kid’s TV characters, Ed turned his back on all that glamour to become a massively successful American TV star. That could have been the end for Ed and I, but fate and Matt Damon had other ideas…
Much more of the tale I won’t reveal now, you can see it play out on HBO (every Sunday at 10pm) but (spoilers) here we both are a few days ago at the world premiere of the movie we made, alongside an unbelievably wonderful cast and crew (including the producer Marc, getting involved in this historic photograph, and who can blame him.)
The premiere was the first time I’d seen the finished movie and I am ridiculously proud of it. Jason has helped forge a brilliantly funny, touching, occasionally dark and a very “human” film. Plus we all look really sexy in it so that’s probably the main thing.
Having the whole process documented was strange, but oddly rewarding. We found it made us stop and think about the whole process more than we ever likely would have before. And, doing just that, made me realise, although it’s often a frustrating and unpredictable life being an actor, writer, artist, singer etc, I hope this year’s Project Greenlight will prove that a few bad reviews, a bad show here and there, rejections and dead ends, are all part of the journey, rather than a final verdict. (As a reference, my first ever review at the 2000 Edinburgh Fringe was 1 star, proclaiming “Tom Bell has the delivery and conviction of a turnip.”)
I hope the series proves the value of keeping going, learning, addressing your faults and improving, and more than anything just putting yourself out into the world. Of course there is always a degree of good fortune involved, but, everything is underpinned by hard work and taking a chance. Following my own tale back, I was cast in the short film after the director saw me perform a small stand up gig in a dingy London pub. A gig that went well because of all the seemingly fruitless ones before it. One gig that set off a chain reaction that brought into play 15 years of hard work building up a comedy partnership. It’s been a joy to be a part of the new Project Greenlight and it hope it inspires people to stop worrying and just go out and make things, have fun, be bold, because, you never know who might see it. Unless you are total rubbish of course.
Also here’s me with Matt Damon again
Oh look, Ben Affleck was there as well. Hi Ben Affleck!
I think Matt is a bit sad in that one because he isn’t getting to hug me. I daresay all will be revealed on Project Greenlight. Now go eat something nice and then sleep until 10pm on September 13th