|Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse|
You might not recognise the name, but the chances are you will have seen Enzo Cilenti in something. For the past fifteen years he has appeared in an impressive range of television shows and films, from The Bill and Heartbeat to Next and The Rum Diary. He is currently starring in Prisoners' Wives on BBC1 and later in the year will be on the big screen in the highly anticipated Kick Ass 2. An alumnus of the University of Nottingham, from which he holds a degree in French and Hispanic Studies, he returned to talk about his career and the novel he has co-authored, Mediterranean Homesick Blues. As I also hold a language degree from Nottingham, I leapt at the chance to talk with him.
So how does one go from studying languages to being a successful actor?
Well, because of the year abroad I grew up really quickly in a way that I just don’t think you don’t get to do with other courses. You have a lot of navel-gazing, in a good and a bad way, during that year, and I started to think it was something I might want to do. Then, when I returned for my final year, all my friends had graduated and I’d go and visit my mates for the weekend. On Monday morning I’d be woken up really early to the sound of electric shavers going and I’d see them running out the door putting cufflinks in and I thought ‘No…’. The reaction to it was sort of vomit inducing – ‘that’s your life for the next forty or fifty years…’.
I’d always had a huge interest in film. I decided to join the New Theatre [Nottingham’s student-run theatre]. It was just so much fun, and I came into contact with people who were very serious about doing drama as a career, and they were applying to drama school. It seemed really logical to me. The dirty secret of being a professional actor is that you’re just playing, really. I couldn’t imagine a more fun way of spending my time. I’d sort of lost interest in my course as well. I loved translation…there’s the link – ultimately when you get a script you are interpreting and translating a writer’s work. All the language work, all the phonetics we did, the register stuff, the socio-linguistics…those are the building blocks of what you study as a modern languages student and what I do on a good day.
You play Bob in Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop, the spin-off from the television series The Thick of It. Were you a fan of the show before you were cast in the role?
I was, but not massively enough to be a committed fan because at that time I was living in the United States. This was a good thing, because had I been that much of a fan of it I would have been bricking myself for the audition, but I actually wasn’t. I should have been because, when it was announced, anyone with any sense of decency and good taste wanted to be in that movie!
Given that the plot is all about ego clashes, how was it acting that out?
It’s interesting because I did all my stuff with the Americans. I think I was in the same room, with the camera turning, as Peter Capaldi on one day out of three or four weeks. You kind of get that with any project, cliques form. It’s actually quite good. That being said, all the regular cast members were delightful; just the loveliest people. They were excited to be making a movie of it, the people who weren’t regulars were excited to be part of this amazing show. It was one of the nicest things I’ve done in terms of harmony…
Crucially, for all filmy nerds out there, the way it was improvised was very important. I hate improvising, it’s really hard. Usually it’s an excuse for not having a tight script. But Armando does it in a very structured way that’s actually very liberating. We would shoot two or three takes as per script, verbatim, and then as many takes as we had time for making stuff up.
The Thick of It is over now but In the Loop has spun off into Veep. If you were asked to reprise the character would you be up for it?
Oh God, are you kidding me, yeah! [Julia Dreyfuss] is great, absolutely fabulous in it. It’s great, thank you HBO! It would be great to do something like that, but you rarely get to reprise experiences. It’s kind of great, really, it’s a nice thing that you’re constantly doing different stuff. But I’d love to work with Armando again. I’ve stayed very good friends with David Rasche who played Linton Barwick in it, my boss. He is without a doubt the funniest man I have ever met. I was just worried that I wouldn’t be in the final movie because I corpsed every time he opened his mouth.
On the subject of different experiences, you play Scott in The Fourth Kind. There is a particularly impressive sequence where you are reliving the experience of alien abduction. How do you get yourself into the mindset to play that?
I don’t know…Some people do the whole method thing, don’t they? The danger with that is being able to reproduce it. If you think of something that makes you feel scared or happy, after four hours it isn’t going to make you feel that way so you have to pretend. I think drunk people are good at acting because they’re kind of relaxed. I think that’s the key. I hate talking technique, it’s really horrible, but those kinds of scenes are nicer to do if you’re working with nice people…or your dog’s just died.
Of all the roles you’ve played, do you have a favourite?
[adopts an American accent] Well, my next role is my favourite…
You do a very good American accent too!
Thank you. That’s my degree, isn’t it? All the phonology stuff is actually really helpful, and because I spoke Italian from a young age. I don’t think it’s an ‘ear’, I think it’s just practice.
No, there isn’t a favourite role actually. There’s one I’d like to do again, because it’s a really good role and I didn’t do it justice, but I’m too old. It’s actually interesting that I didn’t do a good job because I was struggling with another cast member and I really let it affect me. It’s like any job, some people do your head in. I’d love to that again because it’s a really, really great role.
Are there any roles that you’d love to play?
You know what I’d like to do, I’d like to play a cop! Don’t know why, just because I’ve not done it. Whatever line of work you’re in you want to work with the best people, so in this specific career you want to work with the best writers and directors and actors. I’d really like to work with a director called Saul Metzstein. He directed Late Night Shopping, which was the second film I ever did. He’s super talented, way better than some of the dicks who get these ridiculously large budgets…
Your career has spanned UK and Hollywood films. What would you say is the biggest difference for an actor between the two?
Budget! In the US you have a few massive budget event movies, and that money comes from the medium to small budget movies. There are lots of micro budget movies – I’ve just produced one, which was good fun. Here it’s just a bit more British. It’s a bit more make-do, cosier, there’s just less pissing around. It’s a good thing. The last movie I did was Kick Ass 2 – I was thrilled to step onto that set, I loved the first movie, I genuinely did – and one week I’m in Toronto filming that and you just have too many people. Eight different ADs…you ask an AD to get something and they go ‘oh, I’ll ask the second 2nd AD’, because the union states that it’s not part of their remit. The gaffer can’t pick up a light and move it. Here the gaffer’ll pick it up, move it, and they’ll shoot. It’s a more immediate process. They’re very different beasts.
You brought it up – can you give away anything about Kick Ass 2?
I can’t! Other than…Obviously I would be worried to be in a crappy sequel. Before I knew I was going to do it, it looks so much fun and you hope that you’ll go on set and you’re going to have than level of dicking around. I was doing most of my stuff with Christopher Mintz-Plasse and it was just awesome. He was so cool. He looks like you could snap him in two but he’s acting in the flesh just like you’ve seen him on screen for the past few years, it’s great. The script’s absolutely brilliant. What do you know about casting?
Yeah. Didn’t meet him. It’s a shame. He was very generous. He held about three parties for cast and crew. That’s actually really cool. I’ve worked with some people who don’t do that. It’s a trickle-down effect. Everyone takes their cue from people higher up the cast list. So if cast member number one has a bodyguard with them at all times and gets a blacked out SUV from his trailer to make-up, doesn’t walk those fifteen yards, you know you’re not going to have fun!
You don’t have to answer this, but your wife [Sienna Guillory] also acts…
I like talking about my wife.
She plays Jill Valentine in the Resident Evil series. With both of you being actors, was there ever any professional jealousy there?
There was when I was younger, definitely. I can’t imagine there not being. But not now, and I just put that down to being more of a dick when you’re younger. It’s based on your own security, isn’t it? I guess that means I’m more secure now. She just got a job, which is like the best thing ever. It means we can eat next month. Our kids won’t die of starvation, which is a bonus! I think we’ve developed more of an appreciation of what it is to work. It’s so much better than not working! For our family, if one of us is working, everyone’s a winner.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become an actor?
My advice would be to just do it, wherever you can, whenever you can. If you’re a filmmaker, write stuff and shoot it. Fuck up, be terrible, make lots of mistakes. That’s kind of what I try to do, put myself where I’m potentially making a mistake, making myself look foolish as often as I can. Only then do I know whether something’s working. Just do as much acting as you can.
What will we see you in next, aside from Kick Ass 2?
I do a bit in the last series of Luther, and I’m in a movie called Supercollider for NBC Universal playing a Richard Branson-type figure. I’ve got a few things coming out, which is lovely.