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For the idiosyncratic director Shane Meadows (probably best known on this side of the pond for This is England, about a 1980s British childhood and falling in with a gang of skinheads), his latest feature, Somers Town, started when Eurostar commissioned Meadows to make a short film celebrating a new train to Paris. It's a funny match, of course: Meadows is known for his rough and tumble stories of hardscrabble British youth, while the Eurostar is sleek and high-falutin'. Happily, the resulting (full-length) flick is not an advertisement for the wonders of train travel, but a meandering, likable movie, taking teenage kicks and commenting on the state of England that's like "Superbad done by Mike Leigh," according to one of the ever-astute commenters on The Onion A.V. Club.
Somers Town premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival (a longtime supporter of Meadows), where its charming leads Piotr Jagiello (Marek) and—recognizable as the baby-faced skinhead in Meadows' previous flick—Thomas Turgoose (Tomo) ended up sharing the prize of Best Actor. We caught up with Jagiello all the way from Poland via the magic of email.
Tribeca: What made you nervous about this project? How was it working on something that wasn't as autobiographical for Shane Meadows?
Piotr Jagiello: This was my very first movie ever. However, this nervousness actually helped me a great deal in this case and in creating my character, who was shy and introverted. Prior to filming, I was never exposed to any of Shane Meadows' movies. During filming I had the opportunity to see This is England and was glad that it had a different topic from that of our movie. I think the fact that Somers Town was less based on Shane Meadows' life gave us room to add personal touches and to input our own ideas.
Tribeca: Were you ever afraid that this was going to be strictly a Eurostar advertisement?
PJ: From the beginning I trusted Shane and his concept of the film. I knew that he wouldn't have done an advertisement of Eurostar, but a story about connections between young people and their feelings, with Eurostar being somewhere in the background.
Tribeca: What was the process of getting comfortable with your characters/the friendship (as Jagiello and Turgoose play odd-couple buddies) and comfortable with improvising on set?
PJ: Getting comfortable with my character was a fun and easy experience, mainly because of the people I got to work with. Prior to filming we had two days of integration exercises, which helped us break the ice and further get to know each other. Thomas Turgoose and I actually share the same birthdate, and that was a factor that helped us bond right off the bat. Once we established a relationship with each other, improvising came naturally. My favorite was improvising on funny scenes.
Tribeca: Was there anything in particular—a funny scene, line, what have you—that came out of shooting that surprised you?
PJ: One of my favorite scenes from the film was when Tomo had to go to the bathroom and I forbid him to go because of my dad, who had no clue that I was hiding Tomo in my room. Instead, I offered him a plastic bag to "release" himself. That scene was thought of on the spot and completely improvised, but in my opinion turned out really well and entertaining.
Where did you go with the prize winnings and Delta tickets from Tribeca?
PJ: My prize winnings included a roundtrip to anywhere in the world. As an actor, I felt most drawn to New York City, and I also have family there, who had watched Somers Town and my film debut in the Tribeca Film Festival that April (2008). New York City instantly became the choice of an ideal destination. To date it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was really impressed by the museums, diversity, people and the enormity of the city. However, my favorite was Broadway. Even though this was my first time, I really felt at home and would like to come back in the future. Only this time I would like to come back, maybe not as a tourist, but as an entertainer.
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead) who would it be?
PJ: The filmmaker that I would like to have dinner with would definitely be Woody Allen. (Can you arrange that?) Aside from being a huge fan of his work, I am a humorous person and so is he; therefore, I believe our dinner would be loads of fun and good conversation. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if he asked me to act in his next movie.
Tribeca: What are you working on now?
PJ: Right now I am concentrating on my studies. However, I hope to return to acting soon and have been developing artistically in many ways. At the moment, I am taking a Broadway Jazz dance class in order to broaden my horizons. I am also in the process of looking for a good agent to help me with new and challenging characters.
Why I Make Films: Somers Town Director Shane Meadows