[Interview] - Sean Cronin the ultimate movie baddie
From life as a touring rock musician to baddie for hire in both Hollywood and independent movies Sean Cronin has carved a film career as colourful as the characters he has played. Whilst you could be forgiven for not knowing his name his face should certainly light a recognisable spark or send an all too familiar chill down the spine. Those piercing eyes, the deep winding scar on the right side of his face, and intimidating screen presence Sean looks every part the bad guy. A chance meeting with a casting agent changed the course of Sean's life, cast in a multitude of villainous roles from his big break as Imhotep's high priest in "The Mummy" to a masked Syndicate henchman in "Mission Impossible; Rogue Nation". Yet there is more to this Londoner's repertoire than just looking mean; throughout his career Sean has lit up the screen with a variety of engaging villains whether its cold and calculating hard men, vicious cockney gangsters or sadistic Nazi interrogators, he has brought method and variety to playing the bad guy on screen.
Sean however is more than just a baddie for hire, making a name for himself in many other film making roles including director, producer, writer to name a few. This year Sean he is cast opposite football hard-man turned actor Vinnie Jones in the revenge thriller "Kill Kane". In what is essentially a role reversal, Jones plays a school teacher hunting down the gang led by Kane Keegan (Cronin) responsible for the murder his wife and child. Co-writer Adam Stephen Kelly also takes the directorial reins making his bones on his feature film. In the midst of a hectic publicity drive Sean very kindly took the time to talk me about his life, career, as well as his plans for the future.
So welcome Sean and thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to speak to me. First off then can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I come from a strange background. I am an only child of a single mother, but I have an interesting heritage. My grandmother on my father's side is half Spanish and half Welsh, and my father is essentially Irish. On my mother's side, her father was an extremely posh English General who married a Sicilian, so I've got lots of interesting blood, including some real Mafia blood, which might be where my villainous side comes from. On my paternal grandmother's side, my great-grandfather was a Spanish horse thief. There's only one picture of him in existence and it is actually a painting. As far as the painting portrays, he had a full set of gold teeth, big gold earrings and was a real pirate, if you like. He used to steal wild horses in Spain, sail them to England and break them on deck on the way. I think he did this about five or six times until he eventually disappeared without a trace.
That's quite a fascinating family background. So at what point did you realise you wanted to be an actor?
I didn't, I was in a rock band called 'The Marionettes' having toured the world with 'Pearl Jam' and 'Nirvana', and I then went into owning nightclubs and almost became a real villain, but I'm glad to say I managed to circumnavigate that. Then I got stopped in the Portobello Rd in 1999, by a casting director and was told that I looked very evil and asked if I would like to be in 'The Mummy'. I then found myself on set, shaved from head to foot including my pubes and eyebrows, painted gold and wearing a nappy. From there on I got the bug, I went on to work on 'James Bond' and bigger and bigger roles until I got to where I am today.
I see, from rock star to movie star. Where did you study acting?
I studied Mime at the City Lit with Marcel Marceau and John Mowat but I didn't study acting in school, I studied acting on set. The best way to learn it is doing it, talking about it in a classroom bears no resemblance to the real thing.
So tell me a little about your work on stage and screen.
As you can see from my credits, I've played a villain in over 60 films and I've died in every single one of them. The only thing I've ever done on stage is 'The King and I', where I played the King in a little theatre in Wales in Aberystwyth, in around 2000. My character was very similar to the original one with Yul Brynner. I fell into acting and it's been quite a ride ever since.
You’re film appearances are quite extensive with a number of Hollywood blockbusters to your name. Have they always been villainous roles?
I've always played villainous roles; it's down to my looks, my experiences during the 'Club Wild' days (a Nightclub I owned in the West End), and my Sicilian roots no doubt. The scar next to my right eye adds the final touch. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, so please don't ever ask me to play a goodie because I'll probably kill you!
Anyway...... let’s move onto your latest film “Kill Kane” in which you star opposite Vinnie Jones. Tell us a little about the film?
'Kill Kane' is a low budget British gangster flick, with the infamous Vinnie Jones playing the goodie and me playing the baddie. Surprisingly, Vinnie, a well-known baddie plays a goodie in this film. He plays a schoolteacher and I'm the baddie, a ruthless cold-hearted contract killer called Kane. Adam Stephen Kelly, the young talented director did a great job at handling Vinnie and myself, the two most villainous characters you could combine. The film is a feature but it was shot in 9 days, on a very low budget. Feature films take 30 to 40 days to shoot so the whole production was a great experience and a feat to say the least.
It certainly sounds it. What sort of character is Kane? What drew you to the role?
Kane is a nasty killer with a kind of sophisticated side. He's not a cockney, he's calm and collected with no qualms or feelings, but you can see that he's clearly insane. Jonathan Sothcott, a prolific independent UK film producer recommended me for the role when they couldn't find anybody that could out villain Vinnie. I submitted a very intense self-tape and got the part within 15 minutes of sending it.
I see. How do you prepare for the role to embody such a cold and vicious character?
I'm a method actor, I work very much like Daniel Day Lewis, so when I'm on set, stay out of my way because I am a villain. Daniel Day Lewis did a great job playing Bill, the Butcher in 'Gangs of New York' and apparently was a nightmare on set because he kept butchering everybody (just kidding). When I'm acting I become the role and I never learn the script verbatim and I have never been in a film where I stuck to the script.
What was it like to work with Vinnie Jones?
Vinnie Jones is very charming but quite intimidating. He is that guy that bites other people's ears off on the football pitch, so people less villainous than myself had to tread a little carefully.
Very carefully I imagine. The film was directed by Adam Stephen Kelly and it is his first feature as director. Given your experience with some of the biggest names in film how did he do on his first time out especially in the company of such villainous characters?
Adam did extremely well working with Vinnie and myself. We're both a little intimidating to say the least and he did an incredible job getting a performance out of us and trying to get his take of the story onto the screen. He is a very talented young man.
What did you like about him as a director?
I like him because he is sensitive, accommodating and since he is quite new to the game he takes other people's experience on board, and you can see him absorbing and learning as he goes along. He's a very lovely guy and he's going to do very well in the business.
Your experience in film is not just acting; you’ve been a DoP (cinematographer), camera operator, second unit director, as well as editor, writer, producer and of course director. What led you to explore all these different facets? Is it fair to say that your passion for film goes beyond the thespian?
Yes, it is. When on set of 'James Bond', I bumped into Vic Armstrong, the stunt coordinator and Adrian Biddle, a brilliant DoP. He was the DoP on many of the 'James Bond', 'Harry Potter', and 'The Mummy' films to name a few. He was an absolute genius, God rest his Soul, he died a few years ago. I walked through a light that was on the ground on set and because I have a scary face, I made Adrian and Vic jump. We got chatting and Adrian picked up the light and moved it around his face to show me how you can make someone look different in a hundred ways depending on where you put the light. I became very interested in the whole process of how you do it, working on a massive set with great actors. While everyone was waiting for his or her sandwiches in the green room, I would sit just a few meters away from the director watching how the magic was made. Also when I was first trying to edit my own show reel, I paid for people to do it and since I have the passion and I like to know how everything is done to have a full understanding of it, I would learn from them as well. Because I started behind the camera as a cinematographer, I understand framing, lighting, exposure, aperture, all of these things, so when I direct, I direct from a position of knowledge, whereas I've worked with a lot of directors as DoP, bless their hearts, some of them couldn't direct traffic.
Fascinating. So tell me about your current projects? What have you got going on at the moment?
I've almost wrapped on a TV Pilot I directed at the end of last year, which is moving into post production. I can't give too much away, but it is a sort of 'American Pie' meets 'The Truman Show' aimed at a younger audience. I've got around 10 to 15 villain offers on the table, but I'm getting more into directing now. This Summer I will be directing three brilliant features 'Bogieville' and 'Irongate', we're in pre-production and we hope to shoot them this summer. "Irongate" is a dark but romantic period drama set in the shadow of Crimean War in 1852, centred on a female character, and is created by the legendary Tony Waddington. The characters are fictional, but all the events happening around it are real. 'Bogieville' is a road vampire movie, written by Henry P. Gravelle, a very talented writer from New York. As well as directing 'Bogieville', I also play the lead vampire in it, Madison, who wreaks havoc on a sleepy town. Another film I'm directing is called ‘Give them Wings’, a true semi-biopic story of Paul Hodgson a legendary writer, who was born with childhood meningitis. It is his story, the story of his fight, and how he fought back against terrible odds and won. It's a very heart-warming and inspirational tale.
That's quite a varied mix of projects. I look forward to seeing them. Looking back on your career then which directors and actors have you enjoyed working with?
It was great working with Christopher McQuarrie on 'Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation' he is a wonderful and easy going guy, I also really enjoyed working with Michael Apted on the 'World is Not Enough', and Stephen Sommers on 'The Mummy', these are the high end of the spectrum. I also really enjoyed working with Vic Armstrong, the legendary action director; working with Tom Cruise was also a fantastic experience, especially since Tom is a huge and famous actor. He's so successful, he has a lot of people that give him bad press but he doesn't deserve it, he is a thoroughly nice chap and a very dedicated actor and filmmaker. Every film I have done is a new experience and it was a real honour to work on all of them.
Which of your films are you most proud to have been a part of?
Playing The Masked Syndicate Man in 'Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation' was a lot of fun. Simon Pegg steals my face in the film so it's me playing him, playing me. On my first day on set I saw someone carrying my head under their arm, which was a bit weird. I was electrocuted 35 times on the set, even though you only see it once. I thought I finished on the film and went home but they called back saying, "Sean, would you mind coming back? We've got to electrocute you from another angle". Another funny story was when I had a full English breakfast one day and we had a fake mirror scene, where Tom Cruise was behind me and his double was in front of me. I kept on forgetting that Tom was there and I kept passing wind. At one point Tom tapped me on the shoulder and said "Sean would you mind stop blowing off?" It was amazing to work on a 200 million-budget film, as opposed to a low budget film like 'Kill Kane’; it really is both ends of the spectrum.
You've obviously had some amazing experiences and not many can say they broke wind in Tom Cruise's direction. So Ideally then which actors and directors would you love to work with in the future?
I worked briefly as an extra on a film called 'Sleepy Hollow' with Tim Burton, a director that I'd love to work with on a bigger scale. I love his dark creativity, and the way that he shoots things is completely individual. From his animation 'The Nightmare Before Christmas', which is still one of my favourite films of all time, to films like 'Sleepy Hollow', 'Sweeny Todd' and the 1989 version of 'Batman' (my favourite 'Batman' of all), and 'Batman Returns', the 1992 version that he directed. I really think Tim Burton is an exemplary and original director and I would love to work with him again. I'm also a great fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. I think he is one of the greatest actors of our time. Another very wonderful and fairly new actor, who has come to light in the last few years and is now one of the number one actors in the world, is Tom Hardy.
Some good choices there. Lastly, aside from the projects you’ve told me about is there a dream project be it a role as an actor, writer, director that you would love to be involved in?
I have a project in development called 'Pirate'. 'Pirate' is 'James Bond' meets 'Mad Max' on the sea. I play the lead, Captain Hellman, who is kind of a Robin Hood of the sea. This is a role that I would really aspire to get it made, to the point whereby I actually bought a battleship, sailed it into the Cannes Film Festival about seven years ago to try and raise the funding. It caught fire on the way and arrived at the end of the festival. To try and get some extra promotion, I sailed it into the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and subsequently got arrested and spent four nights in the Monte Carlo Jail for driving a Pirate ship into Monte Carlo Harbour. I would love to direct it, but my dream team would be Tim Burton as the director and Vic Armstrong as the action director.
That does sound like a fun project I hope we get to see it made someday. Well Sean thank you again for taking the time to speak to me. It has been a pleasure. Best of luck with "Kill Kane" and your future projects.