Interview Ewen Bremner: Neither ‘Spud’ nor I have escaped the cruelty of ageing.
Text by Anna Lillioja. Photo by Sohvi Viik
When we sit down in the Nordic Hotel Lobby in Tallinn, actor Ewen Bremner (most famous for his portrayal of ‘Spud’ on Trainspotting and T2 Trainspotting) has just seen the final version of his newest film, Gutterbee, at Black Nights Film Festival.
Gutterbee is a satiric comedy set in small-town America. One of the inhabitants, the German immigrant played by Bremner, has the dream to open the ultimate German sausage restaurant. ‘I still need to digest it,’ says Bremner. ‘But I do think it’s a clever film. The story itself is very simple, but also symbolic in different ways. What did you think?’
The characters stood out to me the most. They were very quirky. Can you explain what made your character Edward so passionate about sausage?
‘The sausage works on many levels. It is, of course, a symbol for Germany. But in America, everything needs to be rebranded and become American. New York is full of Frankfurter sausages, but no one mentions them coming from Germany. In this way, Edward trying to sell the German sausage is also an analogy for the fear of the other; for the xenophobia that is very present in America.
Then, the sausage is also a blasphemous symbol. It has a sexual connotation and it’s something that is almost a guilty pleasure.’
And Edward wants to open his sausage restaurant
in the old church, bringing sinfulness into the house of God… Do you like
‘Haha. No, actually I have been a vegetarian since I was a kid! And so is the director, Ulrich Thomsen. There was strictly no meat allowed on set. All the sausages used were vegan.’
You shot the film on location. In a small town, with no amenities nearby. How was the filming process? Did you live off vegan sausages?
‘It was a wild ride of about six weeks, living in this small place. The town is called Roy, after an old cabaret star and has a little over 200 inhabitants. The next town was 50 miles away. Everything you see in the movie is real. The music hall, the derelict cinema. Only the church we built ourselves because we had to burn it down in the end. There was just one café in town, where we could go out to eat. Of course, we quickly grew tired of it. As we did of vegan sausages.’
How was it for you, as a Scotsman living in the U.S. to play this outsider? Did you recognize yourself in the character?
‘I have always felt an outsider myself and I quite enjoy this role. In my work, I often only spend a certain amount of time in one place. This anonymous experience is very fulfilling to me, and I find pleasure in trying to understand a new place. But: of course, I speak from a very privileged outsider position.
As for the roles I play: I think every one of them is an education for me. Mostly though, my characters – from heroin addict Spud in Trainspotting to a stuttering lieutenant in Pearl Harbor – have taught me that in the end, we are all driven by the same forces and the same existential crises.’
How do you see your own development parallel to the development of your famed Trainspotting character Spud, from the first film in 1996 to the sequel twenty-one years later?
‘I think the only parallel is, that I’ve recognized the cruelty of aging. Twenty years ago I and Spud both were heading into the world, with the omnipotent feeling only the youth have. Now, it’s rather as if you are trying to escape your own shadow. Always being somewhat cautious.
The cliché is true. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I, for one, wish I still had my hair. But back then, I didn’t think to love it that much.’
What advice would you give to yourself, twenty years ago?
‘You know, once I was eavesdropping on this conversation between an older artist and a younger artist on a bus. The younger artist was asking for advice from the older one. And I realized: It’s so great to be able to share the experiences you’ve gathered in life. But advice is only worth something if someone asks for it.
Most of all: people have to make their own mess. So that’s what I’d advise my younger self: just follow your nose, not any advice someone gives you.’