Interview: Celyn Jones On The Almond And The Seahorse

By Olivia Emily

2 months ago

From performing the original play on stage to translating it to the big screen


Introducing the British film industry’s triple threat. Celyn Jones is an actor, writer and director, with three very different films out in the world right now: Swede Caroline, a vegetable growing comedy which landed in cinemas in April; The Almond and the Seahorse, co-written and directed by Celyn and starring Rebel Wilson and Meera Syal, in UK cinemas from 10 May; and Chuck Chuck Baby, where Celyn stars alongside Louise Brealey and Annabel Scholey, coming soon. We sat down with Celyn to hear all about it, plus how he finds balance amid the hubbub.

Interview: Celyn Jones

Celyn lounging on a chair

© Jemima Marriott

Hi, Celyn! You’re about to star in The Almond and the Seahorse opposite Rebel Wilson, which you also co-wrote with Kaite O’Reilly – can you give us an elevator pitch for the film?

It’s a story about love and memory. Two separate couples, whose lives have been forever changed by a TBI (traumatic brain injury) have to say goodbye to their past for a chance at a future. I am very proud of this film and the new cut for the UK release… The reactions from the audiences have been so very positive, moving and authentic and the performances from the cast in the film are incredible.

What was the writing process like?

Quick and intense for the first few drafts. Kaite and I have been friends for years so there was plenty of trust and collaboration. She wrote the original play so the foundation was great but at the sametime she and I were eager for the film to have its own, new life it deserves.

How does it differ from the stage version?

A lot different. Obviously we have a bigger and broader world, we have more characters and further character development. We took the beautiful lyrical world and made it visual to fit the medium. Some parts we didn’t touch and other sections are brand new, an evolution, and the ending is satisfactory which we felt it needed to be for the film.

You play Joe – what is he like?

Joe had a brain tumour, so he is incapable of laying down any new memories. It is neurologically impossible for him to have a future. His TBI makes him disinhibited, playful and erratic. He knows he loves his wife Sarah (Rebel Wilson) but can’t remember anything new. Joe is an everyman and liked by many but his illness can get him into trouble because of confusion and misunderstanding. It’s also getting worse and he is slowly rewinding and deleting his past, erasing the love of his life. Joe is funny and kind but will eventually disappear into his mind but remain in plain sight… Heartbreaking.

How did you get into character or prepare for the role?

I played the role on stage originally. Preparation was in learning about the condition, but to play him it was all about being in the moment all the time, no baggage and staying available to the surprise of life and alive to everything around him.

How does it feel seeing something you’ve written come to life?

It is always exciting, humbling and surprising… Great actors take flight with your words and soar, creating dreams in front of you. It’s also nerve wracking in case I get it wrong.

Any standout moments from rehearsals or filming?

Joe and the pill taking sequence was always a great challenge. It was a centrepiece in the play and in the script and now in the film. We watch the world’s slowest car crash as Joe walks around his flat losing pills, lit cigarettes and phone receivers and we can do nothing about it. I loved shooting the scene with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Trine Dyrholm next to the Anthony Gormley statues too; amazing actors in a fantastic landscape.

You also recently starred in the hilarious Swede Caroline – how would you describe that for anyone who hasn’t watched?

Spinal Tap for competitive vegetable growers… it’s a grower and a show’er. I love it and it’s a really good time for audiences.

You play Willy – how would you describe him?

The sweetest person with the biggest heart, disguised as a total idiot. His secret life is one of the greatest cinematic reveals of my career and he eats raw onions like an apple.

It’s all about vegetable growing – are you a keen gardener? Did it inspire you to give it a go?

No, no and no… Sorry. But I do love being in a nice garden – that is blissful.

And you also have Chuck Chuck Baby coming up – what would your elevator pitch for that film be?

It’s a brilliant,  female fronted working class musical set in a chicken factory in North Wales that has a giant loving heart against all the odds. I play an absolute monster of a man, a caveman full of rage and disappointment. It says something really interesting about male vulnerability and toxic masculinity and of course female empowerment. It’s a beautiful film.

It’s set in a small town in Wales. How does it feel to tell a story set in your homeland?

Always great to be home and making films. It is set in Flint, which is very similar to the working class town of Holyhead that I’m from. Amazing for young people from the area to see their home on the big screen and Janis Pugh (director) is an inspiration.

What do you hope people will think of it? Or what do you think people will react the most to from it?

It’s a totally different film to enjoy, like Swede is totally unique, and isn’t that a great thing? Like with all the films, I want people to be moved, entertained and enlightened all whilst watching it on a big screen surrounded by other people. I hope it creates more films and opportunities. They are three very different films with three completely different performances from myself and I put a lot into all of them and I did that for you.

Celyn Jones

© Jemima Marriott

What has been your favourite project to date, both writing and acting?

Shackleton was my first film and we made it in the Arctic Circle and it was opposite Kenneth Brannagh. I was only 21 and it changed things for me. Set Fire to the Stars will forever be a seminal piece of work for me, playing Dylan Thomas opposite Elijah Wood, writing it with Andy Goddard the director, and making it with all those amazing actors in black and white in Wales to a Gruff Rhys soundtrack… A beautiful film and experience all round.

Any exciting projects in the pipeline that you’re excited about? (If you’re allowed to tell us!)

Just wrapped on a beautiful indie drama called On The Sea which was shot on Anglesey and recently I was in Serbia shooting a fantasy show for Dean Devlin where I play the angel Cupid. I’m about to go into pre-production on my next feature film as director and that has a very exciting cast rounding out.

Who has been your favourite actor to work with in the past?

There’s too many to choose from after 25 years doing this. But here’s a few names that I haven’t mentioned before: Alicia Vikander, Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Peter Dinklage, Jean Reno, Kelly Reilly, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Gambon, Nicholas Lyndhurst, James Norton, Richard Lumsden, Eddie Izzard, Martin Clunes, Peter Mullan, Gerry Butler, Shirley Henderson and on and on and on… All generous and brilliant and great fun. I am a lucky guy.

Who have you worked with that you learned a lot from?

Wim Wenders, what a director and amazing human.

What’s your dream project?

To play Orson Welles, directed by Steven Spielberg opposite Meryl Streep.

What’s a genre you’ve never tried that you’d like to dabble in?

An old school musical.

You grew up in Anglesey – do you go back much?

All the time. My family is still there and this year I will have made two films there. It’s home and I love the sea… Looking at it, being near it and sitting in it.

What do you miss the most about it when you’re not there?

My parents.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A sailor like my Dad but then very quickly I found acting.

How can we all live a little bit better?

Being kind and of use to others whenever possible.

Anything fun in the pipeline – professionally or personally?

I am madly in love with my wife, Kate, and our three glorious children so anything with them is fun and exciting. We’d all like to learn how to ski but I think I’d be the worst for sure. The year is getting busy now with the promotion of these films and then directing. Oh yeah… I might be reprising Dylan Thomas in a film!

Celyn Jones Recommends…

I’m currently watching… A Gentleman in Moscow, The Regime and Saturday Night Live

What I’m reading… A book on Francis Ford Coppola, one on Einstein, Kurt Vonnegut and too many film magazines.

The last thing I watched (and loved) was… The Holdovers, Scrapper, Blackberry and Perfect Days. I also loved two Mark Cousins docs on Hitchcock and one on Welles.

What I’m most looking forward to seeing… The next Paul Thomas Anderson, Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarrrantino films.

Favourite film of all time… One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Rocky

Favourite song of all time… ‘Martha’ by Tom Waits

Band/singer I always have on repeat… Gruff Rhys or Nick Cave

My ultimate cultural recommendation… Paris

Cultural guilty pleasure… Blackpool

WATCH

Catch Celyn Jones in Swede Caroline in cinemas now, and The Almond and the Seahorse, out in cinemas on 10 May.

@celyn_jones