Stand-up comedian Dave Johns has branched out into film acting following the success of his big screen debut in Ken Loach's critically acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake. His latest role is in British comedy film Walk Like A Panther. Dave explains more here...
Hi Dave. What's Walk Like A Panther about?
In the 70s and 80s, wrestling was huge on television, via a show called World Of Sport. I remember watching it when I was a kid.
Walk Like A Panther focuses on a group of wrestlers who retired when World Of Sport stopped. They live in a Yorkshire village and their local pub is called the Half Nelson where they all congregate. The pub is going to be sold to make flats that nobody can afford. So basically they come out of retirement to save their pub.
It's about a community coming together. It's a great ensemble cast - they come out of retirement to save the local pub with one last wrestling match. It was filmed all round Yorkshire last May.
The sort of wrestling seen in World Of Sport is different from the modern day sport...
It's not like the wrestling today, the WW... E? It's the 'old school' stuff. When World Of Sport was broadcasting on Saturday afternoons, households across the country would stop to watch it. Its audience were in the millions, watching people like Mick McManus, Les Kellett and later on Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks.
It really was a must watch thing, and it's that nostalgia we're bringing back. Even if the young kids are in to modern wrestling now, this is the grass roots of where all these techniques first came to light.
Did you get to meet any of those original stars when making this film?
We had Rollerball Rocco, who was one of our advisers on the film. We also had a couple of modern day wrestlers, who helped out with teaching us how to do the moves, throws and how to 'run the ropes'; that's where the wrestlers bounce off each rope... which is harder than it looks! It was quite a shock to the system to be thrown on a canvas in a tight blue leotard.
You in a tight leotard... that's the sales pitch sorted!
Yeah, for all the ladies: watching a 62 year-old man in a tight lycra leotard. It's every girl's dream!
How did you come to get involved?
The script came through for me and I read it and loved it straight away. Dan Cadan, who wrote it and also directed it - this has been a labour of love for him for a long time. He's always wanted to tell this story, and when I read the script I just loved the characters because it's not only about one person, it's an ensemble piece and every character is really well drawn out with their own little stories. So I said yes to it straight away.
Your big screen break was a drama... is it nice to come back to comedy?
My first was I, Daniel Blake, the Ken Loach film. I'm very proud of that, and that's the thing that has taken my career into movies really from being a stand-up, so I'll always be grateful.
The thing is my character in this [Walk Like A Panther] is probably the least comedy part in the whole film. I'm the grumpy dad of it all, who everyone has to persuade to come back on board. I'm the one who doesn't want to go back in to the wrestling because I think it's all in the past and it's the rest of the gang who try to persuade me to come back.
But, yeah, it was great being in a film that people will I hope enjoy in a different way to Daniel Blake.
How did you come to be acting in I, Daniel Blake in the first place, given you'd never done a movie before?
A friend of mine said Ken Loach was looking for a guy my age so I sent a text off to the casting people. When it won the Bafta for Best British Film, the casting director said 'I've still kept your text that you sent us, do you want to see it?' It said: 'Hi. My name is Dave Johns. I'm a 59 year-old stand-up comic. I hear Ken Loach is looking for a guy my age to be in his film. I'd be up for that!"
Basically, they showed it to Ken, and Ken said 'you've got to get this bloke in and see him'.
It all came about very matter-of-factly, and it's changed my life because now I'm making films which is a whole new world...
Stand-up is very much immediate: you go on stage, you know how you're doing... I made this film nearly a year ago and I'm going to see it for the first time tonight so it's a weird collective process, which is great for a comic who is used to working on their own. I'm learning a new career at the age of 62, which is pretty awesome really!
Were you must slicker this time, in terms of knowing how to 'hit your marks' and other such acting things...
It's very much a case of learning on the job. You're used to thinking on your feet as a stand-up; when you're in a club late at night and you're getting drunken hecklers shouting at you, you learn to think on your feet. I think that's been good stead for me going into a situation I'm not very familiar with and learning on the job; I'm able to adapt. I think comics are very good at adapting, and very good at communicating... that's why I think comics make good actors.
You continue to perform live of course. Since you starred in Daniel Blake, have you noticed your audience changing or growing in any way?
I think loads of young women will be coming to see my shows now, now they've seen the pictures of me in the lycra! No?
My profile has gone up. I'm the first to admit that if I'd gone up to Edinburgh with [his live show] I, Fillum Star before the film I probably wouldn't have got the audiences I got; I wouldn't have got the media attention that I got.
Not many people take chances on things, you know? If more people tried to find things themselves and experiment and see shows and comedians they haven't really heard of they can be rewarded brilliantly. It's sad people will only to see the big names who they know.
I think that's what the problem with the comedy circuit now. It's having a resurgence really because the young comics today are now using social media; they're putting all the clips of themselves on YouTube now - they realise how important it is - so you're getting a lot of young people coming to comedy clubs who have seen people's clips on YouTube.
In my day it was more sort of, you played a club and you just tried to work your way up - get a bit of telly, panel shows and if that doesn't happen for you, you're stuck working on the circuit. The circuit is great, but after a few years, with all the travelling...
What's great about the films for me is it's heightened my profile where people will now go 'oh I'll go see that guy who was in Daniel Blake'; 'oh yeah, I wouldn't mind going to see that guy that was in Walk Like A Panther' - it all helps, you know?
What's next for you Dave?
I'm doing some more stand-up. I'm doing my Edinburgh show at various art centres around about the place, and then I've got a new film which I'm starting in May which is going to be shot in Cornwall. I can't say any more about it yet, but I play a Cornish fisherman.
We're talking just before the Walk Like A Panther premiere. You must be looking forward to seeing your co-stars again?
It's such a joy working with all those people. They're all great actors - they're funny, and they're nice people. There was a lovely vibe on set and that comes from the top. Usually if you go on a set and there's a good vibe with the crew, it comes from the director, and Dan you could tell loved this script and loved making this film.
I haven't seen the film yet, I've only seen little snippets of it, so I'm looking forward to seeing it. People are about to see me 16 foot high in a blue leotard. It's going to change lives!