In the second of our Beyond The Pole interviews, we spoke to its co-star Rhys Thomas about the film’s ten-day shoot, and how to fake the death of a polar bear…
How did you prepare for the role, and what attracted you to it initially?
I did very little preparation other than grow a beard, actually. The character of Brian is unprepared and naïve so I though that less I did, the better. Maybe I’m just lazy. What attracted me to the part was the fact the script was good, it was funny, moving, adventurous and also a bit of a challenge. I’m used to writing and performing my own material, doing someone else’s is refreshing. Also I want to show off a bit and prove I could act!
Beyond The Pole has a genuinely off-the-cuff, natural feel to it – were any of your scenes improvised, or was it more scripted than it appears?
That natural off the cuff feel is purely down to the direction and performance as it was all scripted. The only scene we really improvised was the biscuit scene with the Norwegians (but that was still based on a bit of script) and a few lines at the end when we get near the pole – but we had freedom to paraphrase at times to make it feel more natural.
I understand the film was shot in Greenland rather than the North Pole, but were there any difficulties with the location shoot? Was it as desperately cold as it appeared?
We couldn’t film at the Pole, but we were still filming on floating ice and in the Arctic Circle, and hundreds of miles from a Starbucks. Difficulties were weather conditions, some days if there was a storm we simply couldn’t leave our cabins.
Everything is slow as you can’t just drive to a location and set up – you have to load cameras, lights, sound gear, props and people into wooden sledges on the back of Skidoos (or whatever they are called) and then as we were on floating ice we had to use huskies to pull us everywhere.
It was minus 30 at times and at the end of a long day, you couldn’t even feel your toes, fingers or bollocks! Hell.
How long did shooting last?
We shot for 10 days in Greenland and Iceland, then two or three weeks in Litchfield. We filmed some pick up scenes a year later after the ending was changed. It was a lot of fun.
How were the scenes with the polar bear shot?
I hate to disappoint and ruin the magic but it was stock footage. A local had a bear skin that we wrapped around some pillows to look like the real thing had been shot.
Finally, did you really spit in Stephen Mangan’s mouth, or was that some kind of special effect?
Originally we discussed using CGI, but ILM were too busy so in the end. Yes, I gobbed a good few flobs into Stephen’s trap. It wasn’ t much fun for him, but I am sure he’s swallowed worse things in his life.
Rhys Thomas, thank you very much!
Beyond The Pole is out on DVD and Blu-ray now. Our interview with producer Helen Baxendale is here