Sean Cronin was born in West London, and with a tall, imposing and altogether villainous presence, he has played roles in everything from The World Is Not Enough to The Mummy and its sequel, all the way to Mission Impossible plus the upcoming Harry Potter spinoff. Also a producer and director, Cronin likely has as thorough a knowledge of what it’s like on movie set as anyone alive.
Moving from the background, to the foreground, and even to behind the camera itself, Cronin remains funny and down to earth while quickly asserting himself as an ever more prominent presence in the industry; a presence almost as threatening as his own.
Caleb Hinton got the opportunity to chat to the actor about beginnings, big upcoming projects, and on-stage and on-set antics.
You’ve been acting since the early 90’s, what first got you into acting?
Well, basically, I got stopped at Portobello Road and somebody said, “you look really evil”, and then a week later I found myself shaved completely including my legs and my pubes and my eyebrows, and wearing a nappy for The Mummy, and that was kind of where I got the bug! And then I got another little part in Bond, and got to hold Denise Richards around the waist for two weeks but she didn’t say hello to me once, the snotty bitch! And then I started to get more roles, because I started off as like a glorified extra, what they called a featured extra or a walk-on, but I got the bug being on amazing sets like on Bond, you know. One minute you’re on a submarine and then you’re on an island, it’s just the buzz of the movie, so many people trying to meet the same collaborative end.
And then at the advice of my agent I stopped doing extra work and started getting proper roles. I’ve just done a nice spot of Mission Impossible, worked with Tom Cruise for a few days which was quite interesting, just done a film with Eddie Redmayne called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and I’m currently coming out of a film called Kill Kane, where I play the main villain opposite Vinnie Jones, so that’s kind of how it started and where I am now.
Tell me a bit about your new film that you mentioned, Kill Kane?
Basically it was a crazy, low budget flick, but one of my first proper lead villains, I mean I’ve died in 75 films, every single film I’ve died in; I mean we should do a dying show reel. Even in Mission Impossible they electrocuted me 35 times. You only see the electrocuting once in the film, but they kept saying, “would you mind coming back, we’re just gonna electrocute you at another angle.”
Anyway, I submitted my audition and got the part, and we shot the entire film in 9 days which crazy, because normally a feature film takes months. It was a first time director, he’s done a couple of shorts won some awards, very talented guy called Adam Stephen Kelly, really nice guy. It was quite weird though, because I’m the baddy, and Vinnie’s the goody, a schoolteacher, but it was great fun working with him, he’s quite a formidable presence. It’s a low budget film – it’s weird because I’ve worked on 200 million dollar movies, and this one, I don’t know what the budget was, but it was fairly low, but it’s still the same buzz. You’re still working on a team towards the same goal. The beauty of acting is that every day you meet different people. It’s not a mundane job. And it’s not a glamorous job either! You’re up at six, sometimes you’re not home until three in the bloody morning, and when you finally do get your Oscar you’re normally crawling on all fours by your fingernails, and die as you receive it. But it’s great fun, and Kill Kane was great fun, a great team and cast, a good buzz.
You’ve started doing cinematography and directing – what made you do that as oppose to just acting?
Well what it was, was an amazing DOP of Bond and also The Mummy, a guy called Adrian Biddle, God rest his soul. He showed me this trick, it was really funny – he was walking through the set, with a guy called Vic Armstrong, and there was a light on the floor, and I just walked through the light, and because I’ve got a scary face they both jumped! And we got chatting, and Adrian picked up the light and just moved it around his face, and showed me how you can make somebody look different in a hundred ways depending on where you put the light, and I became fascinated.
At that point I was just an extra, all the other extras were sitting in the green room waiting for their sandwiches, and I just sat – in those days you could smoke on set – I was usually sitting there with a cup of tea and a fag, and just sat there watching. Like, ‘wow, I want to know how to do that’. So I went to New York Film School, to do cinematography, where I learnt bugger all; where you really learn stuff is on the set. I mean you know I learnt things. But on set I learnt how, and when I went to study it I learnt why. But also its great fun, I’ve directed about 10-15 films, about 300 music videos and commercials, all kinds of stuff. I’m directing a period drama called Ironside, about 25 million budget, got some massive names in it that I can’t mention now, because it’s all in contract, signed in blood. But I’ve done another wonderful film called Give Them Wings, about a guy who was born with meningitis, and he’s written books, he wrote a screenplay for a film with his nose. A hilariously funny bloke too, he can just about move, he can move one of his hands, he goes, “Sean, I can’t move much but I can hold a pint.” Another great thing is that he’s sexually active – as I said, a very funny guy – so he pulls this girl in the film and he says, “Look, I can make love to you, but you’ll have to be the one to carry me up the stairs.”
Is it difficult to direct a film you’re also starring in?
I don’t often do that, except Bogieville I played the main vampire, but I normally have a great crew and cinematographers already. It is harder because you’re focussing on everybody else’s performance as well as your own, but once you’re out there on set and you’re in the zone everyone is working together. Also I’m not arrogant so if someone says, “Sean, that was shit”, I’m directing it – I’ll just do it again! I prefer not to direct films I’m acting in so I can concentrate on the main theme, but as long as you’ve got a great DOP and assistant director it’s not too difficult.
What has been your favourite role in your career?
I can’t really say one more than the other, but I did really enjoy Kill Kane. When I’m playing a villain on set I method act, a bit like Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York, so you’ve got to be a bit careful if you come near me if I’m playing a villain because I might kill you! So on set I was in the zone, all the time, and actually it was quite funny. Vinnie, although he’s tough, I was so villainous in it he said afterwards, “I nearly shit myself!” So it was quite funny to out-villain such a villain like him. I loved being in Mission Impossible, just the sheer size and scale of the film, the sets are amazing. Sometimes when you’re doing a low budget film, you’re stuck in a little room and you’re trying to get the angle, you can’t just take the wall out. But on a real set, it’s like ‘take that wall out, move this, move that.’
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much money is behind the lens, the only thing that matters is what’s on the lens, and what you can actually see, it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there.
Just one more question; have you ever had anything embarrassing or amusing happen to you while on set or on stage?
Well I used to be in a rock band, quite a successful band called The Marionettes, and what was quite embarrassing was that I was being a real cocky twat, so I did a double cartwheel on to stage. And I thought, “I’ll cartwheel on and land by the microphone.” So I’ve gone flip, flip, landed – I thought beautifully – and then I lost my balance, and the drum kit was on a rise behind me, and I fell over and the whole drum kit fell off the stage!