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24 September 2014
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When I'm 64
Paul Freeman plays Ray Filming

When I'm 64

Paul Freeman plays Ray Filming

When I'm 64 was like a homecoming for Paul Freeman: "It's what attracted me to the script," he grins.

"It was an extraordinary week when we were in Barnet. We were filming behind the hospital in which I was born and on an estate on which my parents were thinking of buying a house.

"I could have been living here if my life had turned out differently.

"I also used to talk like Ray. My parents came from Camden Town, so I used to have a North London accent - that was my real voice. It's easy to slip back into the dialect, though, and nice to get back into it - it's like coming home."

One of Britain's most versatile character actors, Paul's talent for accents has often seen him cast as cultured villains in classic movies like The Long Good Friday, The Dogs of War and Raiders of the Lost Ark, where he played French archaeologist Rene Belloq, Harrison Ford's charismatic but utterly selfish rival.

His role as Ray in Tony Grounds' When I'm 64 couldn't be more different.

"When we first see Ray, he's a football hooligan - but it's clear that this is no longer his kind of thing.

"He's settled down, married and has children and grandchildren of his own. He's become the family nurturer, and has gradually moved away from the hooligan scene, to become the real 'salt of the earth'.

"But now that he's in his sixties and widowed there's something unfulfilled about him and he's trying to capture something that he's lost.

"His friend is dying and Ray realises for the first time that he's looking at his own mortality.

"That's why Jim fascinates him," says Paul. "Jim is going to do something that he's never done before: going off to explore the world - even though he hasn't got a great deal of worldly experience - and literally changing his face.

"Ray, although more worldly wise, has only ever been to West Ham, Potters Bar and Spain.

"Jim represents a whole other way of life to him. He's a wonderful storyteller and Ray realises that he's found a friend who opens up a new vista for him."

As Ray's friendship with Jim develops, his children begin to worry about the effect their father's activities will have on their inheritance.

"Ray's children have used him to look after the grandchildren and he's happy to be used, as the family is very close," explains Paul.

"Ray loves his children, but there's already a split with his son, Little Ray [played by Jason Flemyng].

"Little Ray has married an upwardly mobile wife and there's a certain snobbery about the couple. When they announce that his grandson, to whom he is very close, is going to Harrow public school, Ray sees the beginnings of a class divide and the beginnings of his family pulling away from him."

The tension between father and son is not something that Paul has personal experience of, but he has heard about it from friends: "Although I don't have a son, Jason is so good at being prickly that I can imagine that's what it's like. That's what my friends who have sons and my daughter say."

However, Paul is quick to point out that this all seems to be part of the growing up process: "There comes a time when all sons have to do this fight with their fathers. The son is asserting himself as the head of the family, while the father is kicking against it because he doesn't feel old.

"Yet there comes a time when the child starts looking after the parent. It hasn't happened to me yet, thank God, although I think my daughter thinks it has."

In real life Paul has no such worries. He's happily married to fabric designer Maggie Scott and has a daughter, Lucy, with whom he often goes hill-walking - a hobby he picked up while filming Monarch of the Glen.

"I feel much healthier than I was three years ago - Monarch of the Glen got me into hill-walking, which I now like as well as gardening and listening to music. It's important to have other interests, so that if work does dry up I've got other interests to fall back on."

However, a shortage of work is not something that appears to worry Paul: "The last three years have been very good to me indeed. When you're younger you never think that the work will dry up, but there are less roles around the older you get.

"Now I feel I just want to do the work that I want to do."

Being in a position to pick and chose roles, what was it about When I'm 64 that attracted him?

"I'd never worked with Tony before, but I read the script and I thought, 'What beautiful writing,'" he comments.

"It's a terribly well written script: everyone is decent, the things that are sad are the everyday tragedies of life. Nothing is manipulated - including the humour - and the people aren't evil.

"It's also important to me how people view people of my age.

My dad had retired by my age," he adds, "and people of his generation were looking forward to retirement. But I don't feel like retiring."

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