Alex Flitcroft played Pete and Punchline Pete in Django Away!

Hugh Moir: How did you meet Daniel Hutchings?

Alex Flitcroft: At the Comedy Balloon in Manchester. I think it was the first gig me and Craig Cunningham did as our sketch duo Panhead. I think he was on just before us. He was doing all this chicken crossing the road stuff and "knock knock" "who's there?" "Daniel Hutchings!" "Daniel Hutchings who?" "Oh don't be like that". It was surreal, which was good because he was on before us and we had quite surreal sketches. After we'd done our acts, he was there, with his pregnant wife, and I said to him "What are you into?" and he said "I'm into filming stuff" and I was like "Nice one! Because I want to be in films” (laughs). So I thought “what a great guy to know” because he's a really nice guy and if he's got the camera and great ideas, like I found out he has, then I'd love to work with him. We've kept in contact ever since. And he obviously liked the chemistry between me and Craig because that lead to 'Allo 'Allo Basterds.

Was that the first film of Hutchings' you worked on?

Yeah, the 'Allo 'Allo adaptation of Tarantino, the first scene of Inglourious Basterds where he's in the farmer’s shed with the Jew Hunter. It was brilliant, I loved that! I was lucky to be involved with it. Then he got in touch with another Tarantino parody with Django. I think we met in Marks & Spencer's cafe in Manchester (laughs) and he explained this mad idea and I was like "Nice one, yeah". It sounded really good but I was a bit concerned about how he was going to do it because he had no budget and how he talked about it was on such a grand scale. So I asked him where are these locations going to be? Like "How are you going to film the scene where he's walking across the desert?" and he'd said "Oh, I know a beach" (laughs) "But what about when you’re doing this as Django?" "Oh, I know a field." (Laughs) So he knew what he was doing and, as you see from the film, he found them and he really enhanced them and really made it feel like you are in a wild west. In his previous work, he'd always delivered what his vision was and I felt confident that he knew what he was on about because he's got the skills (laughs).

Flitcroft gleefully leers down at us as Punchline Pete in Timothy Victor's flashback.

Was there anything about the script that struck you as unique?

I didn't read all the script, I obviously read my bits, but I did think it was interesting how it was going to be fantasy kind of parodying reality and that I'd get to play two characters in one film. I also liked the fact that even though the Scally scene was comical, he wanted me to play it straight. Which was great because I don’t really get to do much straight acting because I always get cast in comedies. So out of the duo of me and Craig I'm playing it straight and there's Daniel in the middle trying to fend us off but then also telling us a story to keep us amused, rather than running off. That scene’s really good because the dynamic of it is always shifting and no-one’s ever on top. It was really fun to play, as an actor, because you’re approaching it from a real acting point of view (laughs). It's not just me being silly, it was proper dialogue and pathos because my character has had love and lost it and that's why he's getting annoyed because Daniel’s talking about love in the Django story and it's painful for him to remember what he once had.

What was your most satisfying moment on set? When we finished the Scally scene was a really satisfying moment because of where the location was, out in the open. Even though we were under a bridge there was a waterfall coming down on me through a hole (laughs). There's wind, there's rain, I'm already wet, I was shaking with hypothermia, and it was such a relief when we finished it because then I could get into some dry clothes. But, as an actor, I suffer for my art (laughs).

Flitcroft as Pete gives Hutchings some aggro while Craig Cunningham's Jim hovers between threats and pleasantries.

Was there anything that concerned you about the shooting?

My other scene, where I'm Punchline Pete and Joe King's got him against the wall. In it there's this big long speech from Joe King saying how he's not happy with Pete. Then he embarrasses Pete to death. So this is my dying scene! All dramatic! And I was worried. Daniel hadn't cast Joe King yet, which is a nightmare because there's this big speech from Joe King and I'm there, having to react to it all. So I was worried that I'd have to learn the whole speech and replay it in my head as I'm acting it out on camera for him to dub on whoever's playing Joe in post-production. But, luckily, when we got there on the day, Daniel cued me Joe King' speech. I was like "YES!" because I hadn't learnt Joe King's dialogue. But the scene was really fun because I got to die, spitting blood. Everyone wants to die for camera. The blood was honey with red food colouring so that was nice because sometimes blood tablets taste like soap.

Punchline Pete is pinned against the wall of Joe King's courtyard in his prolonged 'joking' at the hands of King.

Do you have any thoughts on how your Exifestern character and your Reality character relate to each other?

I didn't think, for myself, that it was that important for me to know how they were related. I didn't see how it would affect the performances. They seemed like separate scenes all together. But that’s the good thing about the film. You can sit back and enjoy it, but there’s all these other elements there for you to delve deeper into, with the subtexts and other meanings, and maybe come up with your own interpretations. I think it's there for you to look as deep as you want.

What can films of this scale offer?

Obviously if you have a zero budget it's quite intimidating because you've got no money to use except your own (laughs). But the good thing about it is you don't have to tick anyone else's boxes. It's your project. If something’s zero budget it spurs you on to be even more productive, squeeze every drop out of every situation you can: locations, the weather, everything. It spurs you to go out there and go the extra mile.

What are your favorite moments of Django Away?

My favourite funny moment is the end of the Scally scene when Hutchings introduces the next Django chapter. I've slammed him against the wall and my forearm is against (laughs) his neck and he's like (strangled voice) "It's a really good point that...what happens is...". Obviously it was written like this and it came out exactly how he planned it. I was proper laughing at that the last time I saw it and I just laughed now so that’s how good it is. That’s my favourite moment because after all that quite serious pathos it’s more of a slapstick visual gag right at the end of the scene that kind of lifts you back up. Another of my favourite moments is when Django says "I'm the punchline to every joke you've ever told" because I think it sums up the story of Django. Maybe you can get laughter by taking the mick out of other people and being nasty but there's another side, a humble side of comedy, where you make yourself the joke and people laugh at you. You bring the laughter to them in a positive way, where there's nothing vindictive and you’re not attacking anyone. It's a friendly version of comedy, an endearing side of comedy.

As Pete squeezes his windpipe, Hutchings thinks on his feet as to how he should continue his Exifestern.

Did Django Away! turn out how you envisioned it?

It turned out better than I envisioned it. It's Daniel's ideas and project and it was a grand project. It really was big. And with it being zero budget you’re thinking "How is it going to come out? I'm hoping for it to come out good!" And it came out so professional and crisp and visually enticing. I think it's a glorious piece to watch. It's a palette of colours throughout and very beautiful to watch. All the scenes are entertaining and you're with Daniel and Django throughout the whole story and you don't know how it's going to end. It's fun (laughs). What I like about the way it was shot is that you can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. The scenes within reality with Daniel always seem a bit grittier and gloomier and suddenly, in a scene of fantasy, it's all bright and colourful and enlightening, I suppose, like a dream. It's enhances what the mood is. Towards the end when Django's within Joe's castle, it's very gloomy, the world has turned very gloomy, because Joe King has killed everyone. If it was all shot in the same way, same colours and brightness, the reality and fantasies could become blurred and I think that would lose the clarity it has. I mean, although previous works have been good with Daniel, I think this is the best thing he's done and he set out for it to be like that (laughs). "I'm gonna make something worse!" (Laughs) What's also fantastic is the soundtrack. I think there’s a real aesthetic feel of a Western because of the sounds and the little jingles. The songs really pull you into that genre. For example when you do have Joe King in a scene, or when he's mentioned, it’s got a certain sound, a dark sound. Like in Star Wars when Vader comes on (sings The Imperial March). It doesn't have that song, but it has something like that. You feel like that anyway. I did (laughs).

Extracts of this interview were used for the What4 Film Specials that Presents Inc made to promote Django Away!