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Zawe Ashton interview: Blitz

20 May 2011 by Elliott Noble

Blitz-01Fair cop: Zawe Ashton plays a policewoman with a problem in London killer thriller BlitzAfter cutting her teeth in every British TV drama from The Bill and Holby City to Casualty and Misfits, Zawe Ashton now finds herself playing with the big boys in punchy London crime thriller Blitz. Literally.

Based on Ken Bruen's novel, the story revolves around no-nonsense, old-school South London detective Brant, a role tailor-made for topline star Jason Statham.

As drug-troubled WPC Elizabeth Falls, the film's only female character of note, 25-year-old Ashton easily holds her own in a cast of heavy-hitters including Paddy Considine, Aiden Gillen, David Morrissey and Mark Rylance.

Despite researching her role by spending time with addicts at a rehabilitation programme in Brixton, the Stoke Newington native prefers to act by instinct rather than go down the Method route.

That said, she did everything possible to boost her character's credibility... "short of taking crack!"

Enthusiastic and cheerful, Ashton is full of admiration for her co-stars, describing Statham as "lovely" (an adjective you don't often see on the back of his DVDs).

We gave her a tinkle on the old dog and bone to find out more about the movie and what's next. But first things first...


For the record, how do you pronounce your name?

It's Zowie. As in Zowie Bowie.

As in David's son, the director now known as Duncan Jones?

Yeah... maybe I should call myself 'Duncan' and we could be The Two Duncans Formerly Known As "Zowie"?

Blitz is only your second feature film after St Trinian's 2, but you've been in every long-running British TV series going [see above] and had huge success in the theatre. So which do you prefer, stage or screen?

I really don't have a preference - it's all about how I feel about the story, who I'll be working with, and what I feel like doing at the time. As long as the material is right, I'm happy to try

35mm-Blitz-SpecialYour character in Blitz is a police officer who's just come out of rehab after going a little too far undercover in the drug squad. Now she's being mentored by Brant, a hard-drinking, rule-breaking sexist with a violent streak as wide as the Harrow Road. Interesting choice of role model.

Isn't he? I think they share a lot of problems and issues and it's the flaws that bond them together.

Did you get much mentoring from Mr Statham off-screen?

He's lovely - and so supportive.

Blitz is just one of Ken Bruen's Brant novels - any plans to make it a franchise?

We'll see how people respond to this one, but I'd sign up for more, no problem. Elizabeth Falls is a character I could do so much more with. I'd love to explore her further.

You're developing a film project with Idris Elba, who starred in The Wire with your co-star Aiden Gillen. So you've got some good careers advisers if you fancy trying out your American accent across the Pond. Any plans there or do your loyalties lie in London?

Oh I'll always be loyal to London. But [like Elba] you have tremendous success abroad and then you come home and utilise it on home soil. He's a massive mentor of mine; I really respect and love the guy.

Can you say anything about the project or is it all hush-hush?

[Laughs] It's only hush-hush because it's literally in the beginning stages!

Right... what kind of genre is it, just to give us a flavour?

[Pause] I don't know!

It's got to be David Lynch-type stuff then?

No, but oh my god that is so my own taste. Zawe Ashton and David Lynch are definitely two names you could use in the same sentence. It's got a really strong woman at the centre of it and it's gonna be one of the first opportunities I've had to be part of a writing team.

Would you like to give Broadway a crack like your co-star Mark Rylance has just done so successfully with Jerusalem?

If I could have as much talent in my whole body as Mark Rylance has got in his little finger, it would be happy, happy days. I would love to do Broadway. I've admired and respected him for years. To follow him would be amazing.

Jason Statham was in the British Olympic diving team. Will we be seeing you in a sporting capacity at the London Olympics next year?

I ran for the bus the other day and I got it and the driver said "You should be in the Olympics!"

Blitz-02Bet he didn't slow down for you if it was a London bus...

[Snorts] I suddenly had this wave of sadness that I'll probably never be in the Olympics. Swimming was a massive part of my life as a child. That's what I'm best at. I tried to teach myself to swim the Channel at one point when I was out of work.

And what happened there?

I basically got to the point where I could swim about a mile out and a mile back... You won't see me in the Olympics next year.

Your next movie, Weekender, is about the rave scene and you also front your own band. Presumably music keeps you fit?

It's so funny because I love the fact that everyone thinks I'm fronting this band now. I am but it's literally the most hypothetical band that exists. My best friend and I have written songs, we have written music... we've never gigged before. I can't claim to being a frontwoman just yet.

I love the term "hypothetical band". It sounds like something Yoko Ono would come up with. Perhaps you could fuse it with a bit of early William Shatner and throw in a few David Lynch references as well. That would be fantastic.

That's what my music would sound like: me, William Shatner, Yoko Ono, my best friend Claire in a room watching a David Lynch film, probably whilst playing the steel pans.

Well it sells itself to the Tate Modern - you've got an installation there straight away...

Absolutely. But music is definitely the next form of self-expression I want to pursue.

The rapper Common is one of your influences. His acting career is obviously taking off so maybe you two should hook up after your taste of the action movie with Blitz? You could play some sort of musical action team like a hip-hop version of Bonnie & Clyde?

I would love that! Would you put him in contact with me? His music's great and I think he's a good actor too.

If only I had his number... You've been acting since you were six, but you're also a poet and a playwright and a singer, so my last question is: what do you do in your spare time?!

I spend a lot of time with my Mum and Dad... and with my cats. And buying furniture. When you've been as busy as I have in the last two years, you really appreciate your downtime!