It’s London, but not as you know it...
Having been shrouded in a mask for the last half an hour, running through several takes of a scene in the dystopian drama Franklyn, Ryan Phillippe is red-faced and dripping with sweat when newcomer director Gerald McMorrow finally calls “Cut!” Seizing his opportunity, Phillippe dashes outside for a fag break with Buzz in tow. “I have to grab a cigarette when I can because I’m in that mask all the time,” he says. “It’s hard to breathe! I had to do fight scenes, like full martial arts, and I couldn’t get my breath back. It was suffocating.”
On his first night of filming, Phillippe shot a scene on the roof of the Victoria & Albert museum in which he jumps over a railing while wearing the mask. “I couldn’t see a thing, man, it was really scary,” he says. Set between the parallel worlds of contemporary London – suitably enough, the film debuts at the London Film Festival – and the futuristic, religion-dominated metropolis of Meanwhile City, Franklyn unites Phillippe with Casino Royale stunner Eva Green and Control upstart Sam Riley for a tale of four lost souls (the fourth is The Lord Of The Rings’ Bernard Hill) whose lives and destinies are intertwined, even though it’s not exactly clear how until right near the end.
Before then, Green’s suicidal artist paints and self-harms, Riley’s freshly returned Iraq War veteran pines over a girl he thinks might be the one, a haunted Hill searches for his missing son and Phillippe skirts the fringes as masked vigilante Jonathan Preest, roaming a dystopian realm of religious weirdos and fanatics.
It’s in Meanwhile City’s Registration Centre – where thousands of faiths have to be logged since it’s law that you have to subscribe to a religion, any religion – that Buzz finds itself today, recreated in a grimy, disused waterworks at London’s Abbey Mills Pumping Station. It’s populated by a horde of Gilliamesque extras – and Phillippe’s masked oddity. “He’s well trained with a heightened sense of awareness but there’s no superpowers,” explains McMorrow of Preest. “When he’s out on the street, he masks up to mix with the population. No one bats an eyelid because there are loads of other strange things going on.”
“He’s a mercenary, out for vengeance,” says Phillippe. “Our inspirations were Batman and Clint Eastwood, just that idea of the American hero. I bought a bunch of comic books and was looking at poses. We’re really trying to make it look and feel like a comic book.”
Fag break over, Phillippe slips his mask back on. “There are times you see me without the mask,” he reveals. “But mostly I’m under it. It’s a very strange thing. I love interacting with people and seeing their reaction. I also like not having to go to make-up every morning!”