Neil Maskell talks about Bull (100% Gender on Rotten Tomatoes)

Neil Maskel has quietly perfected the art of intensity and intimidation over the past two decades. Talking to him, he appears to be a very kind and humble man, and is certainly not hyper-masculine or sculpted with ridiculous musculature; he looks and sounds like a working-class Everyman, someone better equipped to wield spatulas than guns. However, put Maskell in the right part and you’ll see an amazing, chameleonic, awesome acting transformation. Suddenly, this kind man with a big belly becomes the most uncomfortable, intimidating and complicated killer in the world. He is quite simply one of the best British actors of his generation.


Neil Maskell, Master of Villainy

Although Maskell played comedic roles with great zeal (King Gary, The Wrong Door), he excels in the extreme intensity of dark and violent men, managing to color them all differently and make each live in their own specificity, rather than as mere movie clones. His confident and secret hitman in kill listits borderline autistic yet terrifying man relentlessly on a mission in tv masterpiece Utopiaor his brutal and violently angry footballer in The soccer factory Maskell is a master of villainy.

It goes without saying, however, that he is amazing in all sorts of roles, from Happy New Year Colin Burstead for small ax and Intergalactic. He now plays a kind of messenger of death in Paul Andrew Williams’ fascinating and wicked little revenge thriller, Taurus. Talking to him, however, creates a bit of cognitive dissonance; he is actually a thoughtful and jovial personality.

“You know, it’s a funny thing,” Maskell says. “If you know me personally then you know I’m the last person to be involved in a physical confrontation with anyone actually, and it’s weird, but people seem to keep writing parts where I’m supposed to beat people or kill them or whatever.” In Taurus, he plays the film’s titular gangster out for revenge years after a crime family tries to kill him. He’s amazing here, a force of nature, and uses his naked skills as an actor to transform his otherwise normal physique into something monstrous.

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There’s an old saying, never do too good a job or they’ll keep you doing it. Maskell obviously tapped into something special with these performances and thus became a fixture in British film and television. For example, Paul Andrew Williams wrote the main character of Taurus specifically for Maskell to play, a character who hunts down men and women, one by one, in his grand quest for revenge film. “Paul obviously thinks of me as a vengeful and horrible character, and that really bothers my mom, I’ll tell you,” Maskell laughs.

Maskell blue collar

A shirtless, bearded Neil Maskell looks down
Saban Films

Maybe it has to do with some sort of cultural bias. There are myriad dialects across the UK, but many people distinguish between two essential colloquial sounds the chic bourgeois (the films of Colin Firth or Benedict Cumberbatch) and the proletarian working class (the films of Michael Caine or Bob Hoskin). Similar to the number of black actors who were only given roles as criminals or servants at one time in Hollywood, actors with working-class accents in the UK are often referred to as “tough”.

“I have a very thick working class, London accent, and in England that marks you in a way. We are a class country, where the working classes are represented in a very specific way,” Maskell says, with strong feelings about class consciousness. “There’s something to be said for when I speak in my own accent, I normally play a bad guy.”

Neil Maskell in the driver's seat, staring out the window and threatening a family
Saban Films

It’s amazing how much effect accents (which are entirely arbitrary and geographical) have on everyone, determining how they’re treated by the world simply because of how they sound. Southerners in America are often labeled as backward or unintelligent, and Canadians are often seen as downright polite and lovable; if Donald Trump sounded like Hugh Grant, he probably would have won his second term.

Maskell felt this deeply throughout his life, both negatively and positively, and he speaks of it with an almost political sensibility. “Early in my career, I was just showing up and threatening people, and there wasn’t necessarily much more to it than that. I have a number of parts in my resume that sound like ‘Thug 1’ and ‘ Burglar 2.’ I think that says more about how the industry sees working class people than what they actually look like. We’re not burglars, thugs, hooligans, and gangsters. My family doesn’t was none of that.

Either way, Maskell is a very diplomatic and humble (or at least objective) person and is grateful for the opportunities he’s had along the way. “Because I was cast that way, it’s this thing of, you’d rather be typed than not cast. It probably did me a favor in that sense.”

Neil Maskell is wonderful, no bull on that

Neil Maskell stands by a television with a knife
Saban Films

He’s transcended much of typography recently, as he continues to prove himself as one of today’s boldest and most intense actors. He took the opposite route, however, playing educated Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Peaky Blinders, and has just written and directed his first film as a filmmaker, a black spy comedy titled Klokkenluider. His intense acting roles may have a greater emotional impact than these, but they are ultimately worth it.

“It’s almost like physical exercise,” Maskell says, “when I look back, I was screwed at the end of that effort, but I’m happy.” He’s a father, husband, and son, so he’s worried about bringing home those dark, violent men he plays; “I don’t know if I’m still pleasant to be around or to be around,” he wonders tenderly. He has to go places pretty dark for his roles some of his scenes in Utopia caused an uproar, after playing a man who killed many children in a school shooting.

Neil Maskell as Arby in Utopia's iconic yellow sweater and backdrop, holding a gun
Endemol Shine UK / Channel 4

“I kind of tunnel vision about it,” Maskell says of the process with these intense characters. “There’s a price to pay, when you deliberately put yourself in that headspace all day, and think about the worst things and the worst of humanity, and whatever it is you have to do about it. happen emotionally. I guess there’s a price to pay.”

What he pays with this emotional toll is not just some of his best cinematic performances, but something personally therapeutic. “It’s an act of catharsis. It’s a way of getting rid of things that other people who aren’t actors maybe don’t get to see, who just have to see a therapist. Really, this is primal scream therapy. This is what [acting] that’s a lot of time.”

Bull in the British film industry

However, he didn’t want it any other way. In his third decade as an actor, with an impressive career and a beautiful family, Maskell has little to prove; at this point, he just likes the job. “I love a film set, I love being around people, and I really feel at home in that environment, and I really like that,” he says. Yet the UK film industry is a strange and complex landscape to navigate. “It’s very difficult to raise money for British films. I’ve just written and directed my first film, and it took, you know, several years to get the money.”

Related: Here before the review: This British thriller will enlighten you

Even after having made good films, it is difficult to finance other projects. Maskell attributes this to the death of DVD and home video in general, as well as the solipsism of franchise culture, which in turn leads to lower budgets for independent films. “Streaming doesn’t bring you closer to income and money on [independent films]”, he says, “so I think the budgets are even lower and reduced, and it’s even more difficult. “

David Hayman stands in front of a burning motorhome in Bull
Saban Films

In a sense, every good British independent film is a small miracle in a world full of tiny apocalypses. Taurus is one of those miracles, a gritty, disturbing, almost surreal thriller about justice and redemption, with Maskell giving one of the best performances of the year so far. “I work with incredible actors, incredible technicians, and brilliant young directors and employees,” Maskell says, passing on the success to the cast and crew of Taurus. “I still love the job. I’m very lucky.”

Taurus was released in select theaters on April 1, but is available April 5 on demand and digital. It currently has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score with 30 reviews, and it’s not a bull.

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