Having enjoyed the short film Beverley, we at TBB were delighted to be given the chance to interview two of the cast members. If you’ve read the film review, you’ll know that as well as Laya Lewis, we were keen to talk with Winston Ellis who plays Travis Thompson, Beverley’s father. We thought it would be tricky because of his work commitments, but, he made it happen…
Thank you so much for giving us a bit of your time. I know you’ve got a super-busy schedule…
It’s a real pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to it. Anything I can do to help the movie – it’s a fantastic film. I loved being a part of it.
I loved the film… I felt lead character Beverley’s siblings’ stories kind of fed into her story, but I was really interested in Travis. I know he didn’t have a big part in this finished cut, but I really liked the way he was portrayed.
Alex (Thomas) is a great writer and director. He really encouraged us and allowed us to bring that character to life. He really wanted to understand black culture and what it was like back then. I’m approaching 50, so I grew up in that era. So, when we discussed the character and I spoke to Beverley, I realised that her father and my dad were very similar. So, I was able to draw on a lot of my own experiences and Alex was very open to that – allowed us to really explore that. It’s a shame that some good scenes got cut out of the movie, because there’s some powerful stuff that I think would have really shown how deep that character was and what kind of experiences he had.
The scene that remains in the film is the one where Travis is asleep ‘watching’ the cricket and Janine forbids Carl and Jessie from touching anything. But, of course, Carl finds a stash of cash in his dad’s open bag. I could feel myself tensing, thinking, “He’s gonna get licks...” and, of course you do wake up, you put your hand on his shoulder; smile smugly and ask (patois), “‘Ow much me ‘ave, son?”…I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that scene…
I found him to be a loveable rogue. He loved his family, and that’s how I wanted to portray him. Outside, he did what he had to do to support his family and get by. But, he wanted to take care of his family. Yes, he had his rough edges. Beverley told me that he was the kind of man that when he came into a room, when he came home, whatever mood he was in, that created the atmosphere of the household.
My dad was the same. I have 4 brothers and 1 sister and we’d be running around and making noise. But once dad came home, that was it. Everybody quietened down and did what they had to do around the house. My dad was the man of the house and he had an old-fashioned way of doing things. But he was never what I would call an abusive parent. He was the kind of guy who would sit down and really talk to you and make you understand, make you see the right and the wrong, and if you needed it, he would take off is belt. But you would learn; you’d understand. He drilled into us integrity and respect and honour and how to look after the women in our family. Always dressed in a suit; always dressed sharp, that was my father.
So, when I was listening to the stories about her dad (and, as I said, he had a few more rough edges than my dad did), I recognised it straight away and I tried to really get that across in the character.
I must say that Alex edited that section very well. The only disappointment for me was – and obviously, you’ve only got so much time in 20-25 minutes – but there wasn’t really a scene involving Beverley and her father left in.
That would have been very interesting to see… It was a powerful scene between Beverley and her father outside in the street. I thought it was one of the more powerful scenes in the film. But he had to edit the film the best he could. I think he did a great job. I can understand totally why he edited that scene out. But, it showed the relationship between him (Travis) and his family.
How did Beverley feel about him? What was their relationship like?
She really looked up to her dad, but she saw him for what he really was… She was the only one prepared to challenge him, question him and she’d probe. Because she could see beyond the hard exterior that he had out on the street and the kinds of things he went through – even more than her mum could. The minute I met Laya (Lewis – lead actress), it was as if we’d known each other forever, because this bond was just there straight away. We started talking and playing about with the material. That scene outside, it just tells you everything about the two characters. About being a black man in that period and having mixed race children, a white wife – that one scene conveys so much.
The great thing about the screening was that there was a real buzz about what might be next…
This (film) really touched me, because when I read the original script… it just took me back to my youth. I remember being around during that period, living in that era. My father was a bit of a ‘Playa’. He came over on the Windrush back in the ’50s and a lot of black men were novelties to white people back then and so it didn’t take him very long before he found himself dating different white women and I witnessed that first hand. There was a lot of stuff that happened that I saw in Travis. So, it was a really great opportunity to play this part and I wanted to bring as much as I could to it. I thought this story needed to be told. I want my children and grandchildren to understand what went on back then and what it was like. I do a lot of mentoring in schools up and down the country and I think Beverley and Cass have really tapped into something very important with this movie.
The quality of the relationship between Travis and his family was hinted at in the scene where Laya goes to Otis’ (King Sounds) house to find Carl – I think if they didn’t have that underlying love for their father, I’m not sure they would have embraced that Roots vibe… But, that’s where Carl would go to escape, that’s where he felt safe. That was cleverly done…
You’re right. It’s like a nice little jigsaw puzzle that he’s put together and I think he got the essence of what was going on. I think they did a really great job with the casting – especially Laya, Vicky and Corey. It was just an honour to be on set with them. I was completely captivated by their performances – completely and that doesn’t happen to me very often. I just pray that we get the opportunity to make this into a feature or a series, because I think it will really turn some heads, answer a lot of questions for a lot of people. This story needs to be told.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, like being a three-time World Champion Thai boxer?
That was a long time ago now. I retired when I was in my 30s and on holiday in Cyprus, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was on the beach practising, when this Chinese guy came up to me and said his boss wanted to meet me. His boss turned out to be Jackie Chan! He was about to start a new movie, so I found myself in Hong Kong shooting my first action film. My career started there and I stayed in HK for 10 years, making 36 films out there, so I now speak fluent Cantonese. Then, I had the great fortune to meet a director called Peter MacDonald, who directed the third Rambo film (1988) and he got me involved in a movie called ‘The Quest’ with Jean-Claude van Damme. After that he said, “Come back to the UK and I’ll get you an agent.” That was 1997, and that’s when I really started taking my career seriously, I think. Trying to find the right types of jobs to do, trying to create opportunities.
Back in the UK, Ellis met Mark Straker and he felt his life change forever. Straker was working with disengaged children up and down the country and Ellis was drawn to his positive energy. He realised he had been very fortunate in life, despite suffering from dyslexia, and he wanted to get back into schools and help young people find the right path. He wanted to give something back. So, together, Ellis and Straker started Project Postcode – a community-based initiative for young people from all backgrounds, which aims to motivate and inspire them through training in acting and media, and the production of a full-length feature film…
Over the last few months it has absolutely developed into what it has. But, now I’m launching my own TV channel – the iChannel on Sky 212 which will launch on the 1st October 2015. It’s going to be the world’s first fully interactive TV channel… Our demographic is going to be 16-35 year olds – a platform for untapped talent both in front of and behind the camera. It’s intended for projects like what Cass is doing… a place to put your material on TV – broadcasted and viewed. There are so many people out there with so much talent and there’s nowhere for them to air it! So, with this channel we will be able to create 40% of our own material…, 60% buying in from different sources. I’m just so excited about it. I’m (also) involved in Penny Dreadful – a period piece (early 1900s) all about vampires and monsters. It’s got Billie Piper, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Rory Kinnear – a fantastic cast and I’m absolutely loving it! I did 3 months last season – they asked me over to teach Danny Sapani’s Sembene character some fight routines. Now we’re just filming the second season.
We talk for a while longer, but Winston has to dash out to catch another flight back to Ireland where a lot of his investors are, and where Penny Dreadful is filming. He’s working hard, having confessed to taking 14 flights in the previous 3 weeks! Now, that’s dedication for you!
Read our interview with lead actress Laya Lewis here.