Everyone has preconceptions of famous people in an age of celebrity obsession, when lives are lived so publicly, but I wanted to see what Danny Dyer was like, off screen, for myself.
We meet Danny at his agent’s offices in central London on a cold Monday morning and despite his questioning of our decision to have a chat on the rooftop, in February, he seems in good spirits.
“For me, drama was the only thing I was any good at in school…” He says. “I went to a really basic comprehensive school. It was the only school in the area that had no school uniform, you know? It was deep in East London and it wasn’t really cool to do your work. That’s the thing that people really struggled with. If I could go back to school now, I’d like to learn, because I think that as you get older, you get wiser and knowledge is a beautiful thing. But as a kid, you just don’t think that way. Every other lesson, I completely struggled in but when I walked into that drama class I just felt at home. I think everybody has a talent, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Sadly, some people never discover it. Whether it’s playing an instrument, acting, painting – whatever the fuck it is, some people just go through life without ever scratching the surface and I think… that’s a travesty.”
“Some people just go through life without ever scratching the surface and I think… that’s a travesty.”
He looks down, seemingly lost in consideration of his statement and it’s plain to see that Danny Dyer is a deep thinker.
“It’s about something you love to do, something you enjoy doing and are passionate about.” He says.
“It’s about what comes naturally. I loved drama from the start and I felt at home. I found it so easy and I struggled with the reasons why others couldn’t do it, I couldn’t understand why they’d be embarrassed. But then I’d walk in an English class and it would just be like Arabic to me. I’d switch off and get bored. It wasn’t natural to me. I would bunk off most days and just show up for drama because I loved it so much, but I never thought of it as a career. Coming from East London back then, there were no avenues. I used to go to these after school clubs and I’d be the only boy there. It was all girls and I’d get a lot of grief from my mates, but I didn’t give a fuck because I loved it and I’m so glad I stuck at that now. If I’d conformed to be ‘one of the lads,’ I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you now. I don’t know what I would be doing.”
How does film and his creative work help him personally?
He says, “Other than my family and my children, it’s the one thing that keeps me going. It makes me feel alive. There’s no better feeling than when I’m on set. I’m never more alive than when I’m involved in a scene and I’m being creative, bringing something to the table. I can be quite lazy. Some days, I do suffer with depression. Depression is a weird thing. I have a beautiful family, I have a nice house and I have money. Yet some days I just cannot get out of bed. I don’t know why, sometimes I am simply unhappy. When I am on set, it’s a totally different thing – I cannot wait to jump out of bed and get on that set, twelve hour days, outside on a night shoot, in the cold, whatever – people respect me for it. I think respect plays a big part in happiness. When a person respects you, it’s a great feeling.”
“I have a nice house and I have money. Yet some days I just cannot get out of bed. I don’t know why, sometimes I am simply unhappy.”
Has Danny’s work in film and television brought about personal connections and relationships with others?
“I was very uncomfortable socially. The dinner parties and the circles within acting made me very uncomfortable because the things I knew and had experienced were a million miles away from that. I did my first play with a guy called Peter Gill and I played a gay character. I was working with very thespian type people. They gave me no respect at all. Before you start getting up and practically acting, you sit around a table and talk theoretically about the characters and about life. I was shit at that. When I stood up and started looking them in the eye and acting, I could see the fear because they didn’t understand or relate to me. Instantly, the respect would change. You can sit and talk about it all you want, but some would stand up and it was obvious that they were shit. You think, ‘all that bollocks you were talking about just now – why didn’t you put that into the character?’ You’re just thrown together with complete strangers for six weeks to make a film and you all form a team from different walks of life. Sometimes you make friends for life, on other occasions you can’t wait to see the back of them.”
It’s an easy assumption that much of the Danny Dyer his fans love in his roles in the likes of ‘The Business,’ ‘Football Factory’ and ‘Human Traffic’ is him, but on screen.
He says, “I’ll be the first to admit that I play myself. I think that’s what acting is, in a sense. I think it’s about bringing out the best of what you’re about. Bringing a bit of charisma to it and drawing on your most interesting traits is key. Some actors aim to be more of a chameleon, but I would look at myself as more of an old school actor, like years ago. Jimmy Stuart and actors like that would play themselves and would still be brilliant. You’d still want to watch them. It’s about being interesting because you’re playing with words. Some people in film can be highly intelligent but they just have a tone to their voice that is just fucking boring, you know? You just switch off. If you can’t make people want to listen to what you have to say, using your words as music, then you’re just a servant, a waiter, where somebody writes it and you bring it to the screen. I’d like to have the opportunity to do different things but I have tried that and people don’t want to see it. I’ve played gay characters and people are like, ‘what you doing that for?’ You tend to find your niche audience and that’s what people want you to do. I have a mortgage and children. Every now and again I like to go off and do a bit of theatre to show that I am a serious actor. You need a kick up the arse every now and again. There’s no better buzz. There are actors who avoid live performance like the plague incase they get found out.”
“You’re not going to get any help from the government. To be honest, at the moment it’s a fucking joke.”
How do the government’s decision to cut budgets within the arts sit with Danny?
He says, “The cuts and the recession is a recent thing, but it’s always been the case for me. I never had any obvious avenues. It was about me going out and getting it for myself. It’s about belief and if you feel you have a talent then you will find your way. There’s a lot of rejection but there always has been. You’re not going to get any help from the government. To be honest, at the moment it’s a fucking joke. You just have to try every avenue possible. Buy the stage newspaper and look through it, look for any little classes – most of them are free. The rejection never gets any easier. Nobody owes anybody a career so you have to get out there and find it, grab it with both hands. It can happen to anybody. It’s never too late.”
Was the unexpected ‘I Believe In UFOs’ BBC3 documentary for real? I had to ask. Immediately he sits forward on his seat, hands aloft.
Danny says, “The reason I did that was to get away from all the Deadliest Men type documentaries. All the documentaries I did were about violence and a certain type of thing, so I wanted to completely turn it on its head. I thought that the idea of aliens and UFOs would freak a few people out a little bit. I wanted them to be unsure of whether I was taking the piss or not. Those that haven’t seen anything think it’s just a ridiculous idea but the assumption that we are the only things in this universe is what’s ridiculous! I met the late Sir Patrick Moore and interviewed him. He said the earth’s place in the universe is like one grain of sand on a beach so… for fuck’s sake! There’s shit going on! I just wish they’d show themselves a bit more. Sure, the documentaries I’ve made have done me no favours, but there’s a real hatred towards me out there… They’d never say things to my face like all cowards, but people attack me through Twitter.
I’ve had people say awful things about my children… If you don’t like me, fair enough, if you don’t like my movies, whatever, you’re entitled to your opinion but why would you bring innocent children into it? It’s disgusting. This campaign, for CALM makes total sense because when that behaviour is going on, it makes you understand why people can get down and start doubting themselves. I’m not going to lie – it can get you down. It’s not nice having to read about yourself and learn that some people have the completely wrong idea about you. I know some things I’ve done haven’t helped causes, I’m not completely innocent. But I think I surprise a lot of people when they meet me and realise I’m a decent person. We’re all human beings at the end of the day and we all have feelings but you’ve got to focus on the positive things in your life and rise above these people.”