As part of the 2022 Norwich Film Festival, we had the pleasure of hosting an exclusive screening of Thomas Wright’s new Netflix feature, ‘The Stranger,’ at the Cinema City Picturehouse, followed by a Q&A with one of East Anglia’s finest, Sean Harris.
Based on a true story, the film follows the wrought relationship of Mark Frame, a troubled undercover police officer and father played by Joel Edgerton, and Henry Teague, the enigmatic child-murder suspect Mark is trying to gain a confession from, played by Sean Harris. As Mark begins to earn Henry’s trust, we’re submerged in an edge-of-your-seat game of cat and mouse that holds an emotional story of truth, identity, and trauma. This unique tale is met with a brutal soundscape from Oliver Coates and a gloomy, mesmerizing atmosphere set in the darkest corners of Australian memory.
Following the screening, as part of the Q&A hosted by EDP editor David Powles, Sean Harris regarded Henry as one of the most challenging roles he’s ever undertaken, going on to say that it was the kind of role that actors dream of, allowing him to become part of such a powerful, true story. He recalled what it was like filming during the pandemic, and the delays production faced over a twelve-month period until he was finally holed up in a hotel room for a two-week quarantine before being allowed on set. It was here, he said, that Sean truly got to know the voice of the character.
Providing a great insight into the actor’s process, Sean spoke about having to first meet the physical demands of becoming Henry by letting his body “waste away” (and growing an impressively bushy beard), before needing to find Henry’s voice inside himself and discover how he was going to make the character his own. Interestingly, it was dance that helped him do this, taking videos in the mirror as Henry and even inspiring a particularly eerie scene between Mark and Henry because of his “horrible” dance moves.
As the floor opened to questions from our excited audience, discussion championed Sean’s magnetic performance, how he found his way into the film industry and why less films getting made nowadays are tackling uncomfortable stories and subjects so overtly. He lamented a loss of risk-taking in the film-industry, with too much focus in the modern day on “safe” stories that are bound to make their money back.
Sean spoke fondly about working with a director like Thomas Wright, one that “believes in his audience”, and who read a huge amount of material around the story that inspired the film, to approach it in a way that was respectful to those involved, before he sat down and wrote the script in under a week.
Growing up in Lowestoft to a working-class family and dreaming of being a footballer, Sean described finishing school, unsure what he wanted from life, until stumbled across a Monday-night acting course at Norwich Theatre and found the beginnings of a passion he never knew he had. With “nothing to lose”, devoid of fear of failure or rejection, Sean persevered through drama college with his talent and eventually landed a very rightful place inside one of the most competitive industries in the world.
Describing acting as a cathartic process, Sean said it gave him a life that he would have struggled to find without it. And now, having moved to Norwich before he began pre-production for ‘The Stranger’, Sean is doing his part in bringing filmmaking to the East, and advocating our fine city as a viable place for film-work.
Thank you to Sean for coming in and sharing his insight with us, David for leading the conversation and to Cinema City for partnering with us to host this wonderful event.
Review by Joe Bird.
Photo ©Simon Buck