EXCLUSIVE: Sarah Greene is “excited” to be at the center of a high-stakes “love triangle” involving James McArdle and Emun Elliott in Sexy Beast, the Paramount+ prequel to director Jonathan Glazer’s 2000 classic.
Greene tells me she is a great admirer of Amanda Redman’s sultry performance as former adult actress Deedee Harrison – the role that holds a place in the annals of gangster movie history – and the part that the Cork-born Normal People star takes on in the Sexy Beast drama that premieres on Paramount+ this Thursday, January 25.
More from Deadline
Greene watched the movie “over and over again and just studied her through line. And she’s very still, she doesn’t say a whole lot.”
We chat just as the actress is in the midst of shooting the second season of Bad Sisters with her Garvey siblings played by Sharon Horgan, Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle and Eve Hewson. “We were all like, ‘how are we going to do season two?’ But she’s just a genius. Sharon Horgan is a literal genius,” Greene enthuses.
They shoot exteriors in Dublin and interiors in London where they’ll film until February, and then they scoot back to Ireland for a spell finishing off what has proved a breakout hit for Apple TV+.
And there’s a movie project in Greene’s near future, its start date fast approaching. However, she’s not allowed to utter another word about it. Except to say that it’s “Big!”
But this is fine because I want to know all about Sexy Beast.
Greene had her work cut out because, while Redman had plenty to do in Glazer’s movie, it’s true that she doesn’t say much.
Even so, Greene, with help from creator and showrunner Michael Caleo, the script, of course, and heads of department, plus a ton of research, has been able to structure a thrilling, dimensional sense of how Deedee’s life played out a decade before the events that take place in the movie – where Deedee is seen living happily with husband Gal Dove – the titular character – an ace safecracker played by Ray Winstone who’s enjoying retirement on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
Their place in the sun darkens upon the arrival of Gal’s former sociopathic crime-buddy Don Logan, bubbling over with brimstone, played by Ben Kingsley.
The younger Gal and Don are played by James McArdle and Emun Elliott. They’re as gripping as Greene.
Tougher than both blokes though is Tamsin Greig as Cecilia Logan, Don’s leery older sister. The toxic sibling relationship hints to the origins of Don’s psychotic personality. And you don’t want to be on the wrong side of Stephen Moyer’s vicious kingpin Teddy Bass (Ian McShane plays him in the feature version.)
It’s not a spoiler when Greene tells me “it’s a love triangle” between the two friends. “Don needs Gal… Gal is his big brother, and Deedee threatens all of that for him. She’s a real thorn in his side,” she adds.
You kind of get the idea if you watch Don rage against Deedee in the film. “Don needs Gal and Deedee and Gal need each other,” Greene states.
Greene recently worked with Kingsley on director Terrence Malick’s long-delayed movie The Way of the Wind. They filmed it several years ago and it’s still in post production.
“I met Sir Ben but, well, I didn’t know about Sexy Beast at the time,” she says, sighing over the missed opportunity to quiz Kingsley about making the original Sexy Beast nearly a quarter of a century ago.
“I play a devil,” Greene tells me of her part in The Way of the Wind, while Kingsley plays some sort of Satan. “I didn’t get a script so I don’t know. But I shot in Iceland…and spent a few days driving around with Terrence and his DOP [Jörg Wilmer], and he would drive for an hour and he would say, ‘I like that’,” she tells me smiling.
”And we would hop out of the car and shoot there. And it was amazing. If I don’t make it into it, I don’t care. It was just an absolute privilege to be directed by him,” she says as her face lights up at the memory.
Making Deedee “full of life”
For this iteration of Sexy Beast, Greene and the creative team “wanted to show Deedee more full of life,” questioning “Who she was 10 years beforehand, before getting out, what did her life look like?”
And, “so, yeah” she says sweeping her hair away from her eyes, in a sultry Deedee-ish kinda way, ”we had to expand on that stillness.”
But Deedee is barely sketched in Glazer’s movie as written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, who are executive producers on the Paramount+ production along with Michael Scheel and Caleo.
There’s one moment where Redman lies in bed and can hear Don badmouthing her to Gal. ”They’re in the kitchen, and it’s just this shot of her being very still in the bed. And Don’s carrying on about her working as a porn actress. And that’s the only information you get about what she did,” Greene notes.
She remembers the excitement she felt at being able to “explore these characters and this love story, because they’re so in love in the film. I got to really explore how they met, what their lives looked like at that time.”
“So, yes, I studied Amanda, and then I just tried to give Deedee as many core memories as I could. I watched a lot of foreign documentaries, and a lot of nineties porn,” she says opining that nineties porn “was actually quite innocent.”
Yes, she insists, “It was like bad movies with a couple of sex scenes thrown in. Not the porn that we know today, I think.”
They shot in Liverpool and took over an old theater and built massive sets for the porn studios. “They were colourful and fun and they honored the theme. And it was a classroom or one with oversized candy. And so it was a little bit more, yeah, I think innocence is the right word.”
Well, ”maybe not the right word, it is still porn,” she adds, primly.
Greene shivers uncomfortably as she recalls watching porn documentaries and shows for research. One was about adult sex performer Rocco Siffredi, who is currently being fictionalized in Netflix Italy’s Supersex. ”There was one or two girls in it and it was their first time, and it’s quite heartbreaking. And I don’t think that’s Deedee’s experience. So I had to shut the laptop on that…”
She returned to the relative safety of the screenplay which had details about Deedee’s parents, which helped enormously.
The role marks “a big departure to play somebody like Deedee. The past few roles I’ve had have been mums of teenagers, or Bad Sisters. Deedee is a “completely different character,” she says, pointing out that to play someone “so body confident and so sexually empowered was something very new and challenging for me.”
Greene’s desire to get a feel for Deedee had her reading autobiographies of people connected to the character’s line of work.
One such was Ashley Blue’s Girlvert: A Porno Memoir, and there’s a great passage in that “where she was so empowered by having sex. And I think Deedee was like that. It wasn’t that she had to do this, it’s that she liked it,” Greene tells me.
“She liked feeling that she’s empowered by this job , and she was really good at it…it was about being super confident in her body,” she stresses.
Deedee also dreams of a life away from London’s East End and Soho districts where vice flourished. And that’s one of the qualities that attracts McArdle’s Gal. His own fiancée, Marjorie, played perfectly by Eliza Bennett, doesn’t want to travel further than the sound of Bow Bells; a real East End cockney is one born within earshot of these bells. “Marjorie is happy to be contained in that world. But Deedee wants to explore the world. And I think Deedee opens Gal’s eyes to wanting more than just the East End.”
Greene’s deep and questioning research imbue her portrait with a sense of destiny and allows us to understand just how fully Amanda Redman and Ray Winstone’s Deedee and Gal are in love – until Ben Kingsley disrupts their idyllic life.
The actress knew from her first meeting with McArdle that she wanted to work with him. “I was just like, ‘oh please make me the Deedee to James’s Gal’,” she confesses.
They have great screen chemistry and it’s easy to believe that Deedee sees someone for the first time who doesn’t judge her. “Everybody else wants something from her. And I think that’s what’s really attractive.”
Greene knows Deedee as well as she knows herself. “She knows there’s a shelf life on her career as a porn star. So it’s what is next when she’s retired, I don’t see her stocking shelves in Tesco. She’s really driven and ambitious, and that’s something I could massively relate to.”
To put herself through college she worked four jobs, “so I get Deedee’s drive, I get that laser focus.”
Her parents have always been supportive. “I decided when I was about four or five that this is what I wanted to do. And they never ever stopped me. They could see that focus in me from such a young age. It was nothing but support and I’m very grateful to them for that.”
When Gal first claps eyes on her, Deedee has squeezed into a shimmering, silver-tasseled dress that’s “really magic about the way it moves,” it screams Shirley Bassey, though Greene suggests perhaps it’s more Tina Turner – Sienna Miller, even.
Greene says that frock has a history and it starts with costume designer Cathy Prior (Derry Girls). ”On her mood board from the get go. And it wasn’t everybody’s taste, but we both knew that that was the dress…so we went and bought the dress and we brought it on set, and we showed it to Birgit Bebe Dierken, (Bridgerton) the DOP, and she was like, ‘yes, that’s the dress’,” she says.
Interestingly, Greene admits now that she didn’t put enough work into her initial audition tape. “And the East End accent was not something that I had ever worked on before,” and her partner, Snow Patrol’s Nathan Connolly, was like, “You can’t send that in. You sound like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins… it’s now whatever, three, four years later and I worked my ass off on the accent.”
Greene and dialect coach Emma Stevens-Johnson hit upon Deedee hailing from Camden Town so her accent was more North London than East End. “She wears many masks, so it depends on who she’s with, I think her accent can slip a little bit into who she needs to be in that moment, if you know what I mean.”
We first met in 2013 when Greene played Slippy Helen in the West End and on Broadway, in director Michael Grandage’s production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan – Daniel Radcliffe played the title role – and her accent for that part was of a west of Ireland provenance.
More recently she was on stage in Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. But it’s difficult for her to make a commitment to tread the boards these days. Her son turned three years of age a few days after Christmas and she likes to spend her downtime “being a mum.”
However, she says she would “love, at some point” to be back on stage, “but it’s been, what six years and I’m afraid that I’m going to get stage fright. But it’s my first love after all. Hopefully the right play will come along.”
Maybe it will, but surely only after a second season of Sexy Beast.
Best of Deadline