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Hi everyone, Mike here. Today's guest is a first for the show with our very first actor Jeremy Swift. In the conversation we discuss, Jeremy start in the business skills actors can take from theatre to TV and film being directed by Robert Altman in Gosford Park. Meeting Dick Van Dyke or Mary Poppins returns, how being musical helps him act in TED last, so the new music he has on the way and more. That's enough for me. Here's Jeremy.
Although I was I had been around the block. There were more stars in that then you could check a sticker. I mean, I've never been in a project with so many nights of the realm. You know, it was it was it was incredible.
Hello, and welcome to Red Carpet rookies. My name is Mike battle, a film crew member turned screenwriter working in London. Each episode I bring you life lessons and stories from the people behind your favourite movies and shows to help demystify the business for aspiring filmmakers and fans alike. Thanks for joining me. Let's get started. Today's guest is a SAG award winning Emmy nominated actor and musician. With an extensive career featuring parts in iconic films such as Robert Altman's Gosford Park, you will likely know him best from turns in Downton Abbey, Mary Poppins returns, and most recently, as the lovable Higgins in Apple TV smash hit Ted last. So if that wasn't enough, he also finds the time to make music with previous album, everything's a joke, and more on the way soon. My guest is Jeremy Swift. How're you doing today?
Very well. Thank you. How are you?
I'm very good. Thank you. Thanks for being here. Jeremy, I asked all of my guests the same first question. And that is, what did your parents do? And how do you affect your career choices moving forward?
My parents were both teachers. And they were sort of into the arts in an amateur way. They both did, you know, sort of Gilbert and Sullivan operas with and that kind of thing. And when they were a bit younger, they did do drama. They were both music teachers. So yeah, it affected me, it affected me. Yeah, influenced me a lot. My mum took me to when I was 11, there was an art centre that opened and she said, let's go and join it. And I was the first member was my membership card was 001. And I used to go there, I used to go to improvisation acting classes. And I used to go to a folk club where, you know, some some guys from school, we would go along and we'd play with these very stoned hippies, who would teach us some chords and stuff. So yeah, that yeah, that we they were very, hugely influential. Yeah. Yeah. It wouldn't have it wouldn't have happened without them. Yeah. And my mom, because I didn't want to do like all levels and GCSEs really anymore. I'd had enough at school, she suggested that I go to this local technical college where there was a drama course, because I've done a play. And I've done all this improvisation and what have you. So that's how it went from there. And we did. We did sort of acting exams, and then we were put forward we were sort of trained to sort of do audition speeches for drama schools. So that's how it worked out. But, you know, obviously, a long way from where all of the drama schools were and you know, I had I'd have to get an overnight train to to London for the for these castings, or Bristol, you know. And one, one of them, you know, it was snowing in the Northeast. So I had Wellington's on. And by the time I got to London, it was sunny and dry. So that was me walking around, saying, Good. Do you know the word? Chalk Farm? Yeah, like some classic out of toner. But yeah,
I love it to go back one generation again. How do you think your grandfather would feel to know that you're on TVs in everyone's house in the world these days in shows like Ted lasso when he was the only one on his street to have a TV back in the day?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I've seen that. Yeah. Gosh, I know. Well, that that particular grandfather died when I was very, very young, sadly. So I don't really I can't really remember his character, but it was quite fun. I think it would have loved it. I mean, you know, I mean, generally speaking, my, you know, my family. Increasingly, well, there's sort of used to it and you know, there's a there's a British kind of, oh, yeah, very good. There's a kind of one sentence kind of appraisal of what happened. Oh, you must be proud. You know, that's it, but they're very sweet about it. Yeah. It's, it's very, it's quite funny. You know, my mom in particular was was was very supportive. And my dad, you know, they both passed. Now my dad was slightly baffled, but you know, it was he was glad of it, you know, you know, I think that I think he sort of thought soon he'll get a proper job, you know,
moving into the theatre in the beginning prior to your TV work, and obviously, I guess you were doing music and while at the same time, what lessons did you learn from those days that you've taken into your TV career?
That? Well? That's a very good question. Because quite often with TV, there's a lot of instant acting. And they don't know most TV directors and indeed, film directors, many of whom say slightly scorn theatre, for example, when it whenever you see Theatre in, in a drama, setting, like in succession or extras, it's not really sympathetically or correct, really, it's always a kind of slightly cynical appraisal. But I, I find that with theatre, I mean, you can actually sometimes do too much. But you go into text, and you go into backstory, and you go into character, and you have made, you can make lists, depending on the director, you have object objectives, and all that stuff. The other extreme example is when I did a film for the with chelski, siblings, the scene that I did, which was Saturday, the first thing I did was sat at a table with about 12 other people, they filmed the rehearsal, and I didn't even know people's names, yet, you know, there was no process whatsoever, and you're expected that they are lucky, they sort of think it's just a bit of talent, but quite often, it's to do with experience that you bring. Because if you don't bring some of that stuff to it, you're not going to know what you're doing. You know, you're not, you have to think ahead, you have to think when you're when you're in your character is interacting with another character, you have to think, what's the history behind this, as this as we've been down this road before, a TV director won't go into that. It's very rare. It's very rare that they'll do that. And, you know, there are some but I would say that will like to do rehearsal, and they are great. And they benefit from it. But I would say that's less than 5% of most TV and film directors.
Interesting. Would you say that that is quite a connection there to the period work of which you've done a lot of because as I understand it, in period, you really don't change much of the writing much of the words much like in the theatre, whereas in film and TV, something that can be different carnate?
Yes. Well, the period drama on television, yeah, you, you, you usually you're dealing with an adaptation, some of which are great, and some of which aren't so great. But you have you can you can bring the same set of experiences to those characters, you know, that you, you know, the you got to factor in is, you know, whatever period it is, you know, what's the sensibility, you know, it might be more, it might be more extreme, it might be this person has been the only survivor of eight siblings or whatever, you know. So you've got to take those kinds of things into account. And but again, for example, Gosford Park, I did and I had, I had two or three nice things in that. But that was a modern take on a set in the 19, late 1920s. And I had to write my own backstory for that, because otherwise, I thought, I don't know where there's quite where this character is coming from. So I just, I just wrote a two or three page, potted sort of history, just for myself. So I felt more confident about going into it, you know,
I think he would need the confidence as well to be directed by Robert Altman. How was that?
It was fantastic. Although I was I had been around the block, there were more stars in that then you could check a sticker. I mean, it's I can't think of I've never been in a project with so many nights. was incredible, you know. And I love Robert Altman, very much. And I think I am totally with him, in particular on how his dialogue works. And I think everybody should do it. Everybody should cross over their dialogue. It just draws you in. That's the thing that you know, it's one of the things he really pioneered. And you get, you always get sound engineers saying we can't edit that. Of course they can, they can do anything now. But he got quite cross about that. At one point. He said, I don't want just line line line just put it all together, you know, and that's and that's one of the one of the things he was so fantastic and the way he shot stuff as well. He had such a great sense of humour. I think any He, he, I think he's a proper genius. You know, we, we have a sort of stereotype of what a genius is, and you don't really know what it is. But after because I was lucky to work upstairs and downstairs with him, some people just did sections of both. But there was myself, Alan Bates and Richard II Grant who worked on both sections of the shoot. And so I got to after, after about six weeks, I thought, Wow, this this, this guy's got this whole story in his head, you know, and he allows himself to play with it as well, he just, you know, is playful on set. So, such a joy to work with.
You mentioned there that you'd been around the block by that time, but you're yet to have your largest successes. Yeah. And I noticed that you wrote diaries around that time, for the actors that are listening, what was the kind of feeling at the time in those diaries, you know, in your career, because so much was yet to come? You know, often things that you're doing now feel like everything, but actually, it's just apprenticeship for what's to come?
Yeah, I think I think the splits in the upstairs and downstairs, did sort of get to me, I must take them out, actually. And that's, I think it's 20 years. It's coming up for a 20 year celebration, or whatever, of the release of the movie. And there are some people in it who sort of disappeared a bit as well. And some have passed on. But I think I got a little bit RC after a while because I think there was you know, you'd be doing a very long said, you know, you must know when when you when you've got tonnes of people in the scene, there's so much coverage. So if you're doing a dinner table with 18, people sat down eight servants, or what a footman, there's so much coverage that can take, you know, there's, there's there was two or three of those, and they took several days to do each. And you know, you'd spend the whole day. So I think that made me basically a little bit RC in my diaries that go. Oh, can we add clarity, David there, you know. But I was I was just fascinated by his process. You know, it was fantastic to be on the same set as that man. Yeah, I really loved him. But it was so great.
I can tell I love it to go from one Julian Fellowes script to another. Was it nerve wracking to step onto such a late season of Downton given that unlike something like Ted lasso, where no one knew anything about it in the beginning, you were already stepping in to such a huge behemoth hit.
I know, I wasn't because I hadn't really watched. I think I've been, I think at that time, I was really into it, no, the sopranos or the wire or something like that. So I was just catching up on all the time. So I didn't really know who anybody was, apart from, you know, Maggie, and a few others. So I wasn't really nervous. And also, I didn't know whether I would be in it. I didn't have a contract to I was just offered it. And it was two scenes. I was also doing Foyle's war at the same time. So I think that was I sort of fell into a bit of an ITV stable. So I just did the two scenes, and they were great, actually. And I thought I would do, I thought, I wonder if anybody's done. It's kind of Northeast accent. So that's what I went through, and they really liked it. So it gave me a bit of otherness, you know, within the show. So, and then I thought, oh, that sets and nobody said anything else. And then some other scripts arrived. And then the next two series after that I sort of did more and more. So it was very surprising. I didn't it didn't expect that at all. I just thought I'd just do a couple of guest appearances. Really.
It's hard to get through your career in time because there's so many things to talk about. But to go from one legend and Maggie to another Indyk Van Dyck, could you tell us about working on Mary Poppins returns and what that meant to you? And also for the screenwriters listening. You played the cartoon bad guy? What is it about those juicy roles that people can write that would appeal to an actor such as yourself?
Oh, well, there were many things. But as far as the script goes, I love the audacity of that character. And I love playing pompous characters. Like Spratt, you know all this wretched dreadful person, you know, is a dreadful person, but it's such fun to play. So when you have a you know, an impact as that character does, very early on, it changes the whole course of the begins the whole narrative of the film about the banks of losing the house, that it's very powerful and it's just fun to play with being a little bit evil. I don't think I'd like to play a murderer or anything like that, you know, I think that would be I don't think a serial killer, but somebody who's, yeah, pompous and pompous and horrible. It's yeah, it's an it's a lot of fun. Yeah. But I love that was, you know, I'm so old that I saw that film when, you know Mary Poppins when it came out and it was such an emotional impact on me. And to to be in a sequel decades later, was incredibly touching, I was very moved to be in it, you know. And I thought it was really well done. Because people couldn't sort of it was such a high bar and such an iconic first film that to do a sequel is a big ask, but it was really successfully done. I thought I thought the script was great, was very touching, it was awesome to have Dyckman Dyk on the set, that's the most dazzled that I've ever been by meeting somebody because you inevitably meet people and work with people who are known. If you get you know, once you start in a particular trajectory, and you know, it's great, and it's exciting. But I'm not saying you become accustomed to it, but you'll have to work you have to you have to be in character, and you have to do all that kind of thing. But it's quite surreal to meet somebody like him, you know, and for him to be as charming as he was, was just a bonus. Really
do you think your background in music helps you in more comedic roles, like in TED lasso and things like that with the idea of the music of comedy
Yeah, I think comedy and music are intertwined. Definitely. I think, you know, Hannah Waddingham, who I do quite a lot of scenes within Ted lasso is, you know, as you probably know, an amazing singer, and she just has music sort of pulsing through her. And I almost on the first day of filming, sort of discovered that we had a sort of rhythm, comedy rhythm that went between us, and it's just so delightful. It's really, really delightful. You Yeah, I think it helps enormously with rhythm and pitch. And even you know, knowing songs, you know, sometimes the, the, the scansion have a line, you know, you know how that works. And sometimes you can say, you can take out one syllable of alignment just be funnier, you're allowed to finesse in American comedy, quite often with British stuff you're not, but they love that, you know, they always have alternatives.
And you tell me this coming from a room filled with musical instruments, because you are, of course, a musician yourself? And how does it feel to be releasing new music again,
it's very exciting. I mean, for me, the main thrill of making music is when I write is when I write it, you know, and when it comes out, you sort of think when did I wrote this age. But I love the thrill of putting something together. Starting off one with one component, whatever it can be a baseline, or a rhythm track or a bit of rhythm keyboard, and then sort of making sense of it all. is hugely, creatively satisfying. But no, I am hugely pregnant with all this, these songs. And you know, the whole album that's gonna come out in February, as a whole album is eight songs, but they're quite dense things. They're about five minutes each. You know, it's quite widescreen kind of sound. All of them are. I've got a different, slightly different palette, but then they've got a lot of scope. I think. I hope people get into it, because if they don't, they don't, you know, I know there's a lot of cynicism about actors making music, but I have been doing it. You know, I was doing when I was a teenager, I used sort of multitrack we had loads of tape recorders around our house. I used to multitrack stuff, synthesisers and things and keyboards that made me and my dad had built. And then I had a band and then I was in another band at drama school and a band when I was in my 20s so it's stuff I've been doing on and off. It's just very hard to do it all at the same time. That's why I've never had a band really for about 30 years because I can't commit you know, if I've got some a filming schedule. I can't commit to gigs you know, you know, we've got you know, we've got a gig and clap on or something. I can't do it, you know? So, which is a shame I do love playing with other people but but this is the only way I can do it. Really? Do it really myself.
Speaking of gigs, I did have one question for you, which I thought was gonna be a toughy if you were to play a support slot with your music, perhaps your new single Wonderland and it was a support slot to either chic Roxy Music or David Bowie. Who would you choose?
Well, I guess it has to be rocks. music you've clearly been doing research on. Of course, well, I'm going to see Roxy Music on Friday, which I believe it will be their last ever gig. Roxy have been my sort of life for 50 years really? If I don't want to mess up the singer, but literally behind the screen here is an old poster of Roxy Music for them. first album, it's right in front of me on my desk. But yes, I guess I guess that and I think that would go down probably the best with that particular audience. I would hope
right now, if you managed it, I didn't know if you will be able to do it. But fantastic. It's a struggle. Now, Jeremy, to wrap up on red carpet rookies. I do a quick fire questionnaire, which is my own homage to any actor studio. So if you could just think of whatever comes into your head if that's okay. Yes. Now, number one is what is one of the best pieces of advice you've ever been given
from my wife? care more about your career
Very good. Number two, do you have a favourite film?
I think it's funny. And Alexander Bergman,
very good. Number three, what gives you a reason to get out of bed every day for an early call time
If I'm very cynical, to money, because just your mind state is not very sophisticated that time of day. But you know, I hope to have fun and be creative that day. But what if it's half past five? And it's four days on a truck? That's the way that's what's gonna get you out of bed.
I've been there. Number four, which job in the industry would you do if you weren't doing yours
composer of film music
I saw you do one before he was at Dracula or something like that?
I did. I've done bizarrely a couple of sort of horror films I did. Well, I did a werewolf thing for the Discovery Channel about 616 years ago. And from my friend of 50 years or so James Gaddis. He did a one person play about Dracula and I did the music for that this this January, which he took on two
very cool composers haven't had that one before. Don't think number five, if you could work with one person living or dead. Who would it be? Sorry, that's hard. Brian Eno, interesting as number six, what is a book that everyone should read?
Gosh. Oh, the book about David Bowie. The Dylan Jones, isn't it the compiled of lots of interviews of different people talking about David Bowie. It's one of the most fantastic books I've ever read.
Fantastic. And finally, if you want an Oscar, who would you thank my parents and my wife. And on that note, thank you to Jerry swift for joining me today for your amazing stories and insight into the craft of acting. Be sure to check out his new single Wonderland coming out October 14, and I'll see you next time. Thank you for listening to another episode of red carpet rookies. To help us grow and be able to interview more amazing film and TV professionals. Please do subscribe and drop us a rating on the Apple podcast store on your iPhone or online if you're an Android user. If you're interested in regular updates, the best thing you can do is to join our mailing list at red carpet rookies.com. Or alternatively, find us on Instagram at Red Carpet rookies or Twitter at RC rookies pod. I also tweet regularly about my own learnings in the business, Mike battle on Twitter. So please do come and say hi, thank you again for listening. We'll see you next time.