Neil Maskell finds his inner antihero in ‘Bull’

Neil Maskell as Bull in the thriller film, BULL, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

Neil Maskell stars as the title character in Bull, a former enforcer, mysteriously returns home after a ten year absence to seek revenge on those who double crossed him all those years ago. Described as “a brutal, subversive and wickedly suspenseful revenge thriller,” with terrific performances from an electric Maskell and a terrifying David Hayman plus Tazmin Outhwaite

Bull is a revenge thriller like no other. Ferocious, audacious, and blood-soaked, the latest from BAFTA-winning writer/director Paul Andrew Williams stars Neil Maskell as a vicious mob enforcer seeking revenge on the gang that double-crossed him. Ten years after he was last seen, Bull (Maskell) returns home to methodically track down those who betrayed him and find his beloved son. With the ominous warning: “I’m coming for all of them,” Bull stalks his former gang, leading up to a savage showdown between his wife and her mob boss father (David Hayman).

Check out my interview with Neil! 

It’s a revenge thriller like no other, so what are viewers in for when they watch it?

Neil: I think it’s a real foot to the floor, full throttle film. You won’t be bored watching it, I don’t think. You might have your breath taken away and you might not sleep tonight, but yeah, it’s a revenge thriller. It’s sort of rooted in a kind of social realism angle. And in that sense, that’s what’s unusual about it. That’s what Paul brings, he kind of can make genre film and yet make it feel very realistic and relatable somehow.

Yeah, despite all everything that goes on, like, I’m still rooting for Bull.

Neil: Yeah, that seems to be the response. I’m over the moon about it. As an actor, when I’m playing the part, I obviously have sympathy for him and I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing and how he’s ended up as sort of this monstrous figure, but then by the time you finish you think, oh, I suppose when the audience see it, they’ll just see it as almost like a horror film. So I’m really glad that people are having that response to the antihero that I think we were trying to make him. We had a screening here, I’m in Belgium, and we had a screening at the Film Festival in Brussels. Everyone who came out said, ‘I can’t quite believe it. I was cheering for Bull.’

When you first read the script, did you think that there was any reason as to why the audience would respond like this?

Neil: No, I didn’t. In a very self involved way, when someone sends me a part or sends me a script and says, ‘we want you for that part,’ once I’m reading it, I’m looking at it very much from that angle. I’m not sort of worried too much about the audience, it’s more like what am I going to do with this and how are we going to make it? It was only when I sort of reflected on it when it was finished I thought about how many people’s limbs I chopped off and wounds I’d catarised on kitchen hubs and damage that I’ve done that I was like, ‘oh, maybe he’s less sympathetic than he is in my head.’ But no, when I was reading it, I just was very excited that Paul had written this part for me and that I was going to get the opportunity to work with him because that was something I’d wanted to do for a long time.

What was it like working with him? 

Neil: It surpassed my expectations and my hopes, actually. Paul is so trusting and so open to your suggestions and what you bring to it and he has a way of almost a casuality about the way he carries himself on set. So his whole attitude is, ‘you know, I haven’t really thought about that. Oh, whatever you think, I don’t know. I don’t know.’ That’s one of his responses. And of course he knows and of course he’s thought about it, but that’s just his way of taking the pressure off you. If you actually managed to catch him in a moment of vulnerability and have a conversation with him, he’s absolutely deeply entrenched in all of his choices and all of his thoughts about the script, but he really likes to provide an environment for actors where they feel they can do whatever they want to do, to sort of go after your own choices and your own decisions and he leans into that. And that’s just great. That’s what you live for as an actor, really, is having someone having faith in you. And that’s normally the time that you get to do your best work, when you’re not blunted by people being very prescriptive about what they want. So, yeah, that was what I got from Paul. It was a joy… I would go to work with Paul every day forever.

Neil Maskell as Bull in the thriller film, BULL, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
You mentioned that he really listened to your ideas and let you kind of flourish, was there any part in particular that he kind of let you run with a little bit more?

Neil: All the way through. But I actually, you know, when we got to the scene on the water, where I cut the guy’s artery behind his leg, we had- for some reason, all the stuff at the fairground, we only had two days to shoot all of that stuff and it was like 25% of the movie. So we’re really up against it. And I can’t now remember why we had a bit more time on the water. It must have been that we were waiting for another fairground ride for a lightning set up or something. So we got to have a couple more goes and a couple more takes than we would usually get in on everything else. And by the time it got to the end of that, I was sort of going crazy. I mean, you see a little bit in the film. But I said to him, ‘Can I look at the lens? I think I might look at the lens and break the fourth wall on this,’ which he didn’t end up using in the film, which I’m sure is the right decision, but I was like looking down the barrel like (screams). He was even happy to let me go that far, that’s how much room he gives you and that’s how much sort of rope you’ve got to hang yourself with… And that isn’t even really about character, that’s about the style of the film overall, so it’s a real act of faith on his part.

How did you prepare to play Bull?

Neil: My general process is that I have a long list of questions that I’ve sort of gathered over the years that I try to answer about the character, which just makes me think about it from as many different angles as I can. Most are stuff that won’t reference the script or an audience would never have the first idea about and then for however long I’ve got leading up to start in principle photography, I just try and- I drive my wife mad because I’m really only ever watching, seeing, listening to anything through the prism of the character and what it might give me. I’ll make a playlist, you know, which is now a lot easier to do with music streaming and stuff of like, not necessarily what the character would like, God knows what Bull’s taste in music is, but like stuff that sparks thought about it. The idea is to stop myself from being lazy. I do as much work as I can, so I’m quite inclined to be lazy and procrastinate on these things. So I try to give myself as many tasks each day as I possibly can to focus on the part that I’m about to play. And then if I’m starting to lose focus, not that you’re gonna lose a lot of focus on a film shoot as short as this one is, but where you can just bring an image to mind or a piece of music to mind or a moment from something else, from somewhere else that just take you back into what it is you should be thinking about. Like that’s my preparation, really. I didn’t go to drama school or anything so I like to make it up a bit as I go along.

The scenes with you and Henry Charles were adorable. What was it like working with him?

Neil: Well, he’s an egomaniac, you know, and a big cigar smoker, so it was very difficult (laughs). He was really, really great. This is his first film, I think, and he was really, you know, not a stage school kid at all. He’s just a really kind of honest, good lad with lovely parents who were really helpful and it wasn’t that he needed discipline or anything, he was really focused on playing his part, but we managed to make it fun, I think for him. Particularly when we were doing stuff at the fairground, where we were playing and going on all the arcade stuff. Some of the highlights of the film, really, was us having a laugh. When we got into the fishing stuff, Henry was improvising. Whole chunks of his dialogue were not scripted. That was just stuff he was coming up with on the day and he was just as good as any of the adult actors. He was a brilliant improviser. And yeah, it was just really nice, it was good to work with him. I don’t even want to call him a child actor, really. He’s an actor. He brought a great sense of fun to the set and because he was enjoying himself. I think it reminds all the maybe slightly longer in the tooth actors and crew that we’ve got quite a fun job.

Neil Maskell as Bull in the thriller film, BULL, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
BULL is now available On Demand and Digital