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Top British comedy actor Stephen Tompkinson plays a tragic character in the brilliant new British film, Brassed Off, and talks about the experience to ANDREW L. URBAN

"Taking this role was one of the easiest decisions of my life"

Itís his day off, and heís sitting in his home away from home, a Dublin cottage, taking calls from Sydney: Stephen Tompkinson is helping to promote the film that gave him his first crack at big screen acting, Brassed Off - and heís anything but.

"Taking this role was one of the easiest decisions of my life," he says. "The character I play, Phil, has the most dramatic journey of all, and I was actually offered it directly, without having to audition."

Tompkinson, in the middle of shooting the third series of Ballykissangel for the BBC (playing Father Peter), has won the Best Television Comedy Actor in 1994 for his role as Damien Day in Channel 4ís hit series, Drop the Dead Donkey (seen in Australia on SBS), and while in Brassed Off he gets to don a clownís outfit, the role is far from comic. If anything, Phil a tragic figure, "a difficult character because heís not all that sympathetic," says Tompkinson, "as itís his fault that his home life is such a mess; he ignore the problems, doesnít communicate with his wife or his father, but I still had to find some sympathy for him."

"Without a word of a lie, I turned away with tears in my eyes, it was so moving."

The work was made specially rewarding for Tompkinson by working alongside Pete Postlethwaite, who plays his father. Their relationship is a crucial and emotional part of the story. Tompkinson tells of a scene where Danny (Postlethwaite) is lying in a hospital bed; "I watched him working and, without a word of a lie, I turned away with tears in my eyes, it was so moving."

"I learnt that less is more"

Tompkinson, who is single but works with his girlfriend who co-stars with him in Ballykissangel, says he learnt a great deal from the film experience, especially from Postlethwaite. "I learnt that less is more; previously, Iíve only worked on the small screen. Writer/director Mark Herman is terrific: he gave us enough rope to interpret the roles ourselves, and this was a great film to work on, because itís rare that your emotional and political beliefs donít get compromised. Itís nice to be able to speak your mind through your character," says Tompkinson, referring to the mine closure orchestrated by the Thatcher government in the UK.

When Tompkinson finishes shooting this series of Ballykissangel, he goes on to star in Oktober, a mini series to be shot between October and December 1997, written and directed by Steven Gallagher, "playing a character like Cary Grant in North by North West, an ordinary man who gets caught up in international intrigue. Itís very different from my other work."

With six months of the year working in Dublin and six months based at home in Londonís Kilburn, Tompkinson is looking forward to more film roles: "I love films and go to the cinema whenever I can."

Brassed Off, he says, is a film that travels well, "partly because of the music, but also because it could be about any small community facing a crisis. Itís a really powerful script about this community, their grit, determination and the will to survive against the odds. Itís also in some cases, about people whoíve almost thrown in the towel completely."

Including Phil, Tompkinsonís character.

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Stephen Tompkinson in Brassed Off!


See Paul Fischer's interview with TARA FITZGERALD

Grimley Colliery Band is a bastion of the local mining community in Yorkshire, with the music representing the very lifeblood of its people. The fortunes of the community hang in the balance, as a wave of pit closures sweeps the North of England. For Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), leader of the band, music is everything, at the risk of other elements in his life. His son Phil (Stephen Tompkinson) also plays in the band, sacrificing his mortgage payments for a new trombone, the last straw in his marriage. When Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald), the granddaughter of a beloved former band leader and childhood sweatheart of trumpeter Andy (Ewan McGregor) turns up, playing the sweetest flugelhorn, everyone is besotted - at first. Then they discover she is doing a survey for the pit bosses and she turns to mud. Andy has a problem. She has a problem. Danny has a problem. Phil continues to have a problem. The band has a problem - split between wanting to compete in the finals at the Albert Hall and closing down to mourn the pit. Meanwhile, Danny is dying of too much coal in his lungsÖ

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