Mark Womack talks about some of the challenges of playing an ex-soldier turned subcontractor coming to terms with the death of a friend in Iraq in Ken Loach's Route Irish. He also reveals why he enjoyed being kept on his toes throughout by the veteran director.
Your character Fergus is an ex-contractor and mercenary who resolves to find out the truth surrounding his friend's death on Route Irish, and expose a cover-up. Do you see him as a hero or a victim, or a bit of both?
Mark Womack: I don't think he's a hero at all. I think if you want to label him with either of those two labels he's most certainly a victim. But I think he's a victim of circumstance in a way... of the life that he's chosen and the route that he's taking. The real victims are the millions of Iraqis that are suffering because of this conflict, so hopefully Fergus's story will shed some light on that.
How much research did you do on the issue? I gather you spoke to ex-contractors and soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mark Womack: We all met quite a few people. As Ken [Loach, director] has said, it was a mixed bag of guys who came in. The one that struck me was a guy called Paul. He was from Liverpool, like me, actually. But what was sad, for me, about Paul was that he was obviously a good soldier and he'd gone back to Iraq because there wasn't anything for him in Liverpool. There was no work particularly that he could do, so he went back to contracting.And even having witnessed something horrific... he witnessed the death of an Iraqi driver who had become a very, very good friend. He was certainly suffering from post-traumatic stress. He was having night sweats and seeing and speaking to psychologists and so forth. But he was still prepared to go back. As Ken has also said, they shouldn't be there in the first place. They should get them all home.
I gather Ken liked to keep you on your toes quite a bit. Having filmed the water-boarding sequence for real, you then didn't know what the real truth was you were trying to extract until later in the film, because you hadn't been shown the script in advance. How do you respond to that type of thing as an actor?
Mark Womack: I thought it was fantastic. I really embraced it and enjoyed that whole way of working because sometimes what actors do, and I've certainly been guilty of it, is that you get a script, you look at it, you plot your little journey through it, and that's like death really because you're already thinking about what's happening at the end when you're halfway through it. You subconsciously have the idea of scenes that are coming up, such as the water-boarding sequence...But [with Ken's method] you lose all that and, for me, it makes it more immediate and real because you haven't had weeks to think about it and learn it over and over. So, you're experiencing it more first-hand.
Interview: Rob Carnevale
Photos: PA/Artificial Eye