British actor-director Alex Dower is one to watch, He is the only foreigner to have directed a play in a Russian prison, was hired to play a Russian criminal bad-guy in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
We had chat with him!
Alex, can you tell us a little bit about your role in the new movie ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’?
I play a Russian gangster billionaire – Anton Orlov – who wants to get hold of the two baddest possible dinosaurs to set up a huge dino cage-fight! The character is an ex-prisoner who worked his way up the criminal ranks and now controls organised crime in a Russian region, and is involved in sports promotion – hence the cage-fighting interest. So, yep, he is a bad-guy.
And you have personal experience with Russian criminals – tell us about working in a Russian prison?
I directed 35 men in three short story adaptations in a prison in Perm in the Urals. They were a mix of guys who had been convicted of murder, theft, prostitution, general violence, and drug offences, but I was just concerned with having them perform their best in a play. I knew from my wide experience of working in prisons that this process could give them the chance to turn their lives around so they do not reoffend. After two weeks, they performed to a professional standard for audiences of 400 in the prison. We had live geese, swords, Cossacks, and a Maxim cover model who came to play one of the female roles! It was a very intense experience.
The prisoners involved made so much progress that half of them got early release. Through the rehearsals and performance, they developed their self-worth, empathy and understanding of others, self-discipline, responsibility, independence, and self-expression. The prison governor said, ‘Alex has achieved more with our men in two weeks than our team of five psychiatrists have achieved in five years’. Prison is the ideal opportunity to turn people’s lives around. I tell you what, you teach the Science of Acting to every prisoner and you will cut crime by half.
What was the biggest challenge about taking on your role in Jurassic World?
I do speak some Russian from the times that I have worked over there, but I am not fluent. I knew that J.A. Bayona (the film’s director) likes to create things spontaneously on set when there is room for it, and so I wanted to improve my Russian to be ready for anything, and also improve my accent to sound authentically Russian. And of course, not just the voice, but also convincingly portraying another nationality is a big challenge in acting as you really need to understand the deep and subtle nuances of the character’s thinking and actions.
Fortunately, I had this great experience working in Russia, in prisons and with disabled children. I also have many Russian friends, and I have read a lot of Russian literature, and played many Russian characters in theatre & radio. I was there a few weeks ago, in Voronezh, training teachers to work creatively with disabled children. I love Russia and the Russian people. I am happy that the World Cup has allowed people to see what a warm and beautiful country Russia is!
Which actors did you work with in this production?
I had a scene with Toby Jones and Rafe Spall, and then a scene with Chris Pratt. I have mutual friends with both Rafe and Toby so it was nice to spend time with them, and Chris is a very funny and friendly guy. He is very impressive in his physicality and also his work-ethic and creativity, all the stunt guys would say ‘he’s a ‘unit’ all right’. There were also around 175 extras and 25 stunt guys in the scene and everyone worked bloody hard for long hours. I met some lovely and talented people!
Did you have any interesting experiences behind the scenes?
Well it was just a huge privilege to be involved in such a large-scale production. When I wasn’t working on my character I tried to spend as much time as possible behind the camera watching and learning.
I also had a great time with our fight co-ordinator, CC Smiff, a brilliant guy who had just been ‘sword master’ on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I brought my sons to the set on a couple of days during the filming and he gave them a lesson in lightsabers, using the real stunt sabers. That was very cool.
What is your acting background?
I was in just about every play I could be in from the age of six. In my teens, I was in the Royal Court Youth Theatre in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company Youth Touring. I then trained properly at the School of the Science of Acting under legendary tutor, Sam Kogan, who developed the Science of Acting, and since then I have gone on to work at the Royal National Theatre, in the West End, and in TV and radio. I have taken time out now and then to direct and teach, look after my sons and so on, yet I always come back to acting!
In which film and TV projects can we see you in the near future?
I have just acted in a new British feature, A Grown Woman, written and directed by Shalini Adnani. It was exciting to be involved in a female-led movie – I think the future of theatre and filmmaking is going to benefit hugely from the increasing female voice.
I am also focused on developing my own projects as a writer-director in film and TV, and I am working with a producer developing one particular project that we are very excited about. I am passionate about the environment – I grew up in Devon and so I’m a country boy at heart – and most of my projects tackle the fossil-fuel industry and climate change in some way. That is another reason I was happy to be part of Jurassic World, with its message not to mess with nature! It is the battle of our generation and we have a responsibility to step up.