I first met Kris Hitchen when he fitted my shower. Later I became his voice coach and his exceptional talent quickly became clear. He’s still the only pupil to make me well up while reciting a sonnet. From the beginning, I knew he was going to go far. His creative force is so compelling it’s impossible not to entirely engage with whatever part he’s portraying which is why he was perfect for Sorry We Missed You, Ken Loach’s new film.
“I learnt so much from Ken,” Hitchen tells me. “He has a hands-off approach and he builds your confidence so he can get the most out of you. And the more confident and comfortable you become, the less you notice the cameras and the more natural the performance. He’s very careful to call you by your character’s name the whole time which adds to your immersion in the part.”
Sorry We Missed You delves into the harsh realities for the working class in modern Britain and the toll the gig economy has on ordinary families. Filmed in Newcastle with a largely local cast, it stars Hitchen, who is originally from Salford and now lives in Bolton. While Hitchen, 45, has been an actor for several years, up until recently he was also a plumber. Despite the widespread acclaim for his performance and the film itself, it’s obvious that he still has both feet firmly on the ground, although he admits that the experience has been life-changing.
“Yeah, of course it has. It does change your life doesn’t it when you do something as big as this. It’s also taught me to not care as much and to be more relaxed in my working life and it’s made me more considerate. It’s made me more isolated as a person but so far people treat me the same. I’m just Kris the plumber from Salford.”
At this we both laugh heartily because, clearly, he’s always been a lot more than that. “But no, I’m just me,” he says. “I’m not what people project me to be. I’m just me.”
From life as a plumber and a number of fairly low profile acting jobs (including commercials, theatre and short films), Hitchen has been so busy recently that he almost didn’t make the red carpet at Cannes in May. He says that Cannes was a strange few days. “I said it’s ironic we’re here for a film that deals with poverty and financial instability in the UK and you’ve got billionaires’ yachts here, and any one of these people could snap their fingers and sort out all these problems. But will they? No.”
But what of the experience of making the film? “It’s shot chronologically which is unusual mainly because of production costs, but Ken is very clever in how he manages his locations. For instance, the house our characters lived in was rented for the whole time which added to it feeling real. It also helped filming chronologically because by careful diet and running every day I could change how I looked alongside the trajectory of the story.”
Hitchen obviously loved his time in Newcastle. “I’ve got loads of mates up there now. It’s great. The people are really friendly and welcoming. Never a jot of trouble while we were filming, nobody mithering us, which you would get in other places. They were just pleased we were there.”
Did the style of filming intensify the real-life relationships with his co-stars? “Well, it was a job so you know you turn up every morning, but we’ll never get that experience again will we? So, we’ve always got that in common. I was particularly close with the kids. Katie, who’s great, we had a scream on set, and Rhys too. I could see he needed encouragement so I tried to give him confidence and advice. I do care for them. I’m still in touch with everyone.”
Since wrapping he’s been working non-stop, from the BBC’s The Barking Murders (aka Four Lives) with Sheridan Smith and Stephen Merchant, to Idles’ music video Mercedes Matrix. He’s also completed filming The Clay Kickers, a true World War One story with Elliot James Langridge (of Northern Soul fame) and Tom Goodman-Hill. Just this week he was nominated for Best Actor at BIFA (the British Independent Film Awards).
I wonder, though, if working on Sorry We Missed You and immersing himself in the subject matter has changed his view on things.
“Do you know what, yeah it has actually, because I’ve always had the same political perspective, that everyone deserves to get what they put into things. That’s the basic human principle in life but it’s unfair that some people work 16 hours a day and still need to go to the food bank, and some people work 16 hours a day but spend half of it on the golf course and will never have to go to a food bank in their lives.
“The inequality, it’s not right. I don’t begrudge anyone getting a bigger wage if professionally they are worth it, but there must be a wage cap at some point. The highest earners’ wages need to go down and the lower paid salaries need to come up. Currently the wage structure needs to be dealt with by the Government.”
Does Hitchin believe that the film will force people to question the inhumanity of the gig economy? “I don’t think it’s going to change anything, unfortunately. People will still be doing those jobs. There’s always been gig economy type jobs, I’ve done them myself, but it’s never been this bad. Now people don’t have a choice, they’re debt slaves and its run by corporations that don’t care. The Government hasn’t got enough restrictions in place to stop this happening. People are working for nothing.
“I was looking at the figures regarding poverty and it’s mind-blowing. There are four million working people in poverty, which means there might be people living on my street who work full-time but are struggling, and I’ve never even cared to think before that someone on my street might be having to rely on food banks. And it made me realise everyone’s really disconnected now, people don’t even have to speak to each other anymore.”
He adds: “The humanistic element of being a human is dying. Everyone is sitting with their smartphones. It’s like we are all in solitary confinement and we’re forgetting how to empathise, and how to care for one another. And that’s what this film is all about, and that’s why people should go and watch it because every single viewing I’ve been to there’s not been a dry eye in the house because it makes people feel. You don’t get that from a blockbuster, do you? People need to see it so they can reconnect with something we are all forgetting about.”
So, what’s coming next? “I’ve got lots of interviews coming up, obviously, and a few film festivals around Europe. Then I’m working on (the TV series) North Water filming in Budapest. It’s got Colin Farrell in it,” he says in a matter-of-fact fashion. This is Hitchen all over. His talent is taking him to remarkable places but he refuses to allow the glitz and glamour to go to his head. In fact, he’s the first to admit that he comes from the school of hard knocks and he brings no romantic ideals to his craft. He has a keen sense of the realities of life but also the intelligence and skill to portray the experience of them in a way which is both powerful and yet deeply vulnerable. I am enormously proud of what he has achieved so far and will watch his future career with great interest. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see the film.
Photos courtesy of Entertainment One
Sorry We Missed You is in cinemas. For listings, click here.