Midlands Feature - Interview with BFG Childchewer actor Jonathan Holmes
By midlandsmovies, Aug 9 2016 12:03PM
Mike Sales speaks to Midlands born actor Jonathan Holmes who has found fame with a wealth of voiceover work for TV and cinema before being recently cast as a giant in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘BFG’.
Mike asks the actor about his work to date and how he came to be in such a large Hollywood blockbuster…
Jonathan Holmes grew up in an all boy’s school in the Midlands where he jokes he initially got involved in acting and doing plays as the only way to meet girls. However, since these humble forays into theatre, Jonathan has had a bumpy but never dull journey in his film career so far.
“I spent the first 18 years of my life in and around Shrewsbury. It will always feel like home. I've no film experiences from the region, but lots of happy theatrical memories. And growing up in deepest darkest Shropshire, actually going to the cinema wasn't as easy as it might have been, but I do remember loving (Spielberg’s) Close Encounters. Favourite moment? When Richard Dreyfus tries to wave the UFO past”.
Being Shropshire born and bred suggest Jonathan’s home-grown accent was the perfect match for the quirky Britishness encapsulated in this new CGI world Spielberg created for the film. Yet his casting was somewhat a lucky coincidence for the now Vancouver-based thespian who was originally asked to coach a girl who was up for the part of the film’s protagonist Sophie.
I ask if any roles have come that way to him before.
“In some sense - most of them! There are a whole series of decisions that have to be made before you are cast in any role over which you have no control. So it always feels like a bit of a lottery”.
With extensive CGI in lots of modern literary adaptations (Alice in Wonderland) which portray wild and vivid locations and characters, Jonathan explains that during his the recording of his role as ‘Childchewer’, the inhibiting green-screen process in fact gave him more freedom than most expect.
“We shot using performance capture technology. It takes a little getting used to, but it allows scenes to be shot in the entirety, capturing everything from all conceivable angles simultaneously. So it can actually be liberating. It's as close to theatre in the film world that I've ever encountered”.
Jonathan adds that is was a joy working with actor Martin Freeman who he describes as one of the “funniest and most astute students of the art of acting” he’s ever met and Jonathan has seen previous success as a voice actor in Marvel’s “Hulk Vs” cartoon.
In 2007 the actor worked with Peter Greenaway on ‘Nightwatching’ which he describes as “terrifying” for a different reason than the motion capture concerns. “Peter shoots incredibly beautiful and massively long takes. If you mess up - resetting a shot can take an age. So you don't mess up! But an amazing experience”.
Back to the magical world of Dahl and the BFG, I ask the five-foot-eight Jonathan if he were as tall as the character he plays, what mischief he would get up to.
“I would try out for the NBA. Or possibly be England goalkeeper and bring the glory days back to English football!”
England football glory may be a bigger fairy tale than anything Dahl has written but Jonathan says that his 10 year old daughter loves the author’s books. “Matilda is a big hit in our house,” he says before adding that the appeal of Dahl’s books is that “he can be funny, wicked, tender, intimate and extreme in the space of one paragraph”.
And which one of Dahl’s books would he personally like to see adapted (or re-adapted) for the big screen? “Hmmm...I think an anti-hipster version of The Twits would be fun”.
Now based in Vancouver, Jonathan finds the ‘Hollywood of Canada’ a great place for a working actor. “I've lived in Vancouver for about 15 years, so the majority of my film and TV work has been here. You'd be amazed the amount of work that is shot here, so it doesn't take too long to spot soon familiar landmarks”.
Sadly, Jonathan has also had to overcome unfortunate personal circumstances during his career including dealing with a diagnosis of cancer a few years ago.
“It was very challenging. And around the same time, my step mother sued myself and my 5 year old over my father's will. It was a truly rough time. But you can only appreciate the highs if you embrace the lows. As an actor, life experience can't help but inform performance, and I've had my fair share over the last few years”.
Jonathan is definitely now on the turn-around with his successful role in the BFG and his experiences on that set enriching his outlook on life. And there’s no rest either. Straight from that film he jumps into a new animation series and a video game with the hard-working actor on the rise in a multitude of disciplines.
He also hopes to back in the UK for some theatre also one thing is for sure, Jonathan will be beaming over the fantastic reviews of his and his co-stars performances in one of the most well-received family films of the Summer. Which is surely Jonathan’s biggest and friendliest success of all.
BFG is in cinemas now.
Midlands Movies Mike
Photo of Jonathan courtesy of Kristine Cofsky