Hopping from Hollywood blockbuster to Hollywood blockbuster and back to Bristol again: local actor and producer Guy Potter

You might have seen Steven Spielberg’s recent cinema box office hit Ready Player One but did you know one of the cast lives and works here in Bristol? Guy Potter spoke to us about projects past, present and future, his own production company, city life and the importance of diversification for him as an actor…

TBM: First and foremost, what was it like working with Sir Spielberg?

GP: Well he’s probably the pinnacle when it comes to people for actors to work with! It was an out-of-body experience initially, but after spending 14 hours a day with someone you’re on first name terms quite quickly. Although I certainly never called him ‘Steven’, it was always ‘Sir’. I learnt more in that summer than I have in all the years previously. Every direction you looked, there were people at the top of their game, just working away quietly with a few Oscars under their belt and it’s all totally normal… It’s a different world.

What did your work involve and how did you prepare?

On Ready Player One I was rehearsing for Tye Sheridan, so everything you see Tye do I did also – I was like a second Wade Watts [lead character]. That meant working first-hand with Spielberg and the crew, getting the scene ready for the cameras to roll. As an actor you have to be ready for anything, completely free and have as much professional and life experience as possible. As well as constantly learning acting technique, I’m climbing, surfing, kayaking, doing Judo – trying new things as much as I can so when I’m auditioning I can deliver straight away if necessary. The biggest help when I was starting out was having a motorbike licence, for example; you just try and obtain what others don’t have in order to get the job.

Tell us about some of your other career highlights so far…

I filmed on Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation back in 2015 – I was a stand-in for Jeremy Renner and got to do a few scenes as one of the bad guys in the bike chase when they were doing re-shoots at the studios. I ended up rehearsing with Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg; that then led to Ready Player One as they shared much of the same team.

What’s on the cards going forward?

I had my first lead in an independent feature film last year in Italy – that should come out this year and I’m really looking forward to it. I also have a motion capture role coming up soon although that’s quite under wraps – I haven’t signed the NDA yet so even I don’t know what it is! I won’t until I get in the room or meet the director, which can sometimes be the way and if that’s the process then it’ll be quite big hopefully. After that I have my directorial debut I’ve co-written.

Tell us about your production company

I started High Sierra Films in 2015 after I worked on Mission [Impossible]. That was my first real involvement in a big production and I saw the bigger picture of how the industry works – actors also producing and sometimes getting involved with the direction. I saw it was very collaborative. Just being an actor was going to limit me, so I branched out and diversified. I’ve found myself really studying cinematography lately, getting a better feeling of what makes a film.

Have you done anything Bristol-based or set?

The first short I produced was set in Bristol; Whatever the Weather. Now I have another film with a proper budget and crew, cinema cameras and a real progressive collaboration that I’m filming here over the summer. The more Bristol I can feature, the better – it always gets a better reception than elsewhere. It’s definitely part of the reason for filming here; that and the people involved. In other cities you wouldn’t get half the attention and support that you do when filming here.

Why did you decide to move here?

I moved here from London as I’m from Devon. Although I loved London and what it gave me, it was quite stifling. I’m very active and like the outdoors so it was killing me creatively. Initially I needed a good in-between and Bristol just fit perfectly, but since I’ve moved here I discovered a thriving film community; I’ve really landed on something special.

How do you mean?

It’s so inclusive and great to be involved in at any level. Everyone wants to contribute. An actor or director, for example, is just a small cog in this huge machine; I remember Ridley Scott’s The Martian had a message at the end saying it employed 15,000 people, which is crazy. Everyone is contributing to an end product and specialising in their field in the meantime, it’s a great industry to be a part of.

What can you reveal about what you’re planning to film here?

The short is an action thriller. It’s got components borrowed from things I’ve previously worked on, and hopefully both some crew and cast from Mission Impossible and Ready Player One. It’s an exciting script and even better that we can film in and around Bristol. We’ve got some fantastic locations lined up; I’m looking forward to filming.

What’s your process when you get a script?

Read it thoroughly, all the way through and many times. I read that Anthony Hopkins will read a script 250 times out loud before filming. You’re essentially learning all these lines and moments through huge amounts of repetition and then performing them as if it’s the first thing that’s come into your head. Whatever you have to do to look like you’re spontaneously responding, do it. I find that the car journey to the set or audition can be more useful than any rehearsal space!

What role has felt most special to you?

Taking on the role of a real person – I did that for Siegfried Sassoon as I was starting out and really enjoyed that process of trying to capture the essence of a real person. I’d love to do that on a bigger scale; really lose myself and become someone real; getting their traits and habits down to perfection. Seeing Christian Bale in The Fighter awoke that.

Dream co-star?

Again, Anthony Hopkins – one of the finest actors around. Being in the presence of an absolute master of their craft has an enormous effect on how you conduct yourself and raise your game. The experiences I’ve had on big sets with people like that have been more of a masterclass than money can buy. Watching Christoph Waltz do his thing, rehearsing with Tom Cruise, being directed by Spielberg – they’re hard to top. Once I was in a small scene with Christopher Walken on Eddie the Eagle, which didn’t get used, but when Walken came onto the set the room went totally quiet. He did the scene in one take and it was like watching acting royalty.

Favourite Bristol place?

Gloucester Road currently! The Watershed is also great for community; they’re happy to have screenings there; it’s something I’ll think about for our film.

Who would you like to play if you were to star in a biopic?

David Bowie. I don’t think I’m right for a role like that at all but what a fascinating individual. That statue they made of him recently where he was his ‘normal’ self, looking at his alter egos performing in front of him: that’s a very interesting visual. Actors are all doing that, to some extent, and it would be great to play with that.

• Follow Guy on Twitter: @guypotter_