Jason Salkey (30.04.05)

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Jason Salkey is best known for playing Rifleman Harris in Sharpe, and he will be one of the guests at the TellyNation event. We caught up with him prior to his appearance to ask him a few questions to whet your appetite!

Jason SalkeyKH: When you were first cast in Sharpe did you have an idea  what a big project you had taken on and how long you would be involved with it?

JS:When I was first cast, no!
Then I started to read the novels which made me think that if the first episodes could be pulled off successfully then, yes this was going to be a biggie.

KH: Had you read any of the Sharpe books or heard of the character before you were cast?

JS: I decided not to read the books until I got the part. Had I read them before I probably would have been too keyed up for the audition and would have agonised waiting for them to decide.
As it was the main intriguing aspect of the job was it's filming location: Russia, or, Ukraine as it turned out.
Funnily enough, I had forgotten all about the audition and had assumed that I didn't get the part (again!)  I auditioned in early may and didn't find out till the first week in July, so I was many auditions and rejections down the line. It was a great surprise.
Plus, Harris doesn't appear in the books written prior to broadcast of the TV show. Bernard Cornwell [Sharpe's Author] very nicely added my character to the latter  Sharpe novels in the peninsula.

KH: What was it like filming all over the world with Sharpe, and what was your favourite location?

Shooting in England, Ukraine, Portugal and Turkey did get me about Europe quite a bit. My deepest affection lies with Ukraine where I met my wife, conceived our child and spent a quarter of a year, for three years on the trot .
But our time in Ukraine wasn't a  walk in the park; in the industry, tales of the Crimean Sharpe shoots are legend because of the hardships we had to endure.
Arriving as we did in 1992 just after the break up of the Soviet Empire left us trying to run a multi-million pound production in a tattered infrastructure with a dodgy Russian co producer intent on skimming as much as he could for himself.
All of this can be seen in the Harris Video Diaries, of course!
Turkey and Portugal, naturally were a lot more comfortable and luxurious, but film shoots are never trouble free so there was always something to keep us on our toes.

KH: What inspired you to film so much behind the scenes footage for Sharpe?

JS: I had started out documenting events with a photo album on the first two Sharpes, which proved very amusing and popular among the unit.
I decided to keep a video diary of the shoot on the third series because moving images can give a feel for the 'special' atmosphere that surrounded our work out there.
Also for westerners, the former Soviet Union was unknown and 'dangerous', providing a superb back drop for the already visually rich production that Sharpe was. All these elements begged to be captured on film and so begun the video diaries.

KH: You mention on your website that the initial Sharpe filming which had Paul McGann cast as Sharpe was "monumentally eventful".  Does any particular incident from that period stick out on your mind?

JS: Do I ever!
The thing that stuck me the most the seemingly innocuous nature of the way Paul injured his knee, twisting on one leg while collecting a ball from the air with the other. Not a scything tackle from behind by exec producer Muir Sutherland, as some rumours have it.
The image that stays with me to this day is Paul's face, completely drained of blood as we sat in the shade to assess the damage in the hope that this was nothing more than a little tweak which would be better after a few days.

KH: Has working on Sharpe increased your interest in the Napoleonic period?

Most definitely, before Sharpe I would have struggled to give you any details of the Peninsula war and probably wouldn't have known the correct date of the Battle of Waterloo. So, I'm very glad that Sharpe has broadened my knowledge of a very important part of our history.

KH: Do you have an interesting or funny story from the Sharpe filming that you could retell here?

JS: Gosh, so many laughs were had [in between the crying] on Sharpe that I don't know where to begin.
The bond formed between the veteran Sharpe cast and crew was pretty strong during our five years of work together.
The funniest incident came out of something quite serious. We were on strike to secure the arrival of hot breakfast on set while we were filming up a mountain in a Crimean winter. While negotiating with the exec producer in our 'dressing room'-  a sparse back room of a Soviet Cultural centre- we were told that things like bacon couldn't possibly be found down here in the Ukraine.
At which point, one of the actors who had recently come in from Moscow, expertly lobbed a packet of bacon on to negotiating table[in reality a sagging fold-up cot] smack bang in front of the exec. To his credit, Muir Sutherland [exec prod], saw the funny side and we had hot breakfasts from that day on. That incident was for ever know as 'The Dimerdji Bacon riot': See Harris Episode 2 for details.

KH: You've worked on quite a few films as well as TV. In what ways do you find the process of making films different from making Tv programmes?

JS: Films are generally a lot slower to make. In TV they try to do as many shots, with as little time in between each shot so they can get a few pages of the script done a day. Where as in film each shot is far more expensive to set up so they have to get it right.
Sharpe sort of fell between those two stools. Yes it was filmic, but it was shot to a TV production schedule.

KH: Are there any future plans for anymore Sharpe films?

They do plan to do more Sharpes, but it looks like the Chosen Men won't be part of that plan. They will do a feature film of life after Waterloo based on the Sharpe prequel books set in India. The books take place before the Peninsula War, but because of the ravages of time they feel Sean couldn't play Sharpe as twenty years younger.
I enquired  if they might go back maybe five years to film the newest Sharpe novels that take place in between the original Peninsula books [episodes], but the 'powers' think audiences and reviewers won't buy that.
Which is a big shame for fans of the Chosen Men .
KH: What is it like performing your own stunts?  How much coaching etc do you get?

JS: We had two stunt coordinators on Sharpe, one Russian, one English. They did a lot of good work on the stunt choreography which I enjoyed immensely. It helped that I was a pretty athletic, gung-ho, sort of actor, so our stunt coordinator could allow me to do some of the more dangerous stuff that should perhaps be handled by a stunt double.

KH: You've been in The Bill five times now, do you have a favourite storyline or character that you played, and if so what was it?

JS: All my trips to work on The Bill have been very enjoyable, but when I played a Character called Ollie Hoskins in an episode called 'Sartorial Elegance' I had a great time. Ollie looked big and menacing in his leather jacket. But he was really a groovy, dope smoking hippy, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The interview scenes were particularly funny as I diagnose the health of the interviewing officer's aura and offer him a little herbal remedy.

KH: You are champion Frisbee thrower.  Have you ever managed to incorporate this skill into a role that you have played?

JS: I was actually a champion freestyle Frisbee player which involves more that just throwing thank you very much! 
But seriously, it was more that just throwing but equally frivolous.
Two or three freestylers would throw the Frisbee to each other with a bit of spin on it. The Frisbee would be spun [or delayed] on the finger nail while you did a series of manipulations of the disc combined with movements of the body. It looks pretty impressive, but never caught on like skateboarding has. That's sort of why I got out of it.
I did a little bit of Frisbee in the ITV children's show Wilderness Edge, where I played the driver of a bus for an outward bound camp.

KH: What are you plans for the future?

JS: The acting jobs have been diminishing in the last year, so I can't say I have immediate plans in that field.
My video diary project continues to interest people so I'm going to [have to] continue that. Lack of work has forced me to concentrate on other projects behind the camera. I've directed a recruitment film for the London Dental Nurse School, written a short film about the auditioning process and have been tentatively been asked to write something a little longer as a promo for a hip hop band. So, what ever pays the mortgage I'll do it.

You can find out more about Jason and his career and order copies of his Sharpe behind the scenes DVD/Video release  at  his website.

Jason will also be a guest at our convention in April 2006.

Page Last Updated Thursday, August 04, 2005 at 23:37:00