Today: February 21, 2024

Cleanskin Interview

With taut, low-budget Brit thriller Cleanskin hitting UK cinemas March 9th, director Hadi Hajaig and star Sean Bean talk torture, the War on Terror and rom-coms with Cinema Editor David Watson. But just what is a cleanskin?

With taut, low-budget
Brit thriller Cleanskin hitting UK cinemas March 9th, director Hadi
Hajaig and star Sean Bean talk torture, the War on Terror and rom-coms with
Cinema Editor David Watson. But
just what is a cleanskin?

“A cleanskin is in anti-terrorist terms is a person who’s
unknown to the security services,” says director Hadi Hajaig, “But also it can apply to an agent who is unknown to
the people he’s infiltrating. So
it has a double meaning in the film.

“It’s a pretty vague, ironic title if you watch the
film. Who is the cleanskin in the

The film is a tough, uncompromising vision of the War on

Says Hajaig: “I think the events of the last 11 years have
been so filled with epic incident.
Most writers are inspired by what’s going on around them. You try and reflect it and it’s been
filled with such over-the-top characters this last 11 years you could not help
but write something about it. The
material’s all there.”

For star Sean Bean,
who plays Cleaskin’s driven
anti-terrorist officer Ewan, it was the complexity of the script that attracted

“Most of all I was interested in the characters and story
and political situation,” says Bean, “I thought it was a very well-balanced
portrayal of events that have been happening around us, based on the events of
the last 11/12 years.

“It doesn’t take sides.

“I think it explains, I don’t think it justifies what people
do, what necessarily Ewan, my character does, or Ash, the terrorist character,
does. But it explains it.

“You can see why an otherwise very normal young man, maybe
quite insecure, but an everyday British-born citizen, becomes indoctrinated,
becomes a mass-murderer in fact.

“It was that and the story running alongside that, which is
my story; MI5, Charlotte Rampling’s
character and James Fox’s character,
the people who are pulling the strings and I’m their puppet. At the end, I discover that all is not
what it seems. People are playing
around with politics and people in a very dangerous situation, a terrorist

“It’s quite unsettling to think that people could be playing
games in this day and age for their own political gain.”

The film is surprisingly even-handed. Ash is no cardboard cut-out bad guy;
he’s charming, handsome, intelligent and highly-motivated while Ewan is a hero
of the Jack Bauer school, the kind of guy who’ll threaten to carve up a
high-class hooker’s face to get the information he wants.

“What I wanted to do was to make a story that had both sides
of the coin,” says Hajaig, “So the agent chasing him has a personal connection
to terrorism. Personal and professional.

“The character of Ash, one of the main things I was thinking
about when I was writing was: Why does someone British-born go and commit these
horrific atrocities?

“I wanted to really look at that instead of the kind of
tabloid headline of it. You want
to know why would someone commit something like that, so you look into it. And you want to make it as realistic as
possible. So you kind of see where
his intentions come from and that’s basically why I wanted to keep it as
realistic as possible.

“I think a lot of this genre you get a very cardboard
cut-out villain and I wanted to see what these guys intentions are, which are
very weak. Why would someone want
to do something so horrific?”

Ash is very conflicted; a sympathetic, essentially good man
who’s lost his way

Says Hajaig: “One guy, I remember speaking to while I was
writing said, talking about the 7/7 people: “These guys would never feel at
home wherever they come from, wherever they are.” Which is an interesting
statement in itself.

“He feels his culture conflicts with where he’s living. It’s the same actually for Ewan’s
character as well, the character Sean Bean plays. He’s conflicted, for his duty to his country, his love of
his country. But he’s also blinded
by his own personal demons. It’s
the story of two guys who don’t fit in anywhere.”

Having already played a terrorist in 1992’s Patriot Games, Cleanskin is an
opportunity for Bean to portray the other side of the coin.

“I suppose the character would regard himself as a freedom
fighter in Patriot Games,” says Bean, “When you look at it, it’s not that much
different. Terrorists. SAS. The good guys and bad guys ironically, are not very
different from each other.

“They might believe in different things but the methods that
they use are very much the same.
Fear, intimidation, murder, whatever, you name it. It just depends whose side you’re

“Everybody uses torture, Abu Ghraib and all that lot. They’re the good guys and they use
torture. You look at the world
around you and there’s a lot of injustice.”

Known for playing dark, brooding characters, Bean laughs at
the suggestion it’s about time he did a comedy.

“Have I been sent anything like that?” wonders Bean, “No,
I’ve not. I don’t know, maybe one
day. I’m kinda veering towards
it. I’m playing, you know, normal
guys now.

“I’m not playing killers and psychos. I’m playing ordinary people. Maybe that’ll evolve into nice funny
guys, a nice comedy guy. I’d like

“I’m not a big fan of rom-coms, I couldn’t have that. I’d be too embarrassed to do things
like that. They get a bit mushy
and I don’t want to be bothered with anything like that.”

And while it’s unlikely that his Ned Stark will be appearing
in anything but flashback in the next series of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, Bean will be returning to the small screen in Jimmy McGovern’s BBC1 drama The Accused…as a glamorous transsexual!

Says Bean: “I’ve just finished this job in Manchester, I
worked with Jimmy McGovern. I
always wanted to work with him and he’s written this series called The Accused. So, that was quite an…unusual experience, to say the
least. I’ve got things that are
maybe happening in Spring and in Summer but at the moment I’m just taking it

Having previously made the low-budget horror Puritan, Hajaig is also changing gears
for his next project.

Says Hajaig: “I’ve written kind of a heist movie with a
difference. It’s a comedy that
hearkens back to films of the ‘80s I grew up watching, BeetlejuiceMiami BluesBuckaroo Banzai. It’s got a lot of action. A lot of violence. But with lots of laughs, I hope.”

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email:

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