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Fisherman Friend star James Purefoy reveals public's 'visceral' reactions to former role - exclusive

The new film is being released on Friday

james purefoy
James King
James KingFilm Columnist
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Cornwall’s singing sailors, the Fisherman’s Friends, are back on the big screen this week in One and All, a sequel to the smash hit from 2019. Picking up the true story where the last film finished, the unlikely chart stars now find themselves struggling to deal with the spotlight after a successful album and tour.

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Returning as the band’s frontman Jim is James Purefoy, the 58-year-old who found fame himself alongside Heath Ledger in 2001’s much-loved comedy A Knight’s Tale and on HBO’s epic mini-series Rome. As the star of over fifty films and TV series, he knows all too well about the price of popularity.

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“Certainly it can affect family and not always in good ways… I was doing a show in New York, The Following, and it was being watched by 19 million people a week in America. Figures I can only remember from Morecombe & Wise Christmas specials! And that had a big, profound effect. It was on me every single day that I was leaving the apartment. People were recognising me and they would have visceral reactions to me in the street. [My character] was a serial killer but he was pretty charismatic. So people were very drawn to that or repulsed by that. Nobody felt vanilla!”

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James in The Following

Yet as the band themselves discover in the film, James believes that most celebrities still have a choice as to how to deal with being in the public eye: “You can play into it or you can play against it. When people complain about fame you often find them at the opening of a crisp packet! And you go ‘What are you doing?! Stop it! Go home, read a book!’”

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The sequel is in cinemas now 

The Fisherman’s Friends sequel also sees Jim dealing with the loss of his father Jago (David Hayman), a touching storyline that gives the film a real emotional punch. “We were very mindful when we were shooting it - we were shooting it during the pandemic - that so many people in this country had lost people” says Purefoy, who’s also one of the movie’s executive producers.

fisherman friend

Based on a wonderful true story

“And one of the great things that you can do with drama is you can make people feel less alone. I’ve seen that so often. I’ve been doing this job thirty-five years now and there are times when you’ve been on stage, or when you’re in a film, and you’ve been expressing or articulating something which that audience is going through. And you can feel people go, ‘I thought I was feeling all that alone. But I’m not alone.' Drama is such a good social glue like that. It has such a good social purpose”.

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James in A Knight's Tale

As well as Irish singer Imelda May making her acting debut as rocker Aubrey Flynn, hiding out in Cornwall after some well-publicised personal troubles, many of the original Fisherman’s Friends co-stars have returned for the sequel, including some of the real members of the band. To pay tribute to their daily lives out at sea, Purefoy knew he had to look as convincing as possible as an experienced fisherman.

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“I spent a lot of time with those guys and I spent a lot of time on that boat! And I spent a lot of time down at the fish seller’s in Port Isaac, just watching. Sometimes they didn’t even know I  was watching. I’d just hang around a corner and watch the way they’d spray down the yard. Don’t hang out with actors too much - you’ll end up [being portrayed] on screen!”

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The filming took place in Cornwall

And it’s observing the world around him that James lists as his favourite part of the job. “I’m really happy sitting in a piazza somewhere or a town square just watching people. You can see things happening between people and you don’t even need to hear what they’re saying. But you can watch the interaction and you just log it away all the time and go ‘Oh that’s interesting. I’ll nick that! I’ll do that one day!’”

Fisherman’s Friends: One for All is at cinemas from Friday 19th August.

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