Throughout his illustrious career, BAFTA-nominated actor Daniel Mays has played a police sergeant, a criminal, a spiv, and even a duplicitous member of the Rebel Alliance in the Star Wars movie Rogue One. But in Your Christmas or Mine, where he plays family man Geoff, he didn’t have to go far to find inspiration.
As one of four boys raised in Essex, England, Daniel Mays is very used to the madness that comes with being raised in a big family. Complete with a tacky jumper and an ice cream van, Geoff is at the centre of the “warm and chaotic pandemonium that only a large family Christmas can bring.”
With the Amazon Prime Christmas movie now available on the streaming service, The Digital Fix spoke to Mays to find out more about reuniting with Asa Butterfield, his own family Christmas, and whether he’d be down to reprise his Rogue One role in Andor season 2.
The Digital Fix: Hi Daniel, congratulations on the movie! What attracted you to the project?
Daniel Mays: It was the whole package. I mean, whenever you commit to any project, it’s all about an element of things coming together. And, first and foremost, it always comes down to the quality of the writing and Tom Parry’s first-time feature, I think it was just everything that you wanted in a Christmas movie to me, I’d never done a Christmas film before. And it has that kind of fulfilling, very uplifting story, isn’t it and it has all the elements that you want in a great Christmas film. I think it had amazing comedy, and it made me laugh out loud, which is obviously what you want in a film like this.
But on the flip side of that, it has fantastic pathos. To me, it felt like it was really rooted in a kind of social realism. We had a great truth to it. Because there’s a family that is dealing with grief. And when you counteract that with the madness of the family that I’m involved in, and all the Christmas traditions that they’re involved in, it was great: it was a film that had great balance and it had a great understanding of character.
And I think with the cast they assembled, and Jim [O’Hanlon] the director has got a great track record, and it was just an absolute joy from start to finish. I think we all had such a marvellous time, and that hopefully comes across when you watch it on screen.
TDF: Yeah, it really does! And I’m just wondering, what similarities do you think you have with the character that you play?
DM: I haven’t got those hideous Christmas jumpers with a knitted Turkey on the front! I don’t own one of them. That thing was waiting for me in the trailer every day. But what struck me about Geoff, and what I felt about Geoff, was that it felt like he was the closest I’ve ever played to my own dad. There were elements. I mean, as a compliment to my dad, my dad has a great heart. He’s a bit rough around the edges. And he doesn’t sell dodgy turkeys out of an ice cream van.
But that sense of family and fun that Geoff epitomizes: he’s very much the head of that family. And all the shenanigans that the family get up to over Christmas. I personally could relate to that. It reminded me of my own upbringing, you know what I mean? My mum used to hide money in the Christmas puddings.
All the blokes used to go down the pub and all the women used to have like, not necessarily a spa day, but all of those Christmas games and traditions that that family revel in. So I found it completely relatable. And I think that’s what the film epitomizes. The message of the film is about connectedness it’s about the union of family. And, Christmas can be quite hard for a lot of people. So I think it’s all about how the spirit of family and that sense of togetherness comes to the fore. And I think in Tom [Parry’s] writing that was brilliantly realised.
TDF: The film focusses on different family Christmases and traditions. Do you have any unique family Christmas traditions you follow for the festive season?
DM: We always used to watch the Only Fools and Horses Christmas special: that was like an absolute given in our house. We’re also all Leyton Orient fans, so if they’re playing at home on Boxing Day, that was always a Christmas tradition to watch them on Boxing Day. It seems like now, we celebrate and go out on Christmas Eve and wake up with a sore head on Christmas Day!
That seems to be an ongoing Christmas tradition since I got to my teenage years. Christmas Day is a huge celebration: I’m there wrapping presents. I think the older you get, everything is then for your children, isn’t it and you sort of try and fulfil that Christmas spirit through them. Everyone’s family gets bigger and bigger, doesn’t it, the more kids they have, so there’s even more celebrations and parties to go to.
TDF: What really struck me was that you had a very sort of realistic family dynamic with the rest of the cast. And I was wondering what steps you all took to build that relationship and help it really shine through on-screen?
DM: Well, when you’ve worked in the industry as long as I have — now over 20 years — you often find yourself working with actors that you’ve worked with before. I worked with Angela Griffin before — we were husband and wife on White Lines on Netflix, and that wasn’t that long ago, so Angie and I got on our house on fire. So we didn’t really have to work on that kind of marriage relationship. So much of that was all there. I’ve also worked with David Bradley before.
I also worked with Asa Butterfield, years ago on Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang! I was playing the chauffeur in that, so I can remember Asa as a small child, so to see him and go on and make this glittering career — and to watch his performance in this was fantastic. I think it was Jim O’Hanlon, the director, who was key in making the family dynamic work on the screen. Jim was always constantly trying to keep it fresh, keep it alive, and keep it energised. He’s a great director that energises the cast that you worked with. His track record speaks for itself.
He was an infectious kind of director to work with, and the way that he worked with the two young boys in it [Geoff’s character has two on-screen sons] was fantastic. So it was a lovely experience, and we had a great sense of camaraderie. I think it also helped that we were filming this Christmas movie in the height of summer last year, which is kind of like was kind of a strange experience but you’re wearing scarves and jackets and jumpers and you’re sweating your ass off, basically.
TDF: Andor season 1 has obviously blown up — as someone who was in Rogue One, what do you think of the show? Can we expect Tivick make an appearance in Andor season 2?
DM: I don’t know. I think it’s a long shot, put it that way, but I wish them all the best! I’ll be honest, I would love that character to come back, and I thought there was great potential for them to give that character [Tivick] a story arc [in Andor], but they’re gonna do their own thing with it! I was so proud of Rogue One as a standalone Star Wars film, I hang my hat on it — I think it’s the best one.
I loved the film arc as it was and it looks like the series Andor itself has kind of followed that route, so I wish them every success with the second season and wherever it goes!
TDF: If they asked you to come back for Andor season 2, would you do it?
DM: Totally! I mean, I just haven’t had the call yet. So if the call comes in, and I’m available, I’ll be there, playing the character again. I’d be there in a shot. So we’ll have to wait and see!
You can catch Daniel Mays in Your Christmas or Mine now on Amazon Prime Video.