“I like the process of acting, not the execution”: an interview with Gary Stretch

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Sean Brosnan’s directorial debut, My Father Die, premiered at FrightFest last week, the UK’s largest international genre film festival, where many horror, Sci-Fi’s and thrillers have their debut. My Father Die is a twisted revenge thriller, whereby a son tries to avenge his brother who was killed by the terrifying Ivan, who is also the boys’ father. We spoke to Gary Stretch, who plays the psychotic Ivan, about his role in the film, his life, and career.

My Father Die is not an easy watch, and it’s certainly not easy to watch the violent and impulsive actions of Ivan. Yet Stretch suggested that Ivan is perhaps a little more relatable than one might think. “I think there’s Ivan in everyone” he said. The theme of revenge is strong throughout the narrative, and Stretch highlighted that it’s not just Ivan who has experienced these feelings. “You think about these things but obviously you don’t act upon them”.

He continued, “I had to find a way to justify being in that place…to not just make up a story in my mind but to really believe it…I had to fill in all the gaps and just fucking go for it”. Ivan was undeniably a criminal person inside and out, but this didn’t stop Stretch from being able to fully embrace his new persona. “It was a very freeing experience”, he explained, “Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs…he was so committed to being root evil that I fell in love with him, because at least he had a point of view”. The honestly in his portrayal of the role was telling; “we may not always admit it but we always want people to like us, and to be in a space where you don’t give a fuck- it’s quite a relief”.

Despite My Father Die being a revenge thriller filled with palpable hate overpowering most scenes, the difficult question for people to confront was whether Ivan was capable of love. Was this volatile, unpredictable man like this by nature, or nurture? Stretch however, emphasised that our environment is no way a limit to the kind of person you can become. “We’re all born into this world…our environment forms us”.  He explained, “humans are so brainwashed…they make you believe you can do this you can’t do this…if you just stepped out of that space you can do anything…we get brainwashed growing up in society, that we’re so limited”.

Stretch then went on to explore the male psyche, explaining why the protagonists in the film are so set on revenge, despite knowing that no good could come of it. “The film explores the alpha…at what point does a son become a man? And when there’s two men, when is one gonna let the other dominate…like lions in the wild”.

“Ivan…why did he come back? Why did the scorpion sting the frog? There’s right, there’s wrong, and there’s fuck it I’m gonna do it anyway.” Stretch went on to explain that this mind set strongly possess men, “I’ve been wrong in my life and I’ve apologised and if the guy still has an issue, then it gets to a point where it’s like fuck it you wanna go there anyway? I’m a dude and I’m always gonna be a dude so don’t stop me…That’s just part of being a man”.

A man of many talents, Gary Stretch is also a former boxer, a profession in which he successfully became the British Champion in the Light Middleweight division, as well as winning the WBC Super Welterweight Championship. As well as boxing and acting, he has modeled on the catwalk for clients such as Calvin Klein and Versace, yet surprisingly Stretch isn’t a fan of being in the limelight. “I actually don’t like attention, which is a strange thing being an actor. I’m a handful but I’m shy in my own way”.

Stretch explained that with boxing it wasn’t so much about the performance, but rather a way to show what he was capable of. “As a fighter I was always trying to prove myself. I came from a broken home…at that age kids don’t understand”, he explained, suggesting that there was an element of insecurity in this, yet emphasising that he finds this helpful “because it helps me get up in the morning”. “I wasn’t fighting” he said, “I was just proving everybody wrong”.

For some acting may be a calling, but Stretch didn’t know that this was the path he wished to follow until a very freak yet special incident. Having only been in LA for an hour some years ago, he witnessed an old lady trying to reverse into a parking space which was being fought over between her and a group of men. The situation quickly turned ugly as the men smashed one of the lady’s windows and snapped a windshield wiper. As Stretch intervened and prevented a potential brawl, he got talking with the old lady, who turned out to be an established acting coach. In spending some time with her and at studios, Stretch recalled watching Sidney Poitier reciting poetry. “The use of language…” he said, “I saw simple words be transformed…I was laughing, I was crying”. When asked by the acting coach if he wanted to get lunch that day he said “I wanna be an actor”, and she said “start Monday”.

From that point he never looked back, and still loves to learn about the roles he plays and the stories he’s in. “I like the process of acting not the execution” he said, comparing the discipline of boxing to the discipline it takes to truly get invested in a role. Stretch’s career doesn’t just end with acting though, as he has just finished directing a film which is in the editing process. Stretch may also return as Ivan again in a potential sequel to My Father Die.

My Father Die featured at FrightFest 2016. You can read our review here.

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Former Film Editor for The Edge, second year history student, Irish dancer and film enthusiast. My biggest inspiration is by Bear Grylls. Yes Bear Grylls. Originally from West London.

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