Dexter Fletcher talks Sunshine on Leith

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There will be plenty of happy faces when the new musical Sunshine On Leith hits cinema screens this weekend.

One person who won’t be smiling, however, is the gentleman who landed a part as an extra, as a man staggering out of a pub following a knees-up.

Sunshine On Leith. Pic: PA

Sunshine On Leith. Pic: PA

His scenes have been cut and the director, Dexter Fletcher, stepped in instead.

“It’s not there for a, ‘Hey, look at me!’ moment,” insists 47-year-old Fletcher. “It’s there because the guy we got didn’t do a great job, so I was encouraged by our cameraman and cast to do it. If people know it’s me and smile, that’s great, but I’m slightly dubious about it.”

His is not the only cameo in the feel-good film. Identical Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid, better known as The Proclaimers, also crop up.

“They were on set two times and I just said, ‘Guys, will you walk out of the pub here?’” says Fletcher. “It gives us a great light-hearted moment, and you know you’re allowed to laugh in this film.”

In fact, the duo’s songs feature throughout the narrative and are, to all intents and purposes, the reason the film came about.

Sunshine On Leith started life as a stage production. Well, more accurately, the title first belonged to a Proclaimers album from 1988. Then, in 2005, screenwriter Stephen Greenhorn was looking for a Scottish musical he could develop.

One night, while listening to The Proclaimers, he drunkenly scribbled ‘Proclaimers musical’ on the back of an envelope and went to bed. He woke up with no recollection of his inspired idea - until he saw the scrawl. Two years later the show got its stage premiere in 2007.

“A film producer had seen the show and thought it’d be a great idea for a film,” says Fletcher, explaining the final phase of Sunshine On Leith’s evolution.

“I got involved a little bit after that. It’s a companion piece, rather than an adaptation.”

It’s little surprise that the movie’s being dubbed “McMamma Mia”. Fletcher, who as an actor has starred in the likes of Press Gang, Band Of Brothers and Hotel Babylon, and made his directorial debut with 2011’s Wild Bill, has no problem with the association.

“That’s no bad thing. It did fairly well,” he jokes, referring to the global smash hit Mamma Mia. “This might be set in Scotland, and there aren’t any Abba songs, but I think that’s a natural comparison.”

When DNA Films, the same production company behind hits like 28 Days Later and The Last King Of Scotland, approached Londoner Fletcher - they thought an outsider’s perspective would bring added texture - he hadn’t even seen the stage show.

But he “read all the reviews and saw, obviously, how brilliant it was”, he adds.

“I was kind of relieved I hadn’t seen it, because it meant I didn’t know how tough an act I had to follow,” he says, laughing.

Following Wild Bill, a gritty London piece in which an ex-con attempts to reconnect with his family, he’d been looking for something different for his next project.

“Musicals were my first great love as a kid. The first film I remember sitting down to watch was Singing In The Rain, and of course, I was in Bugsy Malone.”

Indeed, a schoolboy Fletcher made his film acting debut as Baby Face in the 1976 hit. When it came to helming Sunshine On Leith, like Bugsy’s director Alan Parker he was keen to ensure the story would work dramatically with or without songs.

In the same way that Mamma Mia bears no resemblance to the lives of the four members of Abba, Sunshine On Leith doesn’t focus on Scottish twin singers.

Instead, the story explores the Henshaw family who live in Leith, just outside Edinburgh, and their relationships with assorted friends and partners.

At the head of the family are husband and wife Jean and Rab, played by Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan, while relative newcomers Freya Mavor and George Mackay play their kids, and Kevin Guthrie and Fletcher’s former Misfits co-star Antonia Thomas are the siblings’ respective boyfriend and girlfriend.

“As we had Jane and Peter, it gave us a bit more freedom with the younger cast. We could use undiscovered, newer talent, which is always an exciting opportunity to have.”

Horrocks and Mullan were “the dream team”, adds Fletcher.

“Jane, we know, isn’t only a great actress but has a fantastic voice, and people love her. That’s very important for the character, that people empathise with her and see how strong she is during tough times,” he says, referring to a certain revelation that comes to light during Jean and Rab’s 25th wedding anniversary party.

“With Peter, we’ve never seen him get the chance to play the part of a father who’s at the heart of a family.”

Unlike Horrocks, who’s proven her musical prowess in Cabaret and Little Voice, Mullan’s never sung on screen before.

“He said to me, ‘I’m no Pavarotti’, but that wasn’t what was required. It’s about him loving the song and singing the way he does,” Fletcher explains. “Besides, he’s an old Proclaimers fan, so I think he was thrilled with the opportunity.”

The big closing number sees hundreds of people come together to belt out The Proclaimers’ famous hit I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).

“It’s a song people know instantly, and we played it loud and proud and the country pretty much joined in,” says the director.

He still can’t quite believe they managed to shoot a sunny Scotland in the middle of November.

“We would’ve taken whatever weather we got but it just so happened the week we were shooting outside, it shone,” he recalls. “It was one of those happy accidents.”

Sunshine On Leith opens tomorrow