Behind the scenes: Ed Skrein, Little River Run

A young woman in a vest sitting on a bed.

The London-born actor breaks down his journey of going behind the camera for his directorial debut, Little River Run, available to stream on the SH.APP from Saturday

As told to Matthew Walsh    Images by Ollie Grove    Thursday 8 October, 2020   Long read

Ed Skrein is no stranger to the camera. The London-born actor has spent his career starring in everything from big box-office hits (Deadpool, Alita: Battle Angel), acclaimed independent titles (If Beale Street Could Talk), and a game-changing TV show (Game Of Thrones). Now, he’s switching roles and making the move to the director’s chair. His debut film as both writer and director, Little River Run, will be available to watch on our website and the SH.APP from Saturday 17 October. But first, we caught up with the man himself.

The idea

‘This is a very personal project for me. I first had the urge to write this at a memorial concert in 2015. It was for a young girl I knew who chose to take her own life a week after her 16th birthday after struggling with severe depression. It was affecting for me to think of the pressures on young people in my city and that one cannot know from the outside what stresses they are carrying.

‘I began writing and workshopping with two dynamic, talented young people from The Big House Theatre Company, a charity where young people who have given up on themselves gain the skills and confidence to turn their life around. Tezlym and Aaron became the leads for the piece, with almost all supporting cast roles taken by other young people I’ve worked with at the charity. It was my intention to work with them to explore the pressures they face, create discourse on racial stereotyping, and highlight the troubling reality that there are more than 700,000 young carers looking after family members in the UK.’ 

Putting it into words

‘I didn’t have the arrogance to think that my first draft was perfect or that as a first-time scriptwriter I was born with enough talent to get it right straight away. It took a lot of hard work and collaboration. I think I did 27 drafts before we locked into a shooting script.

‘I was lucky that while I was developing this, I was shooting Alita: Battle Angel with Robert Rodriguez. He was really supportive in my journey as a first-time film-maker, and so generous with advice, his personal process, and what I could expect from the shoot. It meant I could analyse him and his choices on set and learn a lot every day.’
A film director watching a screen.
Ed Skrein on set (Ollie Grove)

Cast and crew

‘I had seen Tezlym in a production at The Big House Theatre Company and she was extraordinary, so nuanced and delicate. I knew she was the one to lead this journey. I had seen Aaron in a number of plays at The Big House and was always struck by his charismatic ease. I felt the two of them could convey the platonic care and love the characters needed with truth and gusto. 

I shot If Beale Street Could Talk with Barry Jenkins in New York six days before I shot Little River Run. This was a masterclass in how to work with actors to achieve subtle emotional truth and was a very educational, informative and influential experience. From the beginning, Tez and Aaron were so talented and enthusiastic, and gave me everything they had in them. It was an amazing experience to go on this journey with them and one that will bond us forever.’

The style

‘“Key to the city, bruv” is a line Tez says to Aaron when he thanks her for showing her the Heath, and it is an overriding sentiment of the piece as a whole. I often think about the duality of my home city. This sprawling, unforgiving and brutal juggernaut that can also transform to a place of opportunity and beautiful cultural variation from turning one corner. You need to know your way around and know its secret doorways to really make it work for you. The key to the city, bruv. 

‘I wanted people to see my London – estates and parks, concrete and grass, living on top of each other and still finding place for solitude – and the Heath summed that up perfectly. The visual language I used for the estate in Tower Hamlets was different. My intention was to create a geometric, almost abstract aesthetic, to match the dizzying vertigo of Tezlym’s inner emotions. But I also wanted to make it beautiful, as many of the estates can be when they are looked after and cleaned.’
A young woman and man standing in an outdoor hallway.


‘I had considered and rehearsed so thoroughly that what we shot really was what was inside my head. It was very rewarding to see my thoughts become things. 

‘The beauty of the process is as soon as you get on set, there is a need to reassess what you have written and how you have envisioned it playing out. I have a very collaborative relationship with my cinematographer, Si Bell. He is someone who prioritises the narrative and emotion behind the scene, so would offer thoughtful and interesting propositions on coverage.

‘In one of my favourite shots there was a moment when Tezlym looks up mid-take, seemingly for no reason. I loved the rest of the take so much, I really wanted to use it. My sound designer saw the same thing and added the sound of a bird flying away. It made the whole thing make complete sense and solidified it as my favourite shot.’

The scene

‘The fact that we shot it on 35mm film meant we had no playback on set. There were so many shots I couldn’t wait to see, but I couldn’t wait to see the section on the Heath. It was important it had a completely different aesthetic and it felt great while we were shooting it. Getting the hard drives was like Christmas come early. When I saw what we had captured, I was so excited for the edit. I think that is how creative projects should be; finishing one stage – of which there are many – should leave you feeling invigorated and excited for the next one.’
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