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Neil Maskell and Dimitri in Level-Up | © Universal Pictures UK
Neil Maskell and Dimitri in Level-Up | © Universal Pictures UK
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'Level-Up' Star Neil Maskell Talks About Working With Ben Wheatley And 'Humans' Season Two

Picture of Cassam Looch
Film Editor
Updated: 20 September 2016
Neil Maskell has made a name for himself appearing in such varied British fare as Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and High-Rise and the Channel 4 series Humans. In his latest film, the action thriller Level-Up, the London-born actor runs riot in the city as the mysterious Dimitri. Maskell recently gave us the lowdown on the movie and advice Wheatley has given him about filmmaking.

Level-Up follows an innocent man, Matt (Josh Bowman), who is forced to undertake a series of dangerous tasks in order to save his girlfriend after she has been kidnapped. One of these missions leads him to Dimitri, a man who may know more than he is letting on about what is going on.

Your character in Level-Up is a manipulative force in the film. What was it like approaching a character like that – someone who’s got many hidden layers?

It was fun because he’s representative of all the worst of media, sort of television manipulation. He’s a construct of everything that is horrible about that world. So we had loads of fun really, and with making sure the voice was really disguised and all that. The character, playing the role of a Eastern European, and then making it as ridiculous and as stereotypical as we could in a way that television could do that. You know we’re kinda mocking that.

He’s a presence in the film even if we don’t see him regularly. What was it like working on a story where you don’t come in at regular points, unlike other films in which you were on screen all the time?

You just make sure you’re still attached mentally to the process. Sometimes, acting in television, you can have three weeks off, but you have to make sure you’re not off for three weeks in your brain. You don’t want to lose your place in the narrative or lose that connection with the character. It was a quick shoot here, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Level Up | © Universal Pictures UK
Level Up | © Universal Pictures UK

The film is set and shot in a London I could easily recognize. As a Londoner yourself, have you noticed any changes while filming over the years?

Certainly. It’s funny – I’m speaking to you now while I’m walking around Shoreditch. There didn’t used to be a lot going on here other than the odd Saturday night gig in a warehouse, It was exciting when it was arty and upcoming, but now it tips over into Pret A Mangers and Caffè Neros so it feels a bit like anywhere. I think the changes are good and bad.

Could you ever leave London or is it just in your DNA?

We talked about leaving a couple of times, me and my girl, but I don’t think I could – my family is here and I’m a bit of a home bod.

How technologically savvy are you? It’s something that obviously plays a big part in this movie.

I’m a joke – technically useless! Technology left me behind. I’m all right with a smart phone. It kind of explains itself to you, so they are made for people like me, basically. I kind of like the DIY elements at Level-Up, because it’s still got a bit of technology but it felt anachronistic like yesteryear. It was physical and that felt like an homage to earlier films.

As you made your debut in Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth in 1997, you must have noticed some changes in technology on film sets since?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve seen it change a lot. I’ve made all manner of films, though, from big budget to small, independent ones. Nil By Mouth only really got made because Gary put his own money into it because it was such a non-commercial project. Because it was him though, it was a big crew. I’ve done action films that aren’t about social realism and domestic violence [like Nil By Mouth] that end up having smaller budgets.

It’s possible to make smaller films feel bigger now. I just came off a big movie and there was lots and lots of people with lots of equipment and that felt like Hollywood.

Do you want to get into directing in the future?

Yes, definitely. Funnily enough Ben [Wheatley] has a project called Whitehawk he wants to me to direct. I’m trying to get the money for it and have been for a long time. I’m writing something myself which is a whistleblower black comedy, so we’ll see how that goes as well.

Neil Maskell in Ben Wheatley's Kill List | © Warp X/Film 4
Neil Maskell in Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List’ | © Warp X/Film 4

What’s Ben Wheatley like as a director? He seems different to most of the directors I have spoken to in the past. He seems very open and candid.

He is. He always says, ‘Just tell the truth because its a lot easier to remember’. That’s where his candour comes from. He’s honest about what he’s doing. It’s nice to work with anyone unique and who works in their own way. He’s a one-off – no one works like him. I like being on sets in general. I really enjoy that. If it’s TV, Film or theatre or even writing, I enjoy that. I used to direct plays at college. I find the isolation of writing hard, but ultimately it’s just so rewarding.

And what do you have coming up?

I’ve just done the second season of Humans. It’s the ‘synth’ drama on Channel 4, but luckily I’m playing a Luddite in that so I’m the right man for the job! It’s a lot bigger this year and there is a lot more action. The world is opened out more in terms of the synths and the level of control they have this time around.

When we were doing the first series I thought we were onto something. I thought the idea was great and the original Swedish show was very successful. I had half an idea [about how big it would be]. The scripts were compelling, but you never can tell. Humans found that audience and I had high hopes, so I’m really pleased it has done as well as it has.

I also worked with Guy Ritchie on his King Arthur project, but I can’t talk about that otherwise they will come bash me up.

Level-Up is available on digital download and Blu-Ray now