Wigilia interview with Duglas T Stewart in The National.
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Duglas T Stewart swaps music for movies with a starring role in heart-warmer Wigilia
STARRING in a film is something of a departure for Glasgow musician Duglas T Stewart, but the feature is already being lapped up by his fans across the world.
Wigilia has been released online and so has far been viewed in Japan, the United States and countries across Europe including Scotland.
As well as Stewart, founder of BMX Bandits — one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite bands — the film also stars Iwona Glowinska, from the band Featherwest.
It is the first feature from director Graham Drysdale, whose short films have scooped awards on the American festival circuit. He has a unique approach to casting, selecting charismatic non-actors and allowing them to lead the story largely through improvisation.
The producers are Grant McPhee, producer of Big Gold Dream and Teenage Superstars, and Steven Moore, who has worked on The Angels' Share and TV series Outlander.
Created on a microbudget, Wigilia explores Polish and Scottish traditions as part of an uplifting romantic indie drama.
WHY IS IT RELEVANT?
GLOWINSKA plays Agata, a Polish cleaner stranded in Glasgow for Christmas who prepares her traditional Christmas Eve meal — Wigilia — in a client’s house. Stewart plays the client’s prodigal brother, the unexpected pilgrim that arrives at her table.
“Agata is just another hard-working Polish girl who finds herself in Glasgow,” said Glowinska. “She misses her family very much, especially at Christmas time. She decides to make Christmas Eve just as she would if she were in Poland, hoping to feel her family close to her. Instead she finds Robbie, who became her Christmas miracle.”
Added Stewart: “The film is becoming more topical by the day, although it is not really about the political side but about finding home in other places. It’s a very human story about two people who are lost in different ways and how they found each other by chance on Christmas Eve. The next year they find each other again and it is about where they are now and how their lives have been affected by their previous meeting.
“It is quite a slow-paced film, quite a quiet story but although it is slow-moving it is intriguing.”
HOW DID HE GET INVOLVED?
STEWART has done a little bit of acting in the past, but the phone call asking him to be involved in Wigilia came out of the blue.
“The director contacted me through social media to say that one of parts he had made was created with me in mind. He said he didn’t know if I had done any acting but wondered if I would be interested. It was a big compliment so I was pleased to go and talk about it.
“A lot of decisions I make in life are to do with how I like the person, and when I met him I thought I would like to hang out with him. If you agree to do something like this you are putting yourself in a vulnerable situation, so there has to be an element of trust. I had a very good feeling about Graham; he is a genuine person.”
DID HE FIND IT EASY?
IN the film Stewart plays a wannabe musician.
“Mostly when I have acted before I’ve played characters that are not like me in any way, so this was interesting because certain aspects of the character are like me. It’s quite strange to play a character who is like you but who isn’t you. It’s actually quite a challenge. I think it is maybe how people who don’t know me well imagine what I am like.” The end result, he thinks, is “heart-warming and compassionate”.
“I think it is quite nice when we are reminded there are really nice people out there who sometimes might make mistakes but are trying their best. It is quite a small, personal story but that is how all our lives are, and I think it feels very universal. I think a lot of very different people could see it and connect with it and see parallels with their own lives.
“In the first half of film when you meet Robbie you can tell he is trying to be a good person and basically a nice guy but he is not letting any barriers down. In the second half of the film it is the same character but he is in a place where he can’t keep the mask on any more. That’s interesting, as it is the same character but there is a subtle change.”
ANY OTHER CHALLENGES?
UNUSUALLY, the film was made in two stages, with the actors not meeting up again for a year before filming the second part.
“We met for three or four days for the first half,” said Stewart. “During the day we would discuss where the story was taking us and would improvise it, then shoot it in the evening.”
The cast were a little taken aback when they were told to meet up again in 12 months' time.
“That was interesting,” said Stewart. “It was almost like there was a realness to it when we met up again. There is a level of honesty about the film.
“I think it is refreshing as you gradually get to know these characters and hopefully by the end you are engaged and connected to them and care what happens.”
Another plus for Stewart’s fans is that he wrote a song specially for the film and sings it when he is playing Robbie.
Stewart said he found the acting easier than expected, despite his inexperience, because of Glowinska’s skill.
“She was just great and made so much of it very easy for me because I was naturally reacting to what she was doing in front of me. She was so believable I would get caught up in story and not be worrying about what I had to say next.”
He believes the film offers something different for cinema audiences. “You get the sense that a lot of people are getting fed up with CGI films and are looking for something different. Ours is the exact opposite — more gentle and more human,” he said.