Interview with James Cosmo on My Sailor, My Love

The name James Cosmo may not be one many recognize right away, but there’s a high likelihood you’ve watched him in one movie or TV show. Whether it’s Braveheart or Game of Thrones, or even more family-friendly fare such as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, or HBO’s most recent iteration of His Dark Materials, Cosmo’s nearly 60-year career as an actor has seen him traverse through many different performances in many different genres.

For his latest film, My Sailor, My Love, Cosmo does something that is a bit of a rarity. Rather than serve as a supporting character, Cosmo takes the lead in a performance that is sure to move audiences. He plays Howard, a widower and retired sea captain who has an estranged relationship with his daughter, Grace (Catherine Walker). When Grace makes the decision to hire a caretaker named Annie (Brid Brennan), Howard scoffs at the idea. But Howard and Annie soon develop a relationship that neither anticipated, and one to which Grace objects.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Cosmo about his new film, the rare opportunity to play the lead character, and what the future holds for him. You can read the full transcript below.

A lot of your roles are mainly supporting roles – Braveheart, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy, and Trainspotting. You’re primarily known for playing supporting characters and this is more of a lead role. Was there any intimidation when taking on this role because it’s more of a lead, or have you been doing this so long that the intimidation factor has kind of gone to the wayside?

Oh, no. When I read the script, I was very interested in doing it. Also, I’d seen a film that Klaus Haro had directed called The Fencer, which I thought was absolutely beautiful, and I had a couple of Zoom calls with Klaus and felt very comfortable about going over there to Ireland to shoot the movie. I was very keen to do it, because you don’t often get a chance to being a film that is so nuanced, and it seems a very simple story on the face of it. But there are so many different dynamics going on within those characters that I found absolutely fascinating.

The movie is gorgeous to look at, and, to me, every time I watch a movie that’s based in Ireland, it’s almost like a prerequisite for the movie to be gorgeous to look at – whether it’s this or The Banshees of Inisherin or anything else. Is it that easy to capture Ireland and all the beauty of it, or does it still take some expertise to capture it and all its beauty?

Well, I think it was interesting, because Klaus’ cinematographer [Robert Nordstrom] was Finnish as well. So it was a combination between Irish crew and maybe 30% of Finnish folk. So, it did have a Scandinavian clarity to it – a cleanness about it. But that combined with the natural beauty of County Mayo and the ruggedness and loneliness of it was beautiful to see. And Ireland, as you say, is very cinematic. But I think Klaus managed to capture something special about it.

It’s crazy that this is his first English speaking movie, too, and he does such a great job with it as well. So, that really shows a true testament to his skills as a director.

Oh, absolutely. I’d certainly recommend you watch The Fencer. Obviously, when you don’t know someone’s work and he’s a foreign director, you wonder how it’s going to look. But when I saw The Fencer, I noticed how it was a story about much bigger things but told in a microcosm. And I find that very effective and Klaus has a real understanding about that but you never felt as if you were being directed, which is a sign of a really good director.

I’ll have to check out his other work, especially The Fencer.


Now, with your character [Howard], the character with whom he falls in love is named Annie, and I saw that is the name of your wife in real life. Was that actually written for you, or was that a coincidence?

Oh, that was just a coincidence, yeah.

That’s so great to just walk into that and realize the character that you fall in love with is also the same name as your wife.

Yeah, I know. It’s funny. I was never going to dry on the name, that’s for sure. [laughs]

There’s a moment in the film where Howard’s estranged daughter, Grace, unloads on how he was as a father and, for most of the movie, we see him as this alone person who then finds new love and re-sparks his life. But then, when that scene comes into play, it makes me, as a viewer, think that there could be something different, something we don’t know. Was that how you took it as well, or did you know how Howard was before it got to that moment and then afterward, too?

I think it was the fact that Howard’s character is like all of our characters. We can be viewed from one perspective by one person as someone, and that’s who Annie sees is this man. But then you can take the viewpoint of his daughter, and she sees another man. The dynamics between his daughter and this woman are completely different, but all that cruelty Howard has with his daughter is real, and the gentleness and love he has for Annie is absolutely real. It just shows the complexity of our characters that we can be, in one respect, seemingly uncaring or wishing to have a closed door on things that have gone on in the past and yet be able to turn and create a new relationship with this woman.

The movie is about falling in love again and finding a new spark and feeling young again. What are some key lessons that you hope people will take away from this movie, and what key lessons did you take away from playing Howard?

I think we are all incredible compounds of conflicting interests. Howard is very selfish in a way, because he’s treated his daughter that way, and he does fall in love, but he wants things to be what he always dreamed of – having a real family, having this lovely, warm relationship. We’re all incredibly complex characters and can be thoughtless and deliberately blind to relationships that should be solved. You just feel that Howard is a man who’s put aside all the things that happened with his first wife and his daughter and all of that angst that has gone on, and that we are all complex characters with good and bad intentions in each and every one of us. Howard isn’t a good guy and he’s not a bad guy. He’s just a guy.

Howard is a retired sea captain, and he lives by the sea. I’m curious what retirement looks like for you, or is retirement not even a thing you’re thinking about?

I can’t envision retiring at all. Maybe I’ll get retired and not in the mafia way, but people will just become less interested. But, no, I’m continuing to work, and I think retiring always seems to me as if you’re like, “Oh, at last, I don’t have to do something.” Well, I’ve never felt that way about acting. I’m very happy when I’m acting; I still love it to this day. If I retired, I would be losing something that I cared a great deal about. So, I don’t want to do that. As long as my brain and my body hold out, I’ll still be knocking at the door, asking if there’s a job somewhere.

Understandable. It’s like once you find something you love, you just keep going until you can’t do it anymore.

Absolutely! And the great thing is that, no matter what age you are in my profession, there’s always parts out there. There are wonderful parts to play.

Circling back to the first question I had, and I’ll have this be my last question, too. Are you able to blend in with the rest of the crowd, or do you get more recognition now because of Game of Thrones and other projects you’ve taken on?

Yeah! You know, I always regard any sort of that sort of reaction [as] a bit like collateral damage to what you do. I’m in a business that survives because people watch it. Obviously, you’re going to get recognized. But, to be honest, no one’s ever been rude to me or anything, and I appreciate people saying, “I saw you in a movie and I enjoyed it.” That’s great, and I really do appreciate it. And I’ve often thought that plumbers never get told, “Gee, you were great at fixing that leak or doing my radiator. What a talented man you are; you’re just amazing that you did that.” Actors get to hear that. People that aren’t actors, that actually work for a living, don’t get told that. So, I feel very privileged.

It’s like there’s more recognition for actors than there is for a lot of others roles – not saying that that’s a bad thing or anything.

Yeah, it’s just the way it is. But I think everyone should be appreciated for their talents.

And I saw that you do a lot of Cameo, where you do greetings for people. That’s a new way to engage with fans of your work but also with people who maybe don’t know you as well.

Yeah, it’s lovely, you know? And some of the people I’ve communicated with – it’s been really touching and it’s very sweet. It gives you a good feeling.

This concludes the interview. On behalf of Cinema Sentries, I would like to thank James Cosmo for taking the time to speak with me.

My Sailor My Love is now available to rent or own on digital platforms.

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David Wangberg

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