Daniel Webber plays political activist Stephen Lee in director Francis Annan’s gritty, true‐to‐life prison break drama, Escape From Pretoria.
Due for release 6th March, Webber is cast alongside Daniel Radcliffe (Tim Jenkin) as the pair face up against a broken country and the antagonists of an apartheid.
Zavvi spoke to star Webber about the appeal of the story, meeting the real Stephen Lee, and why Escape From Pretoria speaks to a modern climate.
Zavvi: What drew you in to star in the film?
Webber: I was approached about a year and a half ago. I received an email from Francis [Annan] saying he thought I’d be a good fit for Stephen [Lee] and pretty soon after we had a chat on the phone.
I loved the script, liked the story, but I wanted to make sure he had a hand on how to tell this story. So, I penned him some questions and he answered them in essay form. He had such a thorough knowledge; there was no way anyone could tell this story better than Francis.
Zavvi: As the book [Inside Out] is from Tim Jenkin’s perspective, how did you get to know Stephen Lee?
Webber: I’ve read the book and there’s this very strange dilemma to try and understand who Stephen was. Why would these guys throw away this life that they had? The cruelty, injustice, and inequality of the time, it’s just hard to believe that this was a reality.
I watched a documentary and just by watching it you can kind of get a sense of Stephen, of this person. There was this compassion, intelligence, and this all‐round strong‐willed demeanour. These people took it upon themselves to battle the government with serious consequences for themselves.
Before shooting, Daniel [Radcliffe] and I were lucky enough to Skype each of them [Jenkin and Lee] and ask some questions. Obviously, we chatted about their upbringing and interests, but their stories about propaganda and the apartheid helped answer my ‘how? what? why?’ and understand the government brain.
Zavvi: What did you learn about Jenkin and Lee?
Webber: Well, it’s two men, two activists, that went on a mission because they shared thoughts of a revolution. The time they spent together was probably the most valuable resource.
I can’t speak for Daniel [Radcliffe], but I walked away from these conversations very excited and energised. It’s one thing to read a story, but to sit there and have a conversation with the actual person, and hear about the challenging experiences, it just really changes your perspective of the story.
Zavvi: What was the biggest challenge you faced on set?
Webber: I think Francis had more challenges holding it together. [Laughs]. I’ve had the script in my hand for nearly six months doing countless rehearsals, so I felt very comfortable there.
In a traditional sense, there was timings like getting shots with natural lighting in 20 minutes but overall it was a really good shoot.
We shot over six weeks which is a pretty short amount of time, especially for a film with lots of action set pieces. Because of this, we had the energy of Tim and Stephen’s actual escape like ‘we have to get out now’ – that adrenaline was crucial when we needed to shoot urgently.
Zavvi: What would you say is the message of the film, and what would you like audiences to take away from their experience watching it?
Webber: Perspective. Someone enjoying a life at the expense of someone else’s is something that needs light. The courage and passion behind standing up for something you actually believe in for the benefit of humankind is something we all need to think about.
All you need to do, really, is put a brick down so the person behind you can put another brick on top, and then another, and another until the roof.
Community, and equality, and humanity, the kind of basic human requirements, is really the message of the film. Stephen and Tim needed to do something. And they did.
Zavvi: I can see there’s this strong political message driving the film, but it’s also just a really cool
Webber: Yes! [Laughs]. Absolutely, absolutely. A great story with a very politically driven agenda behind it.
Escape From Pretoria is in cinemas and on digital HD 6th March.