Luke Treadaway: If A Street Cat Named Bob helps just someone, it’s a success

British actor Luke Treadaway reflects his own stint with rough sleeping and working with the world's favourite feline

Luke Treadaway is one of the UK’s hottest young actors. Having first caught the nation’s attention in 2005, playing conjoined twins in a rock band in oddball indie film Brothers of The Head (alongside his twin brother Harry), the 32-year-old has gone on to an exciting and eclectic career.

We’ve seen him as an idealistic young scientist in Sky Atlantic thriller Fortitude, playing snooker wild-man Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins in The Rat Pack on the BBC, in an acclaimed, Olivier Award-winning lead role at the National Theatre in The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time, Hollywood blockbuster Clash Of The Titans, and as stoner student Brewis in Attack The Block.

Stepping into the shoes of former Big Issue seller turned publishing phenomenon James Bowen in A Street Cat Named Bob – the cinema adaptation of the chart-topping book – allows the rising star to indulge his twin passions of music and acting, performing seven original songs in the film. The Big Issue caught up with Treadaway in London…

Was this a special film for you?

Even taking aside the fact that it is a real story for a moment, it is very rare that you find a story that deals with such important issues in today’s society as homelessness and addiction.

And yet it doesn’t sugar coat these serious issues…

Exactly. It deals with a lot of difficult issues but is ultimately uplifting. We could not show some aspects of what addiction can be like, because it is a PG film, but there is a power in that because it means younger people can see it and hopefully ask questions and start a conversation with their parents.

How was it getting to know James Bowen before playing him on screen?

It has been great. We are pals now. He comes to my flat, we hang out. The first time was a few weeks before filming. James and Bob came over, we chatted and played a bit of guitar. Bob sat in the guitar case being brilliant, and James was so open about aspects of his life. I would pick his brain about certain scenes, such as what it physically feels like at that stage of coming off heroin. He bared his soul in the book and to us. James has a wonderful, gorgeous energy about him. I can’t imagine what it was like for him during filming. He was full of excitement seeing me busking with Bob on my shoulder, but it must have been strange, thinking that he was doing that for real a few years ago.

When I read the script, the first thing I knew I had to do was go busking and sleep for a night on the streets

How did you prepare for the role?

When I read the script, the first thing I knew I had to do was go busking and sleep for a night on the streets. It would be a complete joke if I came to work pretending to be a homeless busker having never done it. James was really kind. We spent an evening walking around Soho and he would tell me what he would have done. Then he’d look on as I busked and give me coaching. In five hours, it ranged from feeling elated when someone said hello or gave me a pound to sitting outside Leicester Square tube feeling completely invisible.

James Bowen meets Luke Treadaway and Ruta Gedmintas while filming A Street Cat Named Bob

What was your experience of sleeping rough?

James had been pointing out certain places: “That was the doorway I woke up in one Christmas morning, this is a hot air vent you can get a bit of warmth from”. I found a bit of cardboard and slept on the pavement. It might sound like I was a tourist in that world, but the bigger picture was wanting the film to be as authentic as possible. I spoke to someone who was on the streets during filming as well. Three months earlier they had been living at home with their wife and kids. It can happen so quickly. It is people’s own discomfort with the situation that can make them look away. ‘If I look the other way, that person won’t really be there’. But they are there. If this film makes one person talk to a person on the street, buy them a cup of tea, buy a Big Issue or even just say hello, then it is already a success.

How important was getting the music right?

I love music and have always had guitars around as a kid. So it was great. Charlie Fink is a great songwriter and his songs are a lovely part of the film. They give it, at times, a way in emotionally. It drives the story. You see him playing at different moments – sometimes with rain pouring down when he is trying to eat a soggy sandwich. Some days we would be filming and Roger the director would suddenly say, let’s do that song now. So I sang and played them live in the scenes. It was a great extra element to the filming.

DID YOU KNOW…

Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.

Did you enjoy working with the most famous cat in the country?

It was lovely and comforting and warming walking through Covent Garden with Bob on my shoulders. For those scenes, we would walk it through with Bob on James’s shoulder, because he would always want to be on his dad’s shoulders not mine. Then, after a few runs through, he was fine on my shoulders. It was amazing. They have such a huge following, so lots of people would run up to us, shouting “Bob, Bob”! At times I felt scared if there were crowds of people, but Bob was always very supportive. He is such a dude.

It was lovely and comforting and warming walking through Covent Garden with Bob on my shoulders

Has getting inside James’ head changed the way you interact with people?

I have always bought the Big Issue, even growing up in Exeter. It is a great magazine and I love the idea behind it. The arrangement between Big Issue and vendor where they are running their own business? What an amazing way of helping people. But making the film and talking with James has given me a new understanding and empathy. It also made me angry that the government is not doing more. You have The Big Issue and Shelter and some great charities doing incredible work. But it seems strange to have a country where on one street you can have handbags for sale for £5000 while someone is sleeping rough because they can’t afford shelter that night. There is such a wealth gap.