Village is home to two movie stars

By Dave GooderhamAT first glance, the tiny village of Wattisfield does not seem like the usual setting for a Hollywood hotbed of acting talent.But the picturesque village is home to one family who are preparing to take Tinseltown by storm this summer.

By Dave Gooderham

AT first glance, the tiny village of Wattisfield does not seem like the usual setting for a Hollywood hotbed of acting talent.

But the picturesque village is home to one family who are preparing to take Tinseltown by storm this summer.

Father and son, John and Lex Shrapnel, will soon be coming to a screen near you in the big budget blockbusters Troy and Thunderbirds respectively.

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The pair, who have also starred together and alongside Harrison Ford in submarine thriller K-19 The Widowmaker, mixed with the likes of Brad Pitt, Bill Paxton and Orlando Bloom in making the movies, both expected to be big box office hits in the coming months.

Speaking from his Wattisfield home, John Shrapnel, whose two other sons are also involved in the film industry, said: "The fact that both are films are coming out at the same time is just a coincidence.

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"I have never prompted my sons to get into the industry, I just wanted them to find their own way. Suffolk is our sanity base and we all try to be here as much as possible."

John described epic saga Troy as a "joyful experience" working alongside Pitt in the title role, Orlando Bloom and Peter O'Toole.

"It is always exciting to do these major films where a huge amount of money is being spent. Everything we handled, from the costumes to the chariots, were all at the top end, while the sets were extraordinary," he said.

In the film, John plays Greek god Nestor, who has to help convince Pitt to start fighting. "I think the film will be terrific for Brad, who is a wonderful and charismatic actor," he added.

"I expect this will put a stamp on his career as an avenging action hero. I love Orlando Bloom as well. He has had such a meteoric rise, but he is a really nice guy and he has handled all the fame with great maturity."

A leading actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, John has also starred in Gladiator and Notting Hill.

Following in his father's footsteps, Lex Shrapnel stars as John Tracy, the oldest brother, in Thunderbirds, the film adaptation of the cult 1960s puppet show.

Starring alongside Paxton, who plays his father, Lex's character gets kidnapped by The Hood, played by Ben Kingsley, in an attempt to take over the world.

Speaking as he touched down from a filming shoot in Spain, Lex said: "I think every generation knows about Thunderbirds. I wouldn't say I was a die-hard fan of the series, but as soon as I heard that a film was being made, it was something I wanted to be part of.

"The experience was absolutely amazing and having seen the film, I can certainly say it is fantastic and I think it will be a big success.

"I certainly haven't seen such a colourful film in ages. Although The Matrix and Daredevil are great films, they are very bleak and this is the antithesis of that."

He added: "Paxton was really great. I was very excited when I knew I would be playing his son as I have always admired him as an actor ever since he starred in Weird Science.

"He is also a real character – when he first came over to England for shooting, I got a message from him saying that he just wanted to check in and meet his new son.

"When working with someone like that, it is nice to get to know him before shooting so when you get into the studio, there is no problems. It was a real pleasure to watch Ben Kingsley work and he gave me great advice."

However, the family's artistic talents do not stop with John and Lex – his older brother, Joe, is a writer and younger brother, Tom, is at film school.

Speaking about his father, Lex said: "He has been a huge influence on me and him and my mum have both been hugely supportive.

"Since I was a kid I never really considered anything else but acting. I have always been fascinated by what he was doing, whether it was in the theatre or filming in some cool location."

Amid a hectic whirl of filming, interviews and showbiz parties, the family, who have lived in Suffolk for almost 25 years, are under no illusions about who keeps their feet on the ground.

John said: "My wife Francesca is the one who keeps us all together and keeps sanity in the household.

"The house is our base and she makes sure everything is kept very efficient. I think we all wouldn't be able to do what we do without her around."

The proud mother, who met her husband on a film set in Madrid, said: "I am very proud of both John and Lex and that all three of my sons are following their father's footsteps into the profession.

"I think it is great and something that I would always support as long as they enjoy what they do and get the chance to do it. I certainly don't think it is any more risky than any other profession.

"You need an awful lot of luck and it is a case of being in the right place at the right time."

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