Martin Compston (Liam)
"We had a long search for the lad who plays Liam because he has to be lots of different things, and I suppose the search helped us define what we were looking for," says Loach. "He's a working class lad, he's very bright, he makes you smile when you meet him because of his cheek and his ability to come up smiling at whatever life throws at him. So he's a survivor. "
After months of interviews, 17-year-old Martin Compston was chosen from a local school. He had never acted before. "To be honest, I didn't really want to go for the audition - I'm not an actor, it was my dad who made me go," says Compston who had a greater interest in signing up for the Morton Football Club in the Scottish Second Division and now, to his great pride, is in the first team squad. "I think it's interesting that Martin is a footballer because of the discipline of training. When the whistle blows you've got to perform. You pick yourself up after whatever knocks you get - I think that discipline was important as preparation for the kind of work you have to do when you are filming," says Loach.
Compston found Loach's directing style helped him, despite his lack of experience. "Ken never loses his rag, he always just gave me advice and talked me through everything," says Compston, "but at the same time he lets you express yourself. He'll let you change things and he listens too. "
The story was filmed in sequence with the script going to the actors in small chunks with some details hidden. "The way Ken reveals the story helped me hundreds!" explains Compston. "The surprises - I didn't even need to act half the time. It got to the point where I didn't believe anything he was saying. I thought somebody was going to jump out of somewhere!"
For his performance as Liam, Compston received the award for Most Promising Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards and was nominated for a European Film Award as Best Actor.
Michelle Coulter (Jean - Liam's mother)
Michelle Coulter had never acted before her audition for SWEET SIXTEEN, having spent the ladt 10 years working in drug rehabilitation projects. Despite the lack of experience, Coulter was still able to connect with the part. "Jean is very insecure and messed up. She's not a very good mother. I think it's the way she has been brought up. She's not got the skills she should have to be a parent," explains Coulter.
The story begins with Jean in prison, having taken the rap for Stan, her criminal boyfriend. "Finding Liam's mother was the most difficult casting of all," says Loach. "Although she isn't in the film very much, she is the figure the plot turns on. " Laverty adds, "How Liam perceives his mum is what drives the whole film. What a child SEES and what actually IS can often be different. "
Annmarie Fulton (Chantelle - Liam's sister)
19-year-old Annmarie Fulton has completed an HND qualification in acting but had never appeared on camera before. She plays Chantelle, a 17-year-old single parent. "I'd say that Chantelle is the head of the family," says Annmarie. "She's headstrong, she knows what she wants. She's been more of a mum to Liam than her own mother has. "
Before filming she and Martin visited a children's home as part of their research. "Standing next to the people in the home was quite scary - you could see they were kind of showing off but that was a reaction to them being there I think-being tough and hard. I think that's what made Chantelle headstrong and want to better herself, trying to block that out. " Annmarie describes the bond between Chantelle and Liam as being particularly strong: "She's scared of Liam being a waster I think, being like his mother. He means everything to her. Apart from Calum that's all she's got. He's her only real family so to lose him would break her heart. "
"I think she's bright and probably more perceptive than Liam," says Laverty. "Not more intelligent, but emotionally more canny. She has recognised that it's much easier to have nothing to do with her mother because she's been so disappointed by her time and time again. "
Early in the filming, Annmarie describes how she began to develop her character. "I was on the train coming home late one night. This young lassie got on - she must have been 16 or 17. She sat with her pal. I sat listening to their conversation. She had a wee boy. The way she was dressed you could tell she didn't have money, all her money went to her wee boy. It gave me a picture. Chantelle is a real character, not just out of a book. "
William Ruane (Pinball)
"Liam and Pinball met in a children's home. Pinball had been in quite a few, that's how he got the name Pinball, going from home to home," explains 16-year-old William Ruane. "Pinball doesn't live with his mum and dad. He's usually out and about with his pal Liam. Anything Liam does, Pinball does. He takes things to heart if he gets hurt. " Compston points out that Pinball has even less than Liam. "Liam has Chantelle but Pinball has nobody. Liam is Pinball's family. "
"Pinball is a very unpredictable character, a bit of a loose cannon," says Loach. "In the things William did there was a kind of edginess - a zany quality in his eyes, which seemed to fit. And he's very imaginative. "
Ruane is still at school in Glasgow but has already focused on drama with theatre productions for Raindog Young Blood.
"I think maybe as a child, Pinball was brought up in quite a hard way," says Ruane. "He was not loved as he should have been and, as a result, he's been in children's homes. He grew up with tough people, and he's learned to take care of himself which is good where he lives. He needs to look out for himself in case there is trouble. "
Gary McCormack (Stan - Jean's boyfriend)
Gary McCormack is well known for his acting work, most notably in TV dramas including the award-winning The Acid House trilogy. Recently, he spent 6 months filming the Academy Award-nominated GANGS OF NEW YORK with Martin Scorsese in Italy. Originally from Leith in Edinburgh, McCormack has also performed in bands on bass guitar for many years, most notably with punk band The Exploited, which toured all over the world.
McCormack enjoyed the process of discovering his character without knowing the plot from day to day. "I felt more relaxed than I have on any other job. You go home and you think, what happened to me today?"
Stan and Jean's relationship is mutually dependent in many ways. Stan is a drug dealer who dreams of one day going legitimate and needs Jean to believe in him. "Maybe daydreams help people get through very grim realities," explains Laverty. "I'm sure there are moments of tenderness between Stan and Jean. " Strains are felt in his relationship with Liam. "Basically, I think Stan is a bit jealous of Liam because Liam seems to be doing well for himself," says McCormack.
McCormack's other credits include GANGSTER NO 1 (2000), COMPLICITY (2000), MARCIE'S DOWRY (1999) and THE ACID HOUSE (1998).
Tommy McKee (Rab - Jean's father)
Tommy McKee comes from Greenock. Previous work experience includes 6 years in the army, boxing and even dancing at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. He never officially set his sights on acting, explaining, "I thought I'd go to the audition for a joke and see what happened. " McKee found the experience much easier than he expected. "I had freedom of speech, I wasn't restricted. I was just being natural. I could speak my mind. "
"Rab is used to being a 'dogsbody' to people with more talent and greater power," explains Laverty. "He's probably been a bully to his partner too. He's had odd jobs here and there but probably hasn't worked very much. " When Stan starts seeing his daughter, Jean, Rab sees an opportunity. "He's a typical bully," Laverty continues, "quite fragile but associates with stronger people. Taking it out on more vulnerable people. It's a kind of dog-eat-dog world where everyone, according to their talent and power, finds their own way of surviving the maze. "
McKee thoroughly enjoyed his first experience of filming, but there were some surprises. "I never realised how dangerous it was to make films. Not even the stunt man was prepared to risk what I did. .. I had to climb over a barbed wire fence, and my trousers got caught in the middle of a take, but they just kept filming - put it this way, I started out over the fence as a man and nearly came back as a woman!"
Despite the harshness of the character, McKee sees beneath the rough exterior. "His family is all mixed up. He's never had peace in his life and he knows he'll never get it. He sees Liam as part of the problem. "