The last time ComingSoon.net spoke to Guy Ritchie, it was for his enigmatic existential action-thriller Revolver last year (that interview), and we ended up spending much of our time discussing various other recent movies.
Ritchie’s new movie RocknRolla returns him to the ensemble crime-comedies of his first two movies; we’ll try our best to sum up the complex plot in a couple sentences:
Gerard Butler plays One Two, the ersatz leader of a group of thieves and thugs known as the Wild Bunch, which includes Idris Elba’s Mumbles. They get on the bad side of Lenny Cole, an old-school gangster played by Tom Wilkinson, who’s gotten into a handshake deal with a rich Russian mogul, who’s given a valued painting to Lenny as a sign of good faith. When that painting disappears, Lenny’s strong-arm enforcer Archy, played by man-of-the-moment Mark Strong (who also co-stars in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies opening this week) believes One Two’s gang are responsible and goes after them. In fact, the painting has been stolen by Lenny’s derelict stepson played by Toby Kebbel (Control), a junkie punk rocker known as Johnny Quid. Also involved in this complicated web of characters is the Russian mobster’s accountant, played by Thandie Newton, one of the first strong female characters within one of Ritchie’s crime flicks, and Johnny’s managers, played by Jeremy Piven and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges.
CS had another chance to sit down with Ritchie up in Toronto, where he was premiering the movie at the annual film festival, and he paid us the greatest compliment when he saw that we were next to talk to, commenting that he’d finally be getting some “smart questions.” Hopefully we didn’t disappoint him, as we talked about the background for making his latest film and some of the other projects he’s been working on, including his high profile reinvention of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. And yes, we once again talked about other people’s movies, but seriously, is there anyone cooler to chat about movies with than Guy Ritchie?
ComingSoon.net: I just talked with Chris (aka Ludacris) a few minutes ago, and he’s great. Guy Ritchie: He’s cool isn’t he?
CS: Yeah, he’s a nice guy. I’m a big fan of his music and acting and everything. Ritchie: I’m a big fan of his. He’s just generally an all-around good chap, isn’t he?
CS: What did it take to get him to play a manager type? It’s a very different thing for him. Ritchie: Because it was very different thing for him. I think that’s why and I’m just a fan of his. He’s such a gent, he’s so polite, and easy to work with, and so cooperative, and humble.
CS: Did you deliberately try to find new people to work with this time? In general, you’d think that anyone would jump at the chance to be in one of your movies, but were you looking specifically for new people to work with in this? Ritchie: Yeah, and I wanted to put together a group of people who I thought were talented and interesting and who could work well together.
CS: You definitely have an affinity to doing these kind of movies with lots of characters, very complex stories… Why do you think that is? Ritchie: Because I find it entertaining, and I think at the end of the day what I’m most interested in is essentially making films that I want to go and see at the cinema, and this is the sort of thing I want to go and see.
CS: When you start writing a movie like this, where do you even begin? Do you start with one idea and just see where it leads you? Ritchie: Yes, I think you start off with one idea and gradually, it gathers momentum with the sort of organic process of gathering other ideas that feel as though they belong in the same milieu I suppose. Then eventually one thing leads to another, and another thing leads to another and then ultimately the frame for the canvas is the environment, so London became the canvas and the paint became all the characters on that, so that the template was London.
CS: Do you see this London as a very different London from “Lock, Stock”? Ritchie: It is a very different London. It’s a very different London now then the London that I grew up in. I suppose that’s why I sort of commented on it. It’s just that things have changed, things have moved on. There’s so much more wealth there than there was when I grew up. In the eighties, there was such a thing… they were called warehouse parties, and they were a big deal, two thousand people would turn up to these things and they were held the whole time. Warehouse parties can’t exist anymore because there are no more warehouses anymore. So that would give you some illustration of how much London has changed. In my youth, London was just a proliferation of warehouses and now we bought a house in Fulham for 8,000 pounds in ’72 and now it’s worth two million quid or something for the same house. Just to give you some idea.
CS: The real estate thing must come from some part of your own dealings with it. Ritchie: Sure, and there’s a kind of international group of entrepreneurs that recognize the money to be made in London over the last few years and I kind of like or I’m attracted to or entertained by their aggression in making sure they get their foot in the door. There’s a nouveau riche culture that has developed because of that which is also very un-English, but now, it’s not so un-English. It’s now kind of informed our culture, so this is all to me, fertile ground for a story.
CS: The funny thing is that if you want to throw a warehouse party now, you need corporate sponsorship. You can’t just do it like they used to. Ritchie: By the way, that’s true, right? That’s true, and also now there’s room for the corporation within its rather large and muscular arms, to enfold a more feral expression of creativity. It’s now, you need corporate sponsorship even to be a rebel. It’s kind of a funny idea that, you know?
CS: This is going to be a tough question, but do you like this new London? I’ve been going to London for at least twenty years and I was there last year and it definitely felt different to me. Ritchie: I like it. I like it because it’s more aggressive and London’s pretty aggressive anyway at the best of times. I like it because it’s volatile, it’s aggressive, and I hate this word, but I’m going to use it because it’s appropriate… it’s vibrant.
CS: What about Wembley Arena? That was a pretty amazing shot, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the inside of the arena except for football matches and concerts, and certainly don’t think anyone’s shot a movie there. What was involved with that? Ritchie: Well, football has become a phenomenon that no one expected it to become. It’s just become massive and that has exponentially grown I suppose with all the other things that were essentially disparate to the English culture. It only seemed pertinent to have this the oligarch in front of the new craze which is football. Well, I mean it’s been a craze for a long time, but it’s of religious proportions. So it’s a kind of a picture of an oligarch up to no good in front of a football pitch, was an illustration of a contemporary England. Now if there happens to be a chap called Ramon Ropovowitz in the U.K. who I’m sure is up to nothing but good things, I’m not pointing my finger specifically at him, but it was one of the characteristics of the oligarch. It was the football thing.
CS: Was it hard to convince them to let you shoot there? Ritchie: Actually, I’m surprised they let us shoot there. We were the first people in there and if you look carefully in the back, you can see they’re still laying the turf. That’s how quickly we managed to get in there. We were the first film crew in there.
CS: At what point in the writing do you start thinking about who to cast for certain? Obviously, there are a lot of great actors out there, but when you do you start looking to find people who can bring these characters you’ve written to life? Ritchie: I think that starts from the beginning, that process, and then it finishes when it finishes which means you have a wish list and you aim for those people and that wish list is informed by essentially whatever it is you are exposed to or watching. Also, everyone in the cast were people I’d been previously inspired by and enjoyed their work.
CS: I know Mark Strong has been doing TV in England for years and years, but he’s having this interesting year. In the last couple weeks, somebody will mention his name to me, “Mark Strong, Mark Strong” and I’d have no idea who he is, and then all of a sudden I see him in five movies and he’s great in every one of them. Had you seen him on TV and just decided you wanted to do something with him? Ritchie: Yeah, I saw a TV thing that he did called “The Long Firm.” It was this great little English Channel 4 thing series he did, and I just thought he was brilliant in it, so I got in business with him from there. He’s kind of appeared everywhere now, hasn’t he?
CS: He’s in Ridley Scott’s new movie and he’s pretty amazing in it, maybe even Oscar-worthy. It’s a really amazing performance, one that I hope will get him nominated. Ritchie: Oh really? Well, I think he’s really good in ours, don’t you?
CS: Yeah he is, exactly. Ritchie: I mean he really stands out.
CS: He plays a German in this Viggo Mortensen movie “Good” that’s also playing here in Toronto, and I wouldn’t have even known it was him. Ritchie: He’s in my “Sherlock Holmes” too.
CS: Oh, is he really? Ritchie: Yeah, and he was in “Revolver” as well. He played the hitman in “Revolver.”
CS: It’s one of those things where I’m sure I’m going to go back and see it and realize, “Oh, he was that guy.” He’s really having a year where he’s starting to get noticed. Ritchie: Great, and by the way, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
CS: And Toby Kebbell too is another one of those guys. Ritchie: Did you see “Control”?
CS: Yeah, and when I interviewed Anton Corbijn here last year, I told him how much I loved Toby as Rob Gretton from “Control” because played in such a different way from “24 Hour Party People” but was very funny. Had you seen him in “Control” before casting him in this? Ritchie: Oh, no. We filmed ours before “Control” had come out. Yeah I think so. We filmed it before. I think we had. Oh, maybe they had just finished and then we started filming ours. No, I saw Toby in “Dead Man’s Shoes.” Did you see “Dead Man’s Shoes”?
CS: Shane Meadows’ movie? Sure. Ritchie: I thought it was interesting “Dead Man’s Shoes.”
CS: He made two other movies since then: “This is England” and then he has another movie, both of which are really good. He has become a really good filmmaker. Ritchie: Yeah, he has. Started off a little wobbly, but he seems to have found a very strong identity.
CS: Earlier, Gerard Butler was telling a story about how he did a scene with Idris Elba where he was saying “f*ck” every other word. You’re kind of known for that as are a couple other filmmakers, known for not being afraid of using obscenities… Ritchie: By the way, as Lauren (Ritchie’s associate producer on the film) is my witness, I tried to extract all the f*cks within this film, even in the sex scene (chuckles) but somehow people think that they’re supposed to swear a lot in my movies. That wasn’t my intention at all. I know that Gerry does say f*ck every other word.
CS: Yeah, he talks like that normally anyway. Ritchie: That is what he must be, because it certainly wasn’t in the script.
CS: Maybe they think that when they’re in one of your movies, it’s expected of them. Ritchie: (laughs) I know. I’m trying to get away from that.
CS: I’ve talked to a few other filmmakers, and there’s always the decision between making a PG-13 movie or an R movie, and as it happens, one “f*ck” it’s PG-13 and two “f*cks” is an R. Why do you think that someone saying “f*ck” makes something funny or funnier? Ritchie: Well, it can and sometimes it can’t. There’s this particular TV show which swears incessantly, and I just can’t get over it. Every time it does it, it jars. They think they’re just doing it for the “f*ck factor” which then becomes conspicuously unattractive to me.
CS: By the way, on our site we always bleep the “f*cks”, so my boss must love that I keep asking this question of directors. Ritchie: (laughs)
CS: Was Tom Wilkinson’s character based on anyone in particular? I saw a documentary about Dominic Noonan a few months ago and I thought I saw a little bit of that character in Lenny. Ritchie: He was influenced a bit by a chap called Harry Flowers in the performance.
CS: I’m intrigued by how the bad guys always seem to have the most impact in your movies, such as with Dennis Farina in “Snatch.” Why do you think the bad guys end up being the ones that everyone loves and remembers? Ritchie: Yeah, unfortunately. People like the bad guys basically. Isn’t that really the same in “Dark Knight”?
CS: That is true. Ritchie: Bad guys, they get all the good lines.
CS: Why do you think that is, especially in your movies? Ritchie: I don’t know, but it’s just known; it’s a cliché that the bad guys get all the fun.
CS: “Sherlock Holmes” is an interesting choice for you, being only really your second adaptation. Ritchie: And by the way, I only just got Mark Strong like a half an hour ago, so it’s very recent. What I wanted to do is I wanted to be an aggressive filmmaker the next five years and try and do as many films as I could within that period and “Sherlock Holmes” just seems like the perfect segue, because it’s English. At the same time, it’s backed by Warner Brothers and it has an American audience and it’s a big action movie, so it has all the ingredients of fifty percent of what I’m known for and fifty percent of what I’m not known for, but it’s fresh, fertile ground for me and I like action frankly. I never really had any money to exercise some major action sequences and now I do and I have rather high falutin’ ideas, too.
CS: Was this an idea you came up with and pitched to Warner Brothers or was it something that came about mutually? Ritchie: No, they came to me.
CS: What about working with Joel Silver? What made you want to work with him, what did he bring to the table? Ritchie: Well, he’s an aggressive filmmaker and he’s aggressive for material and he’s very candid and I like that. I went to him about a film he was making at the time and that’s still in development, but at the same time it looked like that was a major undertaking. Plus I said, “While we’re waiting for that to happen, why don’t I just show you instead of sitting around and I can get up and running in six weeks?” And eight weeks later we were making it.
CS: Was that original project “The Dirty Dozen” remake? Ritchie: Yeah it is.
CS: Is that still happening? Ritchie: Yeah, as soon as the script is good enough I’d like to give that a whirl too.
CS: I’ve talked to Zak Penn few times over the years and I thought it was interesting that you were having someone else write a movie for you to direct. Ritchie: Sure, but writing takes so long, man, that I can’t spend my whole life writing.
CS: I can understand that. Do you ever feel like developing other directors or taking some newer filmmakers under your wing? Ritchie: I haven’t been looking aggressively, but we have a production company called Toff Guy Films which is where “RocknRolla” came from. And sure, if we can find someone that I think I can work with then I’d be happy to do that. I’d love to find a directing partner.
CS: What made you think of Robert Downey Jr. to play your Sherlock Holmes? I know his wife Susan co-produced this movie, but what was it about him that made you know he could pull off a convincing Holmes? Ritchie: I know he was a fan of “RocknRolla” and I was a fan of his work and it just seemed like a natural fit. We both conspired to be interested in this movie at the same time, so it just seemed to have happened organically.
CS: And he already grew the moustache especially for the part. Ritchie: He did. I’m not sure that’s staying.
CS: Oh, okay. I guess he grew the moustache anyway, so that he could talk about the movie. Ritchie: Yeah, I kind of like the ‘tache, but we’ll see.
CS: Getting Mark Strong in that will be good, because he’ll be a lot more well known by the end of the year. Ritchie: So you think Mark Strong is going to be a star?
CS: I think he’s going to be one of these guys like Paul Giamatti who can break out of the character actor thing and do more leading roles. What are you looking for in a Watson? There’s been a lot of talk in magazines about some possible choices. Ritchie: I’m looking for a new Watson. I’m looking for an un-stereotypical Watson.
CS: What is a stereotypical Watson? Ritchie: He’s rather overweight and plays a bit of a psychic. This is supposed to be more “Butch and Sundance” than it is supposed to be Holmes and Watson.
RocknRolla opens in select cities on Wednesday, October 8, with plans to release it wide on October 31. Look for our short but exclusive interview with Chris Bridges (AKA Ludacris) in a couple of weeks.