Sunday, August 22, 2010

Interview with Noel Clarke (writer, director and star of Adulthood) - June 11th, 2008

Promoting: Adulthood
Venue: Soho Hotel
Interview type: Round table

ViewLondon (VL): Writer, actor, now director – what was that like for you?

Noel Clarke (NC): Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was obviously a challenge, but I'd been acting for a few years and writing for about half of that time as well and so when the film company asked me to direct, it wasn't something that I wanted to miss. So I had to do a test shoot, which was shoot a few scenes from the film, so they could approve that, so I did that and they passed it and then I got to do the feature.

VL: Will you concentrate more on acting, writing or directing now, do you think?

NC: Well, I'm hoping – I know there's a real thing in this country where they like to shove you into a box but I'm allowed to do all three because essentially, that's what I do. I remember when Kidulthood came out, people were like, 'Do you write now? Is that what you do?' and I was like, 'Well, no, I still act as well', so if I'm allowed to, I'd like to still be able to do all three. Although not always at the same time.

VL: What have you got coming up?

NC: I'm doing a film with Jim Sturgess called Heartless, which is directed by Philip Ridley and that's just as an actor. And it's great to be able to sit on set and look at the director stressing and be like, 'Ah, yeah', you know, 'cos I've done it. And obviously I'd just like to continue my writing and hopefully to be able to direct more stuff as well.

VL: The role of Sam is very different in this film to the last one. How did you set about transforming him from the villain into the hero or anti-hero?

NC: Well, obviously he's the same character and in the first film he was more like a one-dimensional bully and was there to serve a purpose. And in this film, obviously he's learned a valuable lesson and has to come out and deal with the consequences of his actions. But you know, it had to be his character because he had the biggest journey to go on. Because what a lot of young people that do these things don't realise, it's not just about you, it's about your victims and about how they feel. And I think that people aren't necessarily afraid of prison, you know, and I wanted to show that you go in there, there's people that really do really horrible things and if you're young like Sam was, you know, and you realise, actually, I was just a guy that thought I was some kind of big-shot but actually you go in there and there's really horrible people, you become humble very quickly. And you either go one of two ways, you either are sorry and you come out and you change or it can make you worse. And I wanted to show a character that is actually truly sorry when he comes out and wants to change his life. But I didn't want to make it too easy - in fact, he didn't come out saying sorry, he just wanted to be left alone. [SPOILERS] But then throughout the day, he's realising what he's done and who he's hurt, so when he says sorry at the end, he's earned it and you know that he truly means it.

VL: When you finished writing the first film, did you always have an idea of how you thought the character's life would go after the film had finished?

NC: No, I didn't. There wasn't even going to be a second film, it wasn't something I was interested in doing. I was back filming series 2 of Doctor Who at the time and it wasn't something I was thinking about. But then one of the actresses got a bit excited and she was telling people there was going to be a second one and she was going to do this and she was going to do that and I was like, 'This girl's mad', but then I thought, 'Actually, if I was going to do a second one, what would I do?' And I thought it would have to be that character and supported by Jay as well, that character, because he was friends with Trife and what would happen to you if your friend got killed like that, what would it turn you into? [SPOILERS] And I think throughout this film you see Jay as almost one-dimensional like Sam was but then at the end he says, 'I'm here because of you', you know, 'You did this, if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be like this'. And you think 'Oh wow', that's what happened, it becomes like a vicious circle, people do things and then other people want to get them back and at some point somebody has to walk away or it never ends. Or it does end when someone dies.

VL: He was such a bad character in the first film - were you worried that it would be difficult for audiences to be sympathetic towards him in this one?

NC: Yeah, yeah, completely. I can see that. But even at the end, if they're not sympathetic, I don't necessarily mind. You can't always be forgiven by everyone if you do something as deplorable as he'd done. But if you're truly sorry within yourself, I think that's what counts. Not everyone's going to forgive you, but you don't always deserve to be forgiven. But what counts is if you've done something and you've learned from that mistake and you are not going to do it again and you are truly sorry and you've changed your life and become a better person and it's one less person doing wrong on the streets, I think that's what matters. So if people come out and they're like, 'Well, I still don't like the character', that's fine, as long as they can see that the message is there, that you can be an individual and walk away and not participate in continuing the circle of violence.

VL: Why do you think Kidulthood was so popular?

NC: I think it's just the air of authenticity because other films have come out that have tried to do the same thing and they've dropped like a lead safe. And I think the reason Kidulthood has been so popular is the authenticity, I think people can tell. If it's written by people that know or people that actually care, I think the audience can tell and I think that's what happened. Because, I mean, apart from Bridget Jones, Mr Bean or 28 Days Later, I defy you to tell me any British sequels made in this country. [No answer]. Right? And the reason we got a sequel is because the audience spoke. They went to see the film because their generation was captured by the movie and they went to see it. Sequels just don't happen in this country, for British films. And I think it is the authenticity, it's the fact that they related to it. A lot of adults and journalists were saying, 'This doesn't happen, this is ridiculous, kids don't have sex at fifteen, this is outrageous' and all the kids were like, 'We do this, man!'

VL: What about the accusations that Kidulthood glamorised and promoted violence?

NC: In real life, if you get hit with a baseball bat, you might die. That's what happens in real life. In other movies, you get thrown through a window, you get rolled over by a car and you get up and you fall through a pool table, that's glamorising violence to me. Because it's making it unrealistic, it's telling you these things can happen to you and you'll be fine, but in real life, you get hit once, just get hit wrong with the wrong thing and you might die. And it wasn't glamorising, it was just reflecting what society was doing and I think, unfortunately the film was right.

VL: Kids are always in the news – only yesterday there was talk of how kids are demonised and thrown in prison and so on. What can people do to tackle young crime and why are those perceptions out there?

NC: I don't know what people can do to tackle young crime. I'm not a journalist or a politician or someone who thinks they know the answer to that. All I can do is what I do and what I do is make films that raise questions. But if you want to look at anyone who's helping young people then you can look at this film because we set up a music initiative for young people to send their music in and young people sent their music in. We had 800, 900 tracks being sent in by young people who were making music in their bedrooms. And the hook was, 'Do something positive, make some music and if you get picked, your tracks will be in the film'. And their tracks are in the film. If you give young people positive things to do, they will do positive things. We literally scanned everywhere looking for new and young people. We let people from MySpace who liked the film come and be extras and got them excited about being on a film set. Again, if you give young people positive things to do, they will do positive things.

I can't answer why their behaviour is the way it is, but I can say that in the area I grew up in, there used to be a thing called YCTV, which was Youth Television, and it got young people into directing and acting and stuff like that. There's a director I know called Luke Hyams, he does Dubplate Drama, he came from YCTV. And all it was, local kids or kids who were behaving a bit bad could go there and learn about the industry and last year they closed it down. Why have they closed it down? Because now, all those kids who could go there and learn, what are they going to do now?
And with the amount of money that's floating around, you can't say it's because of funding. I have no idea why they closed it down, but if anyone could find out, I would love to know why they closed down YCTV, because the kids in that area need something like that.

VL: Do you have a favourite scene that you either wrote, acted or directed?

NC: I think one of my favourite scenes is when Ben Drew and Arnold Ocseng (Dabs and Henry) go into the basement flat and the other boys are playing the computer game and they kind of just sort of take it over. It doesn't move the story forward, it's not essentially really aggressive, it's just like teenage boys, you know, 'We're in here, we're more important than you, give us the controllers' kind of thing. And then the continuation scene from that, when they're playing the computer games, because sometimes young people are demonised and stuff like that – it's a very small minority but the stuff they do is so awful it grabs the news – but we forget that they're kids and sometimes they just want to play computer games and sit down and have fun. And I like that scene because for a moment they're young boys again. Which is what I think some of them would really like to be if they thought they had a choice.

VL: What do you want young people to get out of the film when you see it?

NC: I want them to realise that if you give them positive things to do, they'll do positive things. Yes, some young people are demonised and some of them are quite rightly demonised, but on the flipside, you have a lot of good young people that are doing things and some of them really grab the opportunities to make music and stuff like that. But also, I want people to look at the bigger picture of the film and see that the message is there for the characters to not be afraid to be individuals. [SPOILERS] You know, Henry doesn't want to be involved. Dabs hits him with a brick, but it's because Henry doesn't want to be involved. For every Dabs, you have a Henry, for every Jay, you have a Mooney, who wants to study at university, you know, for every Jay at the end you have a Sam who's going to go, 'You know what? I'm walking away'.

And I think young people need to not be afraid to be an individual. If all your friends want to play football and you want to write poems, write your poems! Sit on the football pitch and write a poem about them playing football if you need to, but don't be scared to do it, you know, don't be scared to be your own person.

And also, at the same time, for those slightly negative young people that always have excuses – and I've heard a lot of them say, you know, 'Who knows about what I go through? I grew up with a single mother on a council estate. You can't tell me anything, you don't know'. I do know. I was raised on a council estate, by a single mother and I'm making films. So now that excuse is not eligible anymore, you need to look at yourself and sort out your life, you know? A lot of them are quite rightly demonised but some just make excuses. Don't make excuses. Stop whatever you're doing that's negative, because you can't use that excuse, and find something positive to do. And I hope that's something that people take away.

VL: You've written about something that's very close to you. I would imagine you'll now get lots of people sending you their scripts for you to direct. Is that something you'd consider?

NC: Yeah, most definitely, I'd direct anything. You could send me the next Care Bears movie, I'd do that, if it was good enough. I wouldn't like to be pigeon-holed as 'He does this sort of work'. The films I've done just happen to be the films I've done because that's what I've been allowed to do. But I'd be more than happy to write and create other stuff. Also, to be quite honest – and I know some people might be annoyed at this – we've written about this genre and we've got a sequel, so anyone who's at home going 'I'm gonna write a film about gangs, I'm going to write a film about this', so anyone who's at home writing those films, face facts: you're not going to be as good as these films. You're not going to get a sequel. So you might as well stop that and write about a doctor or a lawyer or think of something new or exciting or different so we can start moving away from this sort of subject and show young people in a more positive light. We have teen films coming out of America every week, which we flock to see and they make millions of pounds, so why are we not doing them over here? They're not difficult to do, you know, they'll get the audience, but we just don't make them. We need to be doing stuff like that. So hopefully, the fact Adulthood has created the history it has by getting the sequel, hopefully now we can just take that audience, the MySpace, Facebook, PSP, Wii, Nintendo, Playstation culture and take them into new directions.

VL: I know you're filming material for the DVD at the moment. Is it important for you for the DVD to be as good as it can be?

NC: Yeah, I think it'll be as good as it can be. We'll have as many features as we can cram on there because that's what people want, they want extra content. We've got music videos for the film – that never happens! The last thing I remember was Love, Actually, with Girls Aloud and Hugh Grant dancing around. We've got music videos with footage from the film. The cast appear in the Sway video – that happens in American films, it doesn't happen here. And the question is why not? Why doesn't it happen with, quotation marks, “urban” films? It's because no-one's given it the chance to happen. And I might look quite dumb, but I've orchestrated all of this because I'm trying to give people opportunities to do new things and let us become more creative. And the soundtrack? My goodness! I don't know if it's your sort of music, but when you hear the soundtrack, you'll be jigging away, seriously. Seriously.

VL: Your films -Kidulthood, Adulthood and West 10- have given an opportunity for a lot of young talent, in particular black actors, to get into feature films. Was there anyone in particular who stood out for you?

NC: Adam Deacon, who plays Jay. I think a lot of people overlook him because he is what he is. You see him and that's him, but he's a very, very talented actor and he's going to be doing good things. And there's a new kid in this film called Jacob Anderson who plays my little brother. He was only 17 when we did the film, I think he's just turned 18 now, but he's a fantastic prospect for the future. And obviously, I set Aml Ameen on his way – a lot of people think he was in The Bill first, but he wasn't, he did Kidulthood first and they saw him and they took him and now he's on his way doing good things. And Shanika (Warren-Markland) and Red (Madrell), the two girls, they're really good talents and I think if they're allowed to, by the industry, all of them could do really, really well. They're fantastic talents and I hope that they're supported and do well in the future.

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