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Making it up as we go
Hanging with Guy Ritchie and the RocknRollas • Page 1 of 2
At the world premiere: Idris Elba, Tom Wilkinson, Susan Downey,
Mark Strong, Thandie Newton,
Guy Ritchie, Madonna, Gerard Butler, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hardy
|B Y R I C H C L I N E
In a derelict five-storey building on London's Southbank, the international press gathers for the RocknRolla experience. The rooms and corridors are shabby, with exposed metalwork and crumbling plaster, plus crinkled RocknRolla posters and odd bits of antique-style furniture. Frankly, no one does a press junket like Warner Bros.
We're told to ascend to the third-floor, where we're served bacon butties and coffee in a makeshift café furnished with plastic tables and chairs scattered randomly through the vast room. After my third cup of coffee and an apple pastry, the room is starting to feel like purgatory. And the natives are getting restless, waiting for their one-on-one interview slots, which are running late, as these things always do. And we're all wondering when we will be invited to ascend to the top floor, where a press conference is taking place.
Two hours later, the announcement comes and we are ushered through a series of rooms and a back stairway into a long, narrow room full of chairs that have been lacquered with newspapers and RocknRolla iconography. In the back of the room is a phalanx of video cameras; in the front is a small stage with 11 chairs on it. Thunderous metal music roars through the speakers. I find a seat on the front row and settle in. The head of the press office appears and "borrows" my pen, perhaps to get me in that crime-scene mood. Fortunately I have a spare in my bag.
And here they come, introduced by scrawny TV presenter Alex Zane: the writer-director, seven actors and two producers. They all look a bit exhausted after a long morning of interviews, but are smiley and up for whatever we have to throw at them. I sit back and wait for the first Madonna question.
But first, a relatively relaxed Guy Ritchie, looking cool in a suit without a tie and commanding the stage's central chair, talks about why he made this film right now. "The timing seemed to be right," he says. "It's kind of reflecting the evolution that's taken place in London over the last 20 years. And frankly, I just wanted to enjoy myself."
The next journalist asks Guy a rambling question about the construction business, plus another question for Thandie Newton about her next film role as Condoleeza Rice in Oliver Stone's W. "Blimey," says Guy. "Mr Butler, would you care to translate that?"
Gerard Butler, who is slouching in his chair pretending to be asleep and yet still looking impossibly tall and gorgeous, blinks into the lights. "I wasn't paying attention," he says sheepishly. "I don't actually know what you were talking about. I'm sure it was awesome."
"Well, maybe you'd like to answer it, Thandie," Guy says, trying desperately to get out of this.
Thandie is sitting behind Guy, adding some badly needed slinky glamour to the stage, just as she does in the film. She peers over his head and says, "I'm sorry, I didn't understand that question at all."
Eventually, they figure out that the journalist is asking about the social issue of property values, and after a brief comment, Guy quickly says, "Now Thandie, you're not getting out of the second question!"
"Seriously," she says, "one of the things that was great about having been in this movie and then going on to W was being surrounded by men! I thought something different would happen - it would feel different. But it didn't. Although apart from being surrounded by men, everything was completely different."
Now a journalist from the Mail asks a question that starts with a comment about how talented and passionate Guy is, and obviously, so is his, erm, partner.
"Oh that's very nice from the Mail," Guy says with a snarky tone. "I was waiting for this. So what is it that you're wondering about my wife?"
The question is about how they make their relationship work, which Guy answers simply: "I think you've just got to love your wife. Is that a boring enough answer?"
And now here's a question about the man-eating crayfish. "I love you for noticing the crayfish," Guy says, then tells about how the American crayfish were introduced to Britain and ate all the native crayfish, as well as the riverbanks. "It's an issue in the English countryside that is much neglected, and I am starting a campaign, if anyone's interested."
"F**king Americans!" interjects Gerard dryly.
And what about the Russians who have arrived in London, as they do in the film? "Oh, I love a Russian," Guy says. "They're definitely a good influence."
Poor Alex now tries to drum up more questions for the cast, but the next question is directed to producer Joel Silver, who is lounging in the stage's only leather armchair, wearing what looks like pyjamas. He talks about discovering Guy with Lock, Stock, and getting in touch. "We talked about another feature we were developing together, and then he called me one day with this script," he says. "And we read it and within about a week we said yes, we're making the picture. It was a great experience, and we'll continue to work together. We shoot our next picture in October, Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr, and Guy's directing that as well. It's great to work with him."
Finally, someone wakes up Toby Kebbell on the back row with a question about how he lost weight for the film to look like an emaciated drug addict. He certainly doesn't look like one now - energetic and funny - and says, "Well, crackheads are thin, so Guy wanted me to look thin. But he didn't want me to lose weight by using crack, so we had to find a different way. So I stopped eating and took my muscle weight down. But I think my body looks wicked, eh?"
After a couple of ludicrous questions that Guy deflects quickly, a question emerges about the dancing scene. "Well I had a lot of fun," Gerard says. "Thandie and I talked about it while we were shooting other scenes, and then we shot the dancing scene for quite a while as Guy was in the background saying, 'Try this, yeah, try that.' So it was a mixture of rehearsed stupid moves and other stuff Guy would throw in. If you start the dance, who knows where it'll go!"
"I loved that scene," Thandie says, "partly because I had absolutely no idea how it could work. I mean, we were just doing - not nothing, but worse than nothing, and with a straight face too. And Guy just had a vision of how he wanted it to play, the tone of it. And we went along with it, and I think it's just the most unpredictable moment in the movie, and one I'm really proud of, partly because it was just surrendering to it, and it worked."
Gerard continues, "It's fun to sit and look at yourself in a movie and go, 'Oh I look really cool there.' But that's generally where you don't look cool. It's more fun to see yourself not looking cool, like that moment with Thandie, where you're like, 'Oh my God that's so awful it's great!' It's just so weird and quirky and out there."
Speaking of making it up as you go, Mark mentions the fact that the sex scene was improvised.
"Steady," says Guy. "That's not the way I have sex, if that's what you're saying. So Gerry, would you like to talk about the sex scene?"
Gerald just sinks into his chair and shakes his head.
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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