Writer, director, tabloid fodder and ex-husband to one of the world's biggest pop stars... There's simply no ignoring the existence of British filmmaker Guy Ritchie. Having made his mark with gangsters flicks such as Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he's now knocking out major Hollywood event movies with the likes of Sherlock Holmes and its upcoming sequel keeping him busy. CHRIS SULLIVAN chatted to Ritchie over breakfast about his life, career and influences...
Chris Sullivan: "I watched RocknRolla again last night and noticed themes about the 'criminal appropriation of property’, a bit like how Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday's tries to redevelop the then barren Canary Wharf with the help of Mafia money and a few dishonest councillors..."
Guy Ritchie: "I guess I was subconsciously influenced by that film. It works on a instinctive level - beginning, middle and end, it's visceral. There’s a hell of lot of development going on in London now, there’s a big f***ing crane over our heads right now and where my office is in Noho (North of Soho) you can barely work because everything is under construction and a lot of it ain’t so pretty. The vast slew of buildings are so f***ing prosaic, so f***ing dull, so cheap; they are just blots on the f***ing landscape, skid-marks lacerating our topography."
"It’s wrong I think."
"The motivation behind a lot of the buildings we put up is not necessarily honest or dishonest. As with the councillor [played by Jimi Mistry] in RocknRolla you’re not quite clear that what they did was dishonest because you’ve received something. There has to be a reason why so many disgusting buildings are erected and now they’re charging up to £6,000 pounds per square foot for a luxury flat and lots of people with lots of money want to live here."
"The big difference between The Long Good Friday and RocknRolla is that the filthy lucre that came in to transform London in the eighties was American Mafia money and now, it is Russian..."
"I’d say if you want real capitalism, you got to come out of a communist country. We looked like we won the Second World War, but clearly we didn’t as America is now owned by China and England is more or less owned by the Russians. So what was essentially supposed to be communist is very successful capitalism so nothing is what it f***ing seems to be."
"Were your Russians in RocknRolla based on anyone in particular?"
"I do know a few rich Russians and yeah they did inform my characterisation. But they are caricatures and even though it's no longer cool to be conspicuously nouveau riche, they don’t give a f*** about being flash and capitalistic although they come out of a communist country and I didn’t mind capitalizing on that."
"We decided to create what we thought to be an authentic Conan Doyle version of Holmes"
"How important is authenticity in the making of your films?"
"It’s not really that important. It just has to be authentic enough so it has currency, do you know what I mean? I think by default it probably is, because caricatures and clichés are that for a reason."
"Sherlock Holmes is a fine example. Have you always been interested in him?"
"I love all that Victorian London stuff. I was interested in Sherlock Holmes as a child and had a strong visual sense of who I thought he should be. I knew the stories from school so I feel as though I’m informed and I pulled most of my creative ammunition from Conan Doyle. Stuff like the deerstalker and the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" never happened in the books, so we decided to create what we thought to be an authentic Conan Doyle version of Holmes that wasn’t tainted with all the previous archetypes
"It was your first proper blockbuster..."
"Yes I needed a job and this was the was the perfect segway for me to do something that was big and broad but still retained an English identity - but with American clout."
"I guess in a way it isn’t too far away from the gangster films you're known for..."
"Well they’re both set in London and both deal with crime."
"But both have this almost Dickensian pallor. Take the names and the plots, for example..."
"I love the nicknames. I am endlessly amused by nicknames people have especially these villains."
"Some people have questioned your knowledge of such matters because of your privileged upbringing?"
"I’ve always found it strange when people ask, ‘How come you know these people? Bo you want to be them?’ I don’t understand how anybody hasn’t at some stage had something to do with villains. What is a villain? There's the conspicuous villain, then the legal villain - like Stella the crooked accountant in RocknRolla - and then I‘ve worked with a chap who has murdered people and you know, he’s a good man and I trust him, more than others, and yet I don’t know many people who have done more nefarious work than him. I live in London, it’s an urban environment, and at some stage everyone has to have to have had something to do with villains."
"You must have met some villains by virtue of your problems at school. Didn’t you attend some ten schools before you were 15?"
"Yes. At first they all focused on the fact that I was lazy and disruptive. By the time I found out I was dyslexic I didn't give a hoot… Even when IQ tests showed that I was bright, I wasn't interested. I found out so early that I couldn't do school work and I was just interested in being disruptive. I remember the painful hours, weeks and years of remedial lessons .The teachers were sweet enough, but they might as well have tried explaining colour to a blind man. I used to think, 'You're wasting my time, I'm wasting your time and you're boring me to death."
"Weren’t you caught snorting speed on sports day?"
"1984 - the speed days. What happened to amphetamine sulphate? I think it’s one of these myths isn’t it that you do a line of sulphate to make you run faster... I went wild from aged 14, I liked hallucinogenics. Then I left school at aged 15 and did a vast array of menial jobs, jobs. Laying sewage pipe in Greece for six months, labouring here and there. I wasn’t skilled at anything, so aged 19 I got on the booze and turned around one day to find I’d lost seven years. I still like a pint, but then it’s a question of anything in moderation. I cannot do that with the drugs though, I have to steer clear of them. They rob you of your life."
How did you get the scar on your cheek?
"I got in a fight when I was 18 and someone had a Stanley knife. I wasn't a villain myself, I just knew a lot of them - that's the drugs world for you. Today I wouldn’t fight, I haven’t had any form of confrontation for years"
"What advice would you offer young kids going down the same road?"
"I’ve got no advice. I have a terrible feeling it's something people might have to go through."
Ritchie is at present filming the untitled Sherlock Holmes sequel