On Monday 3rd of September, Spencer Hawken attended the press launch at London’s Savoy hotel, to launch The Sweeney in the UK. The interview below is transcribed from actual audio taken on the day.
The interviewees are as follows
NL: Nick Love, Director
DL: Damien Lewis who plays Frank Haskins
RW: Ray Winstone who plays Jack Regan
HA: Hayley Atwell who plays Nancy
BD: Ben Drew (aka Plan B) who plays George Carter
AL: Allen Leech who plays Simon Ellis
The chief interviewer was Chris Hewitt.
The interview contains no spoilers but does feature some extreme language, if you are looking for a review on the movie itself please click here.
The Sweeney is a remake of a 1970’s show, so lets start by asking what are your memories of the original?
NL: My memory of The Sweeney was that I was allowed to watch it if I was well behaved, so I never saw it. I saw, the later stuff the last series I think, it was only when it came on satellite television that I was really able to watch it.
DL: I was not really old enough to see it, although I did see some early 80’s reruns. To be honest I never made any effort to try and watch it before I accepted this.
RW: For me, the Sweeney, cos I am old enough to remember it, it was kind of groundbreaking TV at the time as up to that point you had Dixon of Dock Green, and Softly Softly, which are great shows in there own way, but this was the first show of its kind that was down and dirty if you like, and I think we could all kind of relate to it in a way, well I could anyway. So it was a real, for a TV show, and now you’ve got shows like The Wire, and the HBO stuff, that are making the same sort of stuff, and for me it all kind of came from The Sweeney. (waited for a reaction and was greeted with silence) Well that went down well didn’t it? I don’t know why I bothered coming.
HA: I had never seen it, I was too young, but I knew it was iconic, and when I started to tell people I was going to be in it, people kept saying the catchphrases to me, which we created our own versions of. But I was aware it huge a huge impact at the time, and the great thing about this version is that its completely new, and very now, this is more than just a re-interpretation.
BD: No I don’t watch it, it was like a black and white film to me, anything that look old, or like it was from the 70’s I kind of avoided, and did’nt like dated looking stuff when I was growing up. When I was cast in the movie, I watched the original pilot and the Feature Length version. While it was dated, I was up for it, because being as it was a modern version it gave us the option to change it, and use new crimes and language, because these things have changed.
AL: My only knowledge was really of the 90’s reruns, I heard reference to it, but I was not around for any part of it.
Ray, after Beowolf, do you see Jack Regan as the latest stage as establishing yourself as a rugged sex symbol, and secondly those boxer shorts your wearing in the movie, unusual colour were you hoping to set a trend of fashion or were you wearing them for a bet?
The thing is, don’t wear yellow when you are in a sweaty room all day, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the only underpants I had on me, and I like yellow pants. As a sex symbol, I don’t know what is appealing to women, I’m a 55 year old fat man, you know. I think it’s the way you treat women, it makes you sexy if you like, you got to be genuine, I don’t know, a bit of a gentleman, and a bit of a rogue all at the same time, but if you set out to be that, then you’re going to achieve it, I don’t know how it works, ask the ladies. I haven’t got a clue, but if I am, then fantastic.
Hayley what’s your take on what makes a man sexy?
HA: I as a lady think that charisma, and presence and manners and a great sense of humour goes a long way, more than a six-pack does. I find that I’m much more attracted to someone that carries confidence, but it’s a genuine confidence not based on trying to impress anyone, not trying to be something your not, its something far deeper, if you know yourself then that becomes instantly more attractive. And that works for women too, there is a way that women carry themselves that has a confidence that makes them feel more womanly rather than just wearing a short skirt to impress the lads just for the sake of it.
You have some intimate scenes with Hayley early in the movie, is that one of the perks of being an executive producer?
RW: Yep, the terminology of executive producer is that you do absolutely nothing, I don’t know what it is, you put your name on a film, I’m proud to have my name on this film, but other than an actors point of view, I had nothing to do with the film, that was down to Vertigo, Chris and all of the people there, they put this film together, and I must say as well I have worked on some British films which I’ve loved doing, but the package these guys have put together, the way they are distributing the film is far better than any other film I’ve worked on, for once I’ve worked on a film where they know how to sell it, it’s really all down to Vertigo and the people distributing this film as far as I’m concerned.
Did you gain anything from working with each other?
BD: I’m not an actor, I have no proper training, but while I don’t there is a certain science about it, like with my music. But I think when I was under-performing, or struggling either Nick or Ray would pull me, and tell me I’m doing it wrong and how how to put it right. Ray was there to offer me, in this area time is money, so I tried to think on my feet, and get on with the scenes that worked. Hopefully this is not the last for me, hoping I’ll move forward from this and learn a lot more.
RW: I think when you turn up on the set, and you work with people like Ben and other young actors, they are so far advanced of what we were when we were their age, and probably still are at my age now, I’ve watched some great young actors. It kind of reminds you of the basics that you forget about, where I used to run around the block, and do press ups, in preparation for a scene, you kind of get into the moment where you don’t have to do that any more, you can just switch that on, because you have learned how to do that. Sometimes you lose something by kicking that, and sometimes that memory comes back to you, and you start going back to your basic knowledge. Now I could not do press ups or run round the block because I’d be too knackered to do the scene. When you get to a certain age you get lost in a bubble somewhere, you always think about the old days, it wasn’t like that then… That’s great, and very nostalgic and all that but actually the worlds moved on, and there were loads of times where we’d just sit down and have a chat about what’s happening in the world. Working with these guys, brings you into the 21st century.
Nick can you explain your choice behind Ray and Ben?
Well Ray was always my choice, and the reason why Ray is an executive producer on the film is because he fucking suffered me talking bollocks to him about this for six years, that deserves a credit in my book. We had two or three false starts, over a few years, and we even got into pre-production a couple of times, anyway I wont bore you with that. But Ray and I met with a few possible castings, and I talked with Ben about playing a smaller part in the film, about being one of the young coppers, and actually we never really met anyone that kind of inspired us that much as carter, so we talked about Ben doing it, because he is such a raw talent, rather than someone who could bring a lot of drama to it. I think also the fact, that when I first talked to Ben about playing Carter he said “I wanna do it, but how the fuck am I going to go about playing a policeman” and so that immediately made me feel really excited, that this would be a fresh look, and the combination of the older and younger tongues (working with Ray), that excited me. After all the false starts though, once we had Ben we were off and running.
Nick how daunting and thrilling is it, do a major scene at a London Landmark (the Trafalgar Square shoot out)?
NL: The first draft of the script was actually going to have the script in Oxford Street, we knew we had budget limitations, and moved to Trafalgar Square and did the scene in just one day. There is a whole history to it; we spent a whole year working with the council trying to convince them, we had to work with the Ministry Of Defense to have weapons that made no noise, so these guys are running round with essentially toy guns. And then we painted the bullets and special effects on afterwards.
RW: We were banging, running round going Bang! Bang! Bang!
NL: It’s terrifying a sequence like that, because you don’t get to take a second shot, if you have the money, you can go back, like if you miss something or the weathers bad. So we went down one Sunday, it was the 6th of November I remember it that clearly, we had that one moment to shoot that, and everything had to be lined up perfectly, because all our money went into that one scene, and so it a case that any sort of force majeure would have killed us. Afterwards I remember thinking we might have a really good sequence to piece together there, and it was really exciting.
Allen coming from Downton Abbey, what was it like to shoot a scene like that?
AL: It was incredible, there were definite constraints, but everyone just went for it, and it was absolutely fantastic. It was great running round the square shooting toy guns, it was really interesting to tell people what you’d been doing. But yeah it was absolutely brilliant.
BD: Well I wasn’t involved in it, I chased the other dude. My only action was really only in the cab office, and its normally all choreographed, but I was surprised at how well I did. When they bought the stunt double in, I got this sort of egotistical energy, I wanted to do all my own stuff, but I let him smash through the glass door. But even though I wasn’t involved in it, it was great to be watching in Trafalgar Square knowing what it is he was about to do. It felt really exciting!
We went to a firing range, we had a couple of goes with guns then we spotted each other didn’t we (to Ray), and learnt how to look after each other and work as a team. So when it came to Trafalgar Square, it was like a choreographed dance almost, we had to work out what went where, we were always aware of where each other is, but because we were aware there was no sound from the guns, I found myself doing the oddest of things like shouting “pow”, Allen took so many pictures of me with this awful look, gurning as I was firing the gun, which thankfully have all been cut from the film.
NL: I’m sure if you freeze frame it you’ll still find some.
It is worth saying actually, those scenes are so bitty, at some points people walking or going past in cars would look out a bit bemused, as there is literally a toy gun that goes click, click, click. But for the public it’s like an act of trust, for me and everyone involved though it’s like a pantomime.
DL: No I wasn’t involved, I wasn’t allowed out of the office. I was sat away from the action, drinking banana dakari’s in the corner, it’s a shame but I knew I’d not see any action when I took on the role, but in the end it turned out to be a right laugh. As you know, I’m a cough and a spit in the movie, I only worked on it for a couple of weeks, but to come and work with Ray and the others, I knew Ray before, we went out…
RW: We got off out tits! I can’t even remember where we were, I was so drunk.
DL: Chucking money away on the gee gees!
RW: I spent 30 bob.
DW: It all sort of happened by accident, Nick sort of sat me down and said this is my vision for it, and I said that’s fantastic, and we have mutual friends etc..
NL: I used to go out with him!
DL: He was a girl back then.
NL: With Damien actually, it was interesting to cast him, as his character in the original show was much older than Regan, so the idea was to go for someone younger, where class might play into it more, the ranking, rather than age. I think it creates for an interesting dynamic. But it gave it a good twist.
Damien do you find it much different working here than in the states?
DL: The process is much the same, there has been a lot of talk the last few years how TV is the new independent film, locations, and page count that you shoot each day is fairly similar, if your in America or somewhere like that they you obviously shoot a page a day, but we are all doing the same sort of thing, yes catering is a bit better over there but…. Shooting on this the catering was lovely, although we did have to get quite a lot of sushi in. It wasn’t pie and mash on the filming of The Sweeney, it was sushi and Saki. You work much shorter hours here.
When Homelands started the pressure was low, now your going back to do a second series do you find the pressure harder?
DL: Yes the pressure comes from the writers down to deliver as highly as they did in the first series yes.
Ray, you mentioned earlier you were old enough to remember The Sweeney first time round, did you work with john Thaw at all?
RW: I worked with him on four occasions, I worked on Kavanaugh QC etc, I liked him as a man as well as an actor. When I was rehearsing for Nil By Mouth, I had a bad day working on Kavanaugh and I had a fifteen-minute scene, and I could not remember the lines, my brain just switched off, and I was dead. I remember at the end of the night one of the extras thanking me, as I’d given him an extra four hours pay. John Thaw was terrific about it, when I went back the following day it was fine. Watching him as a man who had so much dialogue to learn each day, people used to say he was not very sociable, but that’s what happens when you have to carry shows like that, you carry whatever t is on your shoulders, he was a complete and utter professional, I learned from him, about how to be humane about things.
Did you have concerns making this in the present?
NL: No, when I went about remaking this back in 2006, I always knew it would need to be in the present, the London skyline has changed so much. So there is the visual aspect of it, which meant we needed to make it very modern, and the fact is that the police cant do what they do then, it’s a film not a documentary, so you have license to change. The police can’t act anymore like they did back then. Much of police work now is bureaucracy, so I decided to have the internal affairs aspect, to show that.
A lot of British directors decide to make Hollywood style movies without the budget, you delivered a very plausible story, with a plausible cast, in plausible situation (to which Ray Winstone said “I like you”), was this budget related? And are there any plans for a sequel?
NL: It was an exciting challenge, our production budget was two million quid, and we are trying to compete with movies that have fifty to sixty million-dollar budgets. And it doesn’t make me feel daunted, it’s liberating, as the expectation is going to be low, so you have a good place to start and can impress more. If it comes to make The Sweeney II, if the development process lasts as long as it did this time, I’ll be fucking dead before it happens. You don’t have the worries the studio movies have, studio movies never feel as authentic as they are done by committees, even though The Sweeney might feel a bit rough in places, it is entirely my ambition, and if the movie is a failure for people then its my failing as I never had the studios telling me what to do.
NL: We need to see how the movie does at the box office, this is where the talking is done, but we have already talked about it.
RW: I’d definitely do it again, I love making films, its great, but turning up and working on this every day was a great experience, and that comes from the top, you have the director then it goes right through the cast, and so you enjoy your work a bit more.
NL: When you make a movie like The Sweeney, I think everyone involved thinks they are doing something really special, especially here because of the legacy, and then you have got the thing that you potentially are making a good film as well.
Ben how do you juggle your acting, directing, music, do you think one thing will take precedence for you?
BD: I found it very difficult, I was doing so many things at one time. I was ready to make Ill Manners, and obviously I was unproven as a filmmaker, and it took the other successes for it all to balance out. So I said yes to everything I was offered, which I guess was my naivety as you never know at that point where it will end, I thought I’d be able to do all tonethese things to a high standard, but then you don’t get a personal life, and it was that that suffered most, I sacrificed time with my friends and family, as well as time on my own. So now I need time to get my act together, so going forward I’ll go carefully what I do next, one wont take precedence over the other, I just need to channel my ideas in different ways, I’m very privileged that I don’t need to rely on one strand to pay the bills. I haven’t had to do roles in Casualty or The Bill, because I had the music, it allowed me to pick and choose what I want to do, so far in my career I started in Adulthood, and I’ve been working with great actors, it’s a dream come true. I now find myself in the position that whatever I want to do next is my choice, except I’m so burned out now, that I don’t know what I’m gonna do.
Read our The Sweeney Interview here.