When Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was released in 1998, few would have prophesied the impact this low budget crime comedy would have. Almost overnight it became a cultural phenomenon, launched the careers of Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn, and Jason Statham, among others, and spawned a television series and numerous British gangster film rip-offs in the process. Here, actor Stephen Marcus (Nick the Greek in the film) recounts the on-set dramas, the behind-the-scenes banter, his initial meeting with Guy Ritchie, the subsequent trips to Hollywood as the boys basked in critical acclaim, and the financial problems that were only solved when Sting and Trudie Styler came on board. In interviewing many of his co-stars, he remembers the making of a cult favorite.
|Publisher:||History Press Limited, The|
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About the Author
Stephen Marcus has appeared in films such as Quills, Stage Beauty, Iris, Angela’s Ashes, and Kinky Boots, and television such as Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, and Midsomer Murders.
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'dunno tom, seems expensive'
BRIGHTON ROCK 1947
As the list above shows, British gangster films have been around for years. These are some of them that came before Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and below is a list of some that have come since. Some good, some bad and some great. We all have different opinions on which is which.
SEXY BEAST 2000
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was released in 1998 by Polygram after almost three years of hard work by Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn: three years of meetings, script writing and rewriting and rewriting and more rewriting, fundraising, pre-production, hunting down locations, putting together the crew and, of course, casting.
Guy Ritchie was introduced to Matthew Vaughn in 1995 through a friend of Guy's. Matthew had told the friend that he was a producer, so first-time director Guy exaggerated a few things about himself and a partnership began. Guy sent Matthew a copy of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Matthew took Guy's script down to the country and read it:
It had no ending and no real structure but it was a diamond. It had so much energy and was strong, funny, clever, new and original.
A few days later Matthew called him up. Guy acted some of the scenes over the phone to him and Matthew was convinced, 'Let's make this film.'
For two years they worked tirelessly on getting the film made. The whole process was made harder by the fact that Guy was a first-time film director; investors are wary of funding untried talent. The whole process brought them both close together and they built a strong friendship based on honesty and taking no bullshit from each other and the others involved in the film. For example, if you allow them to, a film crew can take forever to set up a scene and get going. The director of photography may take a long time lighting it, the art director may take forever dressing the scene, and of course the actors will stand around talking forever if allowed. When this happened Guy was often heard counting down from ten. When this was heard everyone would get going because nobody wanted him to get down to one. I never saw what happened if he did get to one.
The first draft that Guy wrote was 250 pages long. The powers that be say a page of script equals roughly a minute of film, so this film would have run at four and a half hours. Guy and Matthew spent the first two months polishing the script and trimming it down. Once the script was sorted, it was down to Matthew to get it financed. He punted it around all over the place and the script ended up on Trudie Styler's desk.
I found myself laughing rather a lot ... I don't believe in putting money into projects. Having said that, I thought I'd take a punt on this one because I thought it was really worth putting some money into this one.
I personally remember some investors from Italy. Vas Blackwood (Rory Breaker) and I met them at Ealing Studios when we were in there for a fitting. People invest in films for many reasons, but often one of them is that they like to meet and hang out with filmmakers and actors. Being at the studios at the same time as the investors is a golden opportunity to impress them. But I guess we weren't that impressive, because they later pulled their money out, almost collapsing the production. How do they feel now?' wonders Vas Blackwood.
It started out at £3 million and I thought, 'This is going to be Lawrence of Arabia, with big shots and panoramic stuff.' Then the budget got cut and cut, it ended up being less than a million. I shoot commercials with bigger budgets than that – in fact back then I was doing music videos with bigger budgets. Back then I'd do a Bjork video for a million. This budget was £800,000. Guy was like 'Can we do it for this money?' [I replied] 'I can do it for that, I'm used to doing it for cheap.'
Tim Maurice-Jones was the director of photography and he got involved in the film because of working on music videos. Guy Ritchie saw a video that Tim had worked on for Take That, called 'Babe'. He called Tim in for a meeting and after a chat – and Tim thinking, 'I'm going to have to cut corners to make this work' – Guy asked him to do it. And Tim did cut corners; in fact he sunk nearly all of his fee back into the film to pay for the lights that he wanted.
Just as we were about to shoot there was a wobble. Some money had pulled out and there was a real sense of 'this might not happen'. There were days to go. That's when Trudie and Sting got involved, I think. I had a connection there. I'd worked with them on a film, The Grotesque, which Trudie produced. So when I heard there had been this wobble, I was like 'no'. Then I got a call: it was all back on again. Matthew had done something and pulled something out of the bag.
We had all the money. We were at Ealing Studios. I was walking around the art department and they were printing up money and making half a ton of ganja, putting all the things together. I was shown around the studio space, 'this is where we're going to do this', and then suddenly, bang , they pulled out. It was all off and Matt was, 'Don't worry, I've got some tricks up my sleeve' ... and he did and we were all back on. But then it was decided that he was going to use some sort of dodgy, hooky money, some gangsters' money. So Matt was, 'We'll, restructure, cut the budget and don't do it as a studio, do it all on location, tell everyone they're getting paid the square root of fuck all. I'll give everybody a bonus when it stands.' Handmade were supposed to be working as the sales agent. They had very little to do with the film, but they were the sales agent. They went bust a week into filming. Suddenly Matt had nothing – no sales agent, no distribution. He managed to borrow the money, a bit from Trudie (Styler), a bit from Peter Morton, a bit from Stephen Marks, a bit from a handful of his mates – total of about a hundred grand, but he kept it moving. He actually made a sort of socialist cooperative movie out of a bunch of arch Tories and aristocrats.
The budget dropped from around £3 million to about £800,000, and, as Nick says, everybody ended up working for low fees and part deferments - meaning we got half of our fees during working and half when the film was released and in profit. Now, most films don't go into profit, and you rarely see any deferred money. By that I mean that there is some creative accounting done so it looks like films haven't made profit. If they didn't really make profit, then who would be stupid enough to invest in them? Lock, Stock did go into profit, it made approximately $25 million and Matthew Vaughn and Guy Ritchie are two very happy bunnies these days. Matthew is a very loyal person and as far as I know everybody got paid the full deferments as agreed.
I've never known a producer drive it through and turn it around: you've lost the money, you've lost the names, you've lost the sales agent, your route to market, lost the studio, everything – but he still made it. We've got 20 quid but we're still making it. Incredible. It went from £3 million to £800,000. When I got the phone call I was the lead in a £3 million movie to be shot in Ealing Studios, and I ended up in a £800,000 movie being shot on the back streets of Bethnal Green. God bless 'em. I stuck by them but they stuck by me, even more importantly.
I personally became involved with the film at the casting stage, obviously. I got a call from my agent, and he sent me a script. He's no longer my agent, as he let me go just before Lock, Stock was released – doh! My career shifted after it was released, and my new agent reaped the rewards. Anyway, the call said I had to read the script, and then if I liked it I had an audition with the casting director, Celestia Fox, and the director, Guy Ritchie. The script was a small, low-budget British movie called Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (a mouthful of a title).
When I read a script I find it hard to decide if it's good or not, even though I've read hundreds, and Lock, Stock was no exception. I couldn't tell if it was good or not. The dialogue was great but it jumped around and I found that difficult to follow. The characters were very exciting and funny, and I could see myself playing a few of them – that is what swung it for me, and I went for the audition.
People often ask if I knew that it was going to be a success; to be honest, I had no idea. You can never tell if a film is going to be a hit. There are so many factors: what genres are on trend? What are the other films being released at the same time? And, of course, is it actually a well-written and well-made film?
Lock, Stock broke the trends of all the gangster films before it (and created a few trends after it). Every twenty years or so a great British gangster movie gets released, and it was time for another when Lock, Stock came along. The audience took it to heart and they loved it, I think they loved the characters, the dialogue and, of course, the story.
Usually when I get an audition booked, I check up on the director. But this new fella, Guy Ritchie, had no track record except for a few music videos, adverts and a little short film called The Hard Case. This was the precursor to Lock, Stock. It's about a gambler in a card game – sound familiar? It stars Benedick Bates and Wale Ojo, and was written and directed by Guy Ritchie. So when I got the call for the audition I had no idea what to expect, and I also had no idea what role I was to read for. I don't think they did either. I went to a large house on Clapham Common, which was Celestia's office. I got shown into the waiting room where other actors were waiting, including Lenny McLean.
I didn't have a clue who Lenny was at that time – he was just another large actor, probably going for the same role as me. He quietly stood in the corner of the room, going through his lines. I didn't take much notice of him apart from his size. I thought I was a big unit, but he was huge. Not long after I arrived he got called down to audition. The audition room was down in the basement of this huge Clapham townhouse, so I couldn't hear anything coming from the room. Sometimes the waiting room is right next to the audition room, with only a thin wall between them. Not being able to hear someone else's audition is a good thing, as I can be put off if I hear what I consider to be a great audition. (It also works the other way and if I hear a pants audition then that can boost my confidence.) About ten minutes later Lenny came out of the room with an explosion of noise. His audition must have gone well. He'd gone from being this quiet brooding giant in the waiting room to Mr Loud Cockney Geezer, joking and laughing with everybody, which is the Lenny everyone knows and loves. Very quickly he was gone and the waiting room was quiet again. I didn't think about Lenny again after that until pre-production.
Now it was my turn. I was taken downstairs by a casting assistant (whose name I've forgotten, sorry) and into a very busy room. By busy I mean that the walls were lined with shelves of books and the floor was strewn with papers and scripts. The shelves included the set of books that every casting director has on their shelves, The Spotlight Casting Directory – an encyclopaedia of actors and actresses in the UK who have all paid to be in it in the hope that their headshot will stand out and get them the starring role in the latest hit film/TV show/theatre show. There was a chair set up in front of a small video camera and a couch behind the camera where Guy was sitting with Celestia Fox. I was introduced to Guy. I already knew Celestia from various other castings. I don't really recall the audition itself, because, like most actors, I go to an audition, give it my best shot and then leave and forget about it until I get a call telling me that I've got the job. I do remember that Guy wasn't horrible or unpleasant and the audition was a nice experience. There was another person in the audition room reading in lines for other people.
I got a call and they were doing casting, they asked me if I would sit in and do the readings for the other actors they were auditioning. I had no idea if I was up for a role. I liked the script so I said yes.
I didn't actually audition for Nick The Greek, I auditioned for Tom, the role played by Jason Flemyng, and I did a screen test for that role. I've never seen that screen test, so I'm not sure whether I did well or not. I guess I did ok, because I got a part in the film. I think we did the scene near the start of the film where the four heroes are in Soap's kitchen gathering all the money for the poker game. The purpose of the screen test in this case was not to test our acting skills but to see how the four actors worked together and to see what chemistry there was between them. I guess the chemistry didn't quite work for me as I got a call a few weeks later telling me I'd got the gig but Guy wanted to offer me the role of Nick The Greek and not Tom. Obviously I agreed and took the role. It was a great part. Guy actually gave himself a credit as a casting director; and rightly so – after all, he cast Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones and Nick Moran.
There were a lot of people who auditioned for roles they didn't end up playing, or were on the cast list in the early stages but didn't end up on screen: Ray Winstone was originally cast to play Barry The Baptist. There was a picture of Ray on the wall in the production office at Ealing Studios with the middle of his head shaved off and a comb over with great big '70s-style glasses on.
Barry The Baptist would be Big Vern from Vis magazine.
Jude Law was going to play Winston, and Tom Hollander, Mark Addy, Terence Stamp and Albert Finney were also cast, but because filming kept getting put back and financing kept changing a lot of the agents pulled their clients off it.
Nick was very lucky. Once they'd cast him Guy and Matt stuck by him even though many other people weren't sure. The idea was to cast this unknown who gave a great screen test and surround him with great named actors like Albert Finney and Terence Stamp. Nick didn't get it straight away; he had to wait for a few people to turn it down.
I remember Guy saying, 'I'll tell you now, that's the best screen test we've done. That was brilliant, that. But it's all about names and faces in this game so ... good luck, son.' He walked me to the door and said goodbye.
Everybody had to turn it down – Ethan Hawke, Stephen Dorf ... there was a series of actors who turned it down. I remember, I didn't even get the audition through the agent. I got an audition because a friend of mine, a very good actor called Rocky Marshall, went in for an audition. Guy was very forthright with him and said 'I'm looking for people who are a bit more modelly.' The actors he was getting he just wasn't really feeling. I'd just signed with Select Model Agency to subsidise my erratic acting career and Rocky said 'you should see my mate, he's just signed with Select. We done a couple of films together.' That's what got me in the door and then I did four other screen tests after that.
I remember sitting in the park trying to get a tan and doing chin ups. I was thinking 'I've got a recall, I've got a recall, I've got to get buff and tanned for this recall.' So I'm sitting in the middle of Stockwell Park trying to get brown, you know tiny bit of sunlight, and I'm chasing this little bit of sun around the park. So I went into the recall looking slightly brown and buff. I get the phone call just before one of the festivals – not Glastonbury but around that time – and I'm running around whatever festival it was like a madman shouting 'I've got this film.' So that's June, July, and then we're actually on the cobbles in November, December. We finished just a couple of days before my birthday in mid-December.
Casting director Celestia Fox said on the first day of filming that this film would be a massive flop with Nick Moran in the lead. The first day we shot Ed arriving at the gym for the card game.
Excerpted from "Have a Butcher's"
Copyright © 2017 Stephen Marcus.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Thanks To 11
1 'Dunno Tom, seems expensive' 19
2 'They lack any kind of criminal credibility' 39
3 'If you hold back anything, I'll kill ya' 53
4 'He's got some adhesive mates' 81
5 'Can we lock up and get drunk now?' 93
6 'It's a Samoan pub' 115
7 Lenny McLean 139
8 It's Been Emotional' 153