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Shane Meadows

Talks This Is England '88

Shane Meadows
Danielle de Wolfe
05 December 2011

From confused members of hotel staff to watch-tapping publicists, interviews can be bedevilled by all sorts of odd interruptions. But having one half of Jedward (we honestly don’t know which) burst into the Bafta anteroom during our conversation with Shane Meadows is definitely a strange one.

“Hey, man. How are you doing?” chuckles Meadows, looking up from his beer before the blur of vertiginous blond hair vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

Lost members of Ireland’s premier pop simpletons aside, life is good for the 38-year-old director behind Dead Man’s Shoes and A Room For Romeo Brass. He’s working on a project with his all-time favourite band and has big plans for the ever-expanding This Is England story. Not that it’s been an easy ride getting there...

What do you think it is that keeps you coming back to This Is England?

Well, it’s got nothing to do with money at all. I was really, really scared when we did ’86 because every spin-off has ended up as a very poor relative to the original. Look at Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. But with the film there was a lot of stuff that was left on the cutting-room floor. You can’t put four hours on the screen — no one will watch it. But I always intended to do This Is England ’90. That was a banker.

So why the stop off in 1988?

I thought that if we went straight to 1990 people were going to be very confused if there was no reference to the murder [at the end of This Is England ’86] or no sense of what went on in the past. And because it’s four years later, no one would be talking about it. I thought, “Actually, I’m going to have to spend a whole episode just resolving sh*t before I can set off on this cracking summer with Es.” So we thought, “Let’s start with this idea, we’ll do a quick 90-minute slot, so it’d be like a long episode.” Then I started writing it and I thought, “Actually this is probably a two-hour episode.” Then I shot the fricking thing and the first cut of it was, like, four hours long [laughs]. What started out as a bit of a jolly actually covered some of the most serious subject matter I’ve ever tackled in my life. It’s like a very f*cked-up nativity play. It’s about accountability and the consequences of events in 1986. It’s a body of work in its own right.

Do you think 1990 will be the end?

Yeah, I do. I daren’t say for certain, but one thing you’ll never get from me is a 13-episode series where I pocket a few million quid and just exec produce it. I’ve been offered the chance to do a lot more. And they weren’t saying, “You do two and someone else will do two.” They said, “If you want to make 50, we’ll make 50, and if you want to make one, we’ll make one.” In 1990, Stephen Graham’s character is a massive part. There are two halves: the gang and the rave culture, then there’s the older members — Woody, Lol and Milky. Combo comes out of prison for manslaughter because he’ll have done four years of an eight-year sentence. So he comes back into the community. Obviously he’s a changed man, but some people don’t want him to have changed. He ends up sort of having to face a lot of the things he did in his younger life. That’s going to be much harder because I actually want Stephen to be a very big part of that.

You’ve filmed in some rough areas. Had any hairy moments?

We’ve had a few. The worst [thing about it] is that it’s never people you’d be scared of as an adult. It’s 12-year-old kids shooting fireworks at you. I was talking to an actor once on ’86 and a f*cking rocket went past my head and into a house.

Wow. Anything else?

There was a knife fight on set one day. We were up at Combo’s mum’s on this block of flats and this car pulled up and these lads were rowing, some fallout about a girl. We were all watching it and laughing, thinking it was like Jeremy Kyle live. But then this guy went to the back of his car and pulled a knife out like that [spreads his hands like a boastful fisherman]. And it was like, “Oh no. This is horrific.” We rang the police while he was chasing this guy, properly wanting to stick him.

You’ve been asked by The Stone Roses to make a documentary about their reunion. How did that come about?

I first met Ian [Brown] at a Banksy exhibition in Bristol. I thought, “I’m going to have to go over and say hello, because he’s my hero.” So I went up and said, “Hi, my name’s Shane and I used one of your songs in one of my films…” He went, “F*cking hell, you’re Shane Meadows.” It was really lucky that he knew my stuff. Ever since then we’ve kept in touch. He had a little cameo [as a policeman] in This Is England ’86. I make no secret of the fact that The Stone Roses are my favourite band of all time. I’ll be gutted if it doesn’t come off.

What do you make of cynics that say the reunion is just for money?

It goes way beyond that, because they’re all f*cking intelligent and very proud and they wouldn’t go out there to the slaughter. I saw them rehearsing one verse of Bye Bye Badman for an hour yesterday. I looked at that and thought, “They are taking this f*cking seriously.”

When we interviewed Stephen Graham, he said that you and Martin Scorsese work in a very similar way.Is that a comparison you welcome?

Oh, really? Well, Jesus, if it wasn’t for Mean Streets I probably wouldn’t have got past my first short film. It was a big inspiration to me. Most films I saw were these big blockbusters. Even watching The Godfather and GoodFellas, I was like, “I could never do that.” But when I saw Mean Streets I thought, “They remind me of my friends,” and obviously that really inspired me at the time. He’s an actor’s director if ever there was one, so any name-checking or comparisons will do me nicely.

Scorsese has just made a family film, Hugo. Could you see yourself exploring other genres as well as documentary?

Weirdly, I always wondered about animation. What always happens with 3D and cartoons is the studios wheel in superstars to do the voices. But I always wondered what it would be like if you took Tomo [Turgoose] and Woody [Joe Gilgun] and got them to voice animation. Could you do a more realistic version? That’s always fascinated me. More down the Belleville Rendez-Vous route, where you improvise it all first and animate off the back of it.

Does Hollywood appeal to you?

I’ve got a big film about Tommy Simpson, the cyclist, that’s being written at the moment. He was world champion in 1965 and was like Keith Moon on a bike — a real character. It’s a massive Hollywood-style story of a guy who’s looking like he could win the Tour de France but ends up dying of exhaustion on a mountain. When they do an autopsy he’s got a lot of amphetamines in his system. He was like the first rock’n’roll cyclist. That’s a departure. A Sixties film about the Tour de France, up a mountain with vintage bikes.

But you’re not interested in taking on a big, blockbuster franchise?

Not really. I’ve always said that I’d leave the door open if anyone in the family needed an operation that cost more than anything I could afford. If my sister ever needs a new kidney and she can buy one in Texas for $2m, I’ll f*cking do Mac And Me 2 in 3D [laughs]. I’m there. My reputation only goes to a point.

This Is England ’88 is on Channel 4 at 10pm on 13, 14 and 15 December