This is England '90 marks the end of the saga of Lol, Woody, Shaun and the gang. Possibly. We gather the three main stars - Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun and Thomas Turgoose - for a messy farewell chat
"Make sure you print this," says Joe Gilgun, telling a story about the previous night's This Is England '90 launch event. "I'm outside having a spliff and there's a young girl on the floor. She's eating Monster Munch, it's all in her hair and everything. A bonny-looking girl, but on the floor on her own, eating Monster Munch. There's a lunatic walking around talking himself and it's fucking three in the morning, so this security guy goes over: 'You all right? Do you want a taxi?'
“She didn’t acknowledge him, so I shouted at her for being rude. I’ve been in some states, but I can always lift my head. I said, ‘You fucking look at me. He’s trying to help you. You’re a disgrace – get in a taxi and go home.’ She goes [does slurry voice], ‘Are you from This Is England?’, ‘Yeah, I am’, ‘I’m talking about you on GMTV in the morning.’ I’d love to have seen it.”
Her condition was probably to do with the free wine, booming Nineties DJ set and endless supply of Nineties-style crisps; so ‘Nineties-ised’ was she, she even thought GMTV was still on TV.
Most launches aren’t like that, but then most TV shows aren’t like This Is England. Fuelled by drugs, booze, music, friendship, violence and a rare eye for the drama of normal life, it’s taken viewers on a rollercoaster ride of laughter, fear, depression, joy and misery for a decade. These ingredients have seen director Shane Meadows’ quasi-autobiographical film and subsequent TV series set in 1986, 1988 and, now, 1990, go from cult hits to national treasures. If you declared it the best British TV of the past decade, few would laugh.
Its young cast have grown up together; the fully improvised nature of the show meaning characters and actors are blurred. Three of the gang are here now, waiting to be smeared in paint for our cover shoot (a nod to the cover of The Stones Roses’ first album, which, it’s no spoiler to say, features heavily in the show). Gilgun is fidgeting on an armchair, while Vicky McClure and Thomas Turgoose bookend a sofa; shoes off, feet up. We’re in a London studio, but this could be Woody, Lol and Shaun (their respective characters) relaxing at home – if they’d had more prosperous lives. That said, going by the first episode of ’90, prosperity might be on the cards.
The series starts a bit cheerily. What happened there?
VM: I tell you what, though, strap yourself in. It starts so nice because it gets so bloody dark. It’s different to the other episodes.
JG: I’ve enjoyed this last one the most, not because it’s the last one – it’s heart-breaking – but I can see what we’ve achieved. You’re choosing what you do with your character. It’s so fucking rare. Some directors play at it, but end up shitting themselves. With Shane, you have to trust him.
It’s not really the last one, is it?
VM: Shane said it’s a full stop with a pencil, so let’s go with that.
Did filming get emotional?
VM: Oh, I was in bits.
TT: Weird, wasn’t it? It’s the end of the series, but we’re going to stay in touch. So it’s not the end for us.
VM: When we get back together, everything is heightened – the trauma, drama, gossip, day-to-day living. Emotions run high. Then it gets to the end, and the scene we all wrapped in was very emotional.
TT: When Gadget dies. [All laugh]
JG: Gadget’s dick falls off and he bleeds to death in a church. No, that last scene is incredibly moving. We’re dancing to a song – I don’t want to say too much.
TT: It’s one of them where you’ll always remember just how it was.
JG: We’ve become this dysfunctional family. It’s been a decade. We fight, but they’re my brothers and sisters. I love them. We’ve ended up ridiculously close, me and this dickhead [points at McClure].
Is that your nickname for her?
JG: Dickface McClure, yeah. She’s f*cking sound.
Do you keep an eye on each other’s careers?
JG: I’ve never seen Call Of Duty.
VM: It’s Line Of Duty! [Smacks Gilgun]
JG: Every time…
TT: I was a fan of Misfits before Joe was in it.
VM: I didn’t like Joe in it. I thought Harry Brown was great, but I don’t think Joe was right for it [laughs].
JG: I struggle to watch my mates in stuff, because they’ve ruined it. No matter how good they are, I look at them and go, “I know you’re a wassock and I remember this time you showed me your knob on a night out.” When you’re watching them being really emotional, really committed, all I can think is: “I know what your dick looks like.”
Do you think you’ve become more professional?
VM: Because it’s improvised, when we did the film everyone was just fighting to be heard. But now you could put us all in one scene, with one take, and there’d be nobody overlapping, nobody saying something they wouldn’t naturally say as the character. It’s easier.
JG: That first scene in the film where Shaun meets Woody, we were all talking over each other. I think I might have been overwhelmed by the task, and didn’t understand technically what was going on. I didn’t know what a pick-up was or hitting marks and shit.
Making the film must’ve been like herding kittens. Does Shane ever crack the whip?
JG: If you’re a knobhead, yeah. If you’ve been out of order, you’ll be made to know about it. But we are essentially an actual gang when we get together. It’s not cliquey or anything, but when it comes to work, we all want to achieve goals.
VM: Shane would never try to change anybody, even the biggest A-list names. You can’t turn round to Joe and say, “Stop talking so much.” It’s what Joe does. You can’t turn round to Thommo…
TT: “Straighten your eyes, Thommo, for fuck’s sake.” [Laughs]
VM: He’s born with them eyes.
Who’s the most disruptive influence on set? Present company excluded.
TT: We’ll all be fucking around right up until the word ‘action’. We’re all stupid little shits.
JG: I don’t think anyone could take the trophy.
VM: Every cast member has passed through my head.
JG: Who’s the least? Danielle, who plays Trev, is really well-behaved.
VM: She doesn’t dick about.
JG: If you put the lads together, you’ll be an hour behind by the end of the day.
Can you remember much of 1990? Obviously Thommo can’t.
TT: No. I was born in ’92.
VM: Fuck off! Really? That’s horrendous.
TT: My first console was a PlayStation.
JG: I were on Atari, me. I didn’t even have a console. I think my dad had a Sega Megadrive the size of his fucking leg or something.
VM: In the first episode, everything that’s on the TV, bar a weird documentary, I remember. You remember Button Moon, you remember soaps. And the props – the toys around the room.
JG: And stuff like calling for your mate. If you rang him and he didn’t answer, you’d call for him. And if he weren’t in, you weren’t seeing him. I lived in the middle of nowhere – I’d walk miles to my mates’ houses, and the twats wouldn’t be there. I remember that sort of shit. And my mum having terrible hair, like Brian May, and my dad having awful Hi-Tech trainers. The trainers they put outside JD on a rail – they just fucking want you to nick them.
Do you research the eras?
JG: No, we haven’t done any research. The props, the sets do the research. We turn up and just be a person. As soon as you start pre-empting stuff like that, I think you can lose a bit of the drama.
VM: There’s also the element of what Shane picked up on in ’90. If anyone else made the montages, they might include different footage, whereas it’s things that are prominent for Shane: football, politics, mad cow disease.
What about the music?
JG: Love the music. The Stone Roses – that changed everything for me in Chorley. And then Oasis came. It was massive and you were a part of that. So as a young lad, that’s the music I came up in.
What have been your highs and lows over the four series?
TT: I like that big fight we had [in ’86], because it’s very rare that we’re all in on the same day. Nine out of 10 times, it’ll be Gadge and Shaun one day, it’ll be you two another day.
JG: Ian Brown was there as well [playing a sadistic police officer]. So that was a big deal, working with him, having listened to him for so long, smoking resin in the bedroom – do you know what I mean? That’s a good one.
And the downs?
JG: Watching Vicky go through the rape scenes. Seeing the bruises. It was physical rape, without any penetration. Johnny [Harris, who played Lol’s dad] is very method. And the scene in the hospital [at the end of ’88]. It was such a lot of information from Lol: I’ve been raped by my dad for years, I murdered him with a hammer and I lost my mind.
VM: My highlights have been having a lot of laughs on ’90. For me, because of what I’ve done, just having a laugh was a great change. My hardest was ’88 for sure. ’86 was tough, but ’88 was like, “Fuck, we’ve got to go even darker.”
TT: And it affects you off-set. You can get out more. If you’re doing all that serious stuff, you sometimes want to keep yourself to yourself.
You two have been waiting 10 years to have fun…
JG: We deserve it, though. Woody and Lol deserve it.
VM: The film wasn’t that bad for us. Don’t get me wrong, ’90 doesn’t all go swimmingly, but it’s all good.
JG: I’ve enjoyed this one more than any of the others, without a doubt. I’d stopped drinking and smoking and got my head right for this one. I’ve got bipolar, so I had a bit of a break, so to come back to This Is England… I can do it – it’s never stopped me doing the job – but I was with my mates. For the first time in a long time, I was very balanced. Fuck me, it was funny.
VM: It’s weird. When you first get to the set, you get really nervous. Or, I do.
TT: We’ve all done this for 10 years, but the day before you go on set, it’s nerve-wracking.
JG: Anxiety and nerves are born out of the best intentions. It’s because you give a shit.
VM: We love that show as much as the audience do – if not more, because we get to live it.
JG: Shandy [Gilgun’s nickname for Meadows] will be shitting himself. He’s under pressure to produce. He’s just a man, for fuck’s sake.
Did Shane get emotional at the end?
VM: You know what, Shane’s still working on it, while we’ll go back to our normal lives, get new jobs…
TT: Speak for yourself!
JG: [Leaning into the recorder, voice raised] For fuck’s sake, someone give this lad a job. It’s everything that’s wrong with the industry. What the fuck? Have you not seen what he’s capable of? For fuck’s sake, send him some fucking work, you idiots.
If this is it, do you think it’s a strong finish?
TT: Yeah, a good finish.
JG: There’s a lot been wrapped up that needed to be.
But you don’t want it to be the end?
JG: Of course not. I don’t think Shane does, either. It’s such a wonderful thing we’ve got, such a special thing, such a rare thing, that none of us want to fully admit that this is potentially it. I think the only time we felt like this was in that final dance scene, when we were all together.
VM: That’s why it was so hard.
TT: It’s because you love the people you work with. It makes you realise how lucky you are. It shows how much it means to us, and how much we all mean to each other.
TT: I really don’t want to get covered in paint now.
This Is England ’90 starts on Channel 4, 13 September at 9pm