Opening across the UK this week, David Watson caught up with the mildly hung-over North v South writer/director Steven Nesbit and star Brad Moore the day after it’s premiere at the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival in June.

***THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***

MR: So, last night was the premiere, was that the film’s first public screening? How did it go?

Steven Nesbit: It was very difficult for me to judge because I was in the first row, chewing my nails down. But it seemed to be ok, I don’t think anyone walked out. Which is always a good sign.

Brad Moore: We had another public screening with a couple hundred people a few months back in Mayfair, sort of half public, half industry, and the film seems to go down really well. People laugh in the right places and jump in the right places. It always cracks me up sitting next to someone and…uuuhh (exaggerated scare noise). Or giggling away…

MR: When the lights come up and they see you?

Brad Moore: Yeah, yeah. I always nudge ‘em don’t I? (To SN) I was telling you last night, because I’m on screen being quite evil, I always nudge ‘em, let ‘em know I’m right next to them and they’re like “Whoooa!”

MR: So, what’s the film about, what inspired it?

Steven Nesbit: Well, our touchstone, from start to finish, was the artwork of Caravaggio. And that carries through from the script to the photography to the design to the performance. So you have what I rather clumsily refer to as a superhero love story at the centre with all the shades of very bright optimism that go with that admidst the very, very dark, dirty, sweary, violent world that, thank God, none of us live in. And it’s kind of a figurative reference as well as a literal one because the lighting is Camera Obscura lighting, we deliberately went for that, that was our design. Actually, Brad is a bad example of that because he’s just dark, dark, dark the whole way through…but he’s tempered by Charlotte who has a very nymph-like appearance on screen…

Brad Moore: Yeah, it’s always cutting back to light after it’s been with me when I’m representing dark. But the thing about Caravaggio is, from a performance perspective, it gave us all a real context as to what we were driving at. It’s Ancient Rome. Somebody’s smiling at you but knifing you at the same time behind your back. Once we embodied that, as an ensemble, it just fed into everything we did.

Steven Nesbit: Probably the most difficult part of the whole project was trying to explain, in small words and large, this isn’t a gangster film! Because it looks and it smells and it tastes like a gangster film…Until you read the script…And once we got past that hurdle, thanks to our casting director who was able to convince agents to look at it…then we were golden. And that maintains even until now: we are not selling a gangster film as people know it, we’re selling a love story that takes place in that world. And that’s quite a tricky sell.

Brad Moore: To me it’s like a Trojan Horse. The gangster is the horse because that’s what gets the doors open and gets the film made and everything. But so much of it is completely different on the inside. So gangster flick is the horse but on the inside then we’ve got love story, power struggle, drama, comedy…big graphic novel-style characters, colourful characters…It couldn’t be further from your typical, British gangster film. I always think, to me, I’m very proud of the film, but if you’re going to call it a gangster film, was Sexy Beast a gangster film? It’s more going towards those colourful, comedic performances than the gangsters we all know and love. Not quite. Brackets. Not!

MR: Obviously there’s a Shakespearean quality to it…

Steven Nesbit: Aw, bless you, you can come again.

MR:…the obvious touchstone is Romeo And Juliet because of the romance, and that was what I was expecting. But it’s interesting you mention Caravaggio, there’s an almost heightened, dreamlike sense to it, so when I was watching I was thinking more of Shakespeare’s comedies, Midsummer Night’s Dream, because it’s a funny film, much funnier than you think it’s going to be, there’s a very playful quality to it that lends itself to big performances.

Brad Moore: Berkoff captures that. He’s not that far removed from Shylock or something in terms of the way he delivers…

Steven Nesbit: He’s a very, very physical performer, more than any of the cast by a long, long way. Stephen, himself, likes a lot of direction because, I don’t know if he’d thank me for saying this, but he feels, in himself, that he has a tendency to over-do it. But here was an arena where he could actually and pull it off very nicely because his character is that…

Brad Moore: Animated.

Steven Nesbit: The humour, I won’t say comedy, the humour in there…very tricky. For example, at the end where Sam (Sydney Wade), the girl, she pops Gary’s head off and goes “Uh…minging!” And on the script, we thought no, we can’t do that, it’s terribly clichéd or spellbreaking or whatever. We shot it anyway. And, bless her, Sydney was so good that night, it was like four o’clock in the morning and she’d just woke up. For me, the most interesting thing about this film and the projects I personally like are the fact that they span different genres and they don’t, they won’t be put in a pigeonhole. Yes there are rules that we almost obey, but those are rules of psychology as opposed to screencraft. And I think having that dark humour in there, coming back to Caravaggio, is just a lovely relief from Gary stomping a bottle into somebody’s neck.

Brad Moore: You can do anything as long as you do it well. 

MR: The performances feel very organic. How much input did ou have into your character?

Brad Moore: Well, it’s interesting because my character was inspired by the first night that Steve and I met. We gotdrunk and I started doing some improvisations and some, almost impersonations of some of the good British gangster characters and some of the bad British gangster characters and some of the real gangsters that I’ve had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of. So, I was playing a smorgasbord of gangster for Steve the night I met him and he went away and he wrote Gary Little. We didn’t collaborate in terms of sculpting out the character, you went away and wrote that…but he knew what I was capable of delivering and I think it inspired him to finish off the piece with that character. But we did some rehearsal and some bits and pieces and on-set we were very collaborative.

Steven Nesbit: I think you very much made it your own. The shades of Gary Little you pulled off and you had carte blanche to do it. A lot of the scenes we did in one take, the entire scene. And I did ask the cast at the beginning if they would object to doing that…because it’s hard work. There’s a lot to learn, a lot of movement, blocking’s hard, that kind of thing. Everybody without exception was quite excited to do it that way because it resembled theatre a bit more. And what that meant was people had space to breathe. And they could actually flesh the characters out a bit more. Brad, for example, could take Gary wherever he wanted.

Brad Moore: Well, I spent time in character before the shoot so I could get used to being Gary…

Steven Nesbit: About forty years!

Brad Moore: Forty-five. Yeah…And he’s unhinged!

MR: Just you going around terrorising clowns?

Brad Moore: Yeah, terrorising clowns at Billy Smart’s! I was just spending time walking around as Gary Little because he’s very unhinged and he thinks dark thoughts. So I was just walking to the nesagent and picturing myself punching the guy on the nose, even though I was just buying a Mars bar off him or something, just to generate those thoughts. That’s the way Gary Little would think, like: “Who are you to…?” Or if someone was slightly abrupt with me, I’d consider slitting their throat or something. And what’s worrying is I found it easy to find the inherent darkness in myself. I think it’s easier for us all to be nasty than it is to be nice. You can tap into those evil emotions. But it was a joy to play. He’s such a layered, nasty piece of work but so clean in some ways. Steve said to me once: “If you’re playing the Devil, play the Devil!” when I was going a little bit off piste at one point and wanted to soften him up a bit.

MR: In some ways, he’s the only character in the film who knows who he is?

Brad Moore: Yeah. He does what it says on the tin.

MR: Your character, being who he is, has some very physical moments. (SPOILER: a flamethrower is involved in the final showdown) How close did you get to those flames? Because that looked pretty close… 

Brad Moore: Well, when you’re in a field at four in the morning, and someone’s putting gel down the right side of your face and you ask him: “What you doing that for?” and he says “O. don’t worry…This is in case he slips…” and you’re like “Eh? What?” But yeah, that was cheated a metre past me but if he did slip that was me, gone.

Steven Nesbit: I must admit, that was the one point of the film where I was a little bit concerned. I mean the best of the worst things that can happen is Brad is hideously disfigured and it goes downhill from there. Originally, we were going to shoot that on two plates and Brad wouldn’t be anywhere near the flames but on the night, logistically, it wasn’t possible so we ended up shooting the master in-camera.

Brad Moore: I could feel the heat. It lit up the sky. It wasn’t hard to perform…the hardest bit was walking toward the flame. We had a professional fire guy holding the flame and it looked good but Steve being Steve came over and said “C’mere son,” and put his arm around me and I said “What’s the matter boss?” “Nah, nah, nah, it’s all good,” “Performance alright?” and he says “Fantastic! You’re doing fine…It’s not quite working how I want it in the wide…” I says “You what?” “I just want to get a shot with the whole thing wide, ’cause we’re going to cheat the perspective…Would you do a couple of takes with Dominic holding the flamethrower?” “What Dominic the actor who’s having a bit of a bad day?” “Yeah, that Dominic.” So I said ok. And we did it, we shot it and it worked. So then you’ve got the whole thing with Dom holding the flame. But just off camera is the professional and the stunt coordinator. And they put more gel on me, loaded me up with glycerin.

Steven Nesbit: Taking on a flamethrower, that’s the character! If you’re going to play the devil, play the devil!

Brad Moore: He thinks he’s invincible. When I watch that scene the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Steven Nesbit: It’s like a visual ballet.

Brad Moore: If you can set someone on fire artistically, that’s what we did. It’s like Cirque De Soleil.

 

North v South opens across the UK Friday 16 October 2015

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.