British director Guy Ritchie may have been mentioned in tabloids about his famous marriage to Madonna, but that hasn’t stopped him from helming his latest crime thriller, RocknRolla, starring Gerard Butler and Thandie Newton.
Once again, set in London, a stolen painting pits some of the city’s scrappiest tough guys against its more established underworld players. Attending the annual Comic Con, Ritchie talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: Guy, what was your inspiration for RocknRolla?
Ritchie: Well, the thing is it’s in the same genre as Snatch and Lock Stock and I felt I wanted to do another one, partly because of the amount of enthusiasm I got from those movies, but also because England’s changed so much in the last 15-20 years. The world of crime has consequently changed so much in the last 20 years so to a degree, part of the movie is about old school gangsters getting pushed out by the new school and an aspect of that is eastern European or Russian. So a few years ago, if your average gangster had made a few million pounds and was seen as a big to do, that’s really been eclipsed by the international eastern gangster who now comes packing billions. So he comes, he’s like a mobile corporation and this is to a degree, one of the stories is a reflections of the old school natives trying to hang on to business as it used to be but they’re just being pushed out by corporate massive crime, corporate I mean in a purely criminal sense.
Question: Why did this genre click with you so much?
Ritchie: I don’t know. I just like undercultures and subcultures. It just happened to be my thing.
Question: How different in tone is it?
Ritchie: Well, it’s in the same genre so if you saw this and you saw Snatch, you would suspect that the same filmmaker was behind it.
Question: Any differences?
Ritchie: I’d like to think so because otherwise we’d have called it Snatch 2. No, it’s a new take and it’s a contemporary take and the stories are new, but you can tell that the guy that made those movies previously is the guy that made this movie. That’s part of the package. That’s what I like to do so it’s influenced.
Question: As you get older, do you approach criminals less romantically?
Ritchie: Probably not. That will probably be the answer to that one. No, it’s pretty much I think an objective view of crime on the whole. I try not to be ethical or moral about it. It’s simply an observation and commentary on that observation. That sounded relatively intellectual.
Question: The Americans came from an Outkast video?
Ritchie: It did, yeah, yeah. It was influenced by Andre and Big Boi, I can’t remember the name. They were influenced by that and inspired by that.
Question: Have you ever met any underworld members?
Ritchie: Absolutely not. The criminal underbelly of society is heavily frowned upon by myself.
Question: Do they ever want to get involved?
Ritchie: Yes. I mean, the idea, many of the ideas, the pig feeding story, for example, in Snatch, if anyone is familiar with it, that’s a cliché of how people dispose of bodies. Since then I’ve seen it pop up in several movies but yeah, I had met the guy that used to remove the teeth before they chopped him up and gave him to the pigs. By the way, now he’s a grandfather, he’s a lovely chap, he gives to charity, he runs his local football team and he looks like your average avuncular generous individual. So sometimes there’s nothing exotic about the exoticism of crime. That’s kind of interesting in itself, that sometimes people can do what we see as heinous and nefarious acts and to them it’s just par for the course.
Question: What are the social commentaries in RocknRolla?
Ritchie: Sure, the social commentary is everything I’ve been talking about. I mean, the social commentary is how the face of England, I suppose in turn, England is no longer has the identity that we previously understood it to have. It’s become international like New York has become international. So the commentary is how I suppose identities have shifted, cultural identities have shifted. If you take New York and London now, they’re so much more similar than they used to be. It’s commentary on that. It’s commentary on how crime has shifted. It’s commentary on how business is conducted. Previously people could offer, let’s say take an example of a million pounds for a house, and then an oligarch will come along and would say, “Just to take it off the market and to save and haggling, I’ll offer you 20 million.” That wasn’t necessarily uncommon. It suddenly became, “It’s going for a million, well, I’ll offer two, three.” Then you just go, “Oh, fuck it. How much do you want for it? Here’s 20 million.” Now they did that with football teams. They did it with football players. They did it with every sort of cultural manifestation that we had, these exponential bid would suddenly come into the equation. That had tremendous cultural effect on the way everything was manifest. So we try to reflect some of that within the movie too.
Question: Is it important for you to keep exploring contemporary London?
Ritchie: Well, I’ve used the word exponential and I think it’s pertinent toward culture in general, and particularly any capital that moves as fast as New York or London is that the time and space, technology is a reduction of time and space and motion. It’s done that to culture too so everything is moving exponentially, so fast that we can’t keep tabs on it. So I suppose this is the interesting part just before it completely goes off the Richter scale in terms of its pace of changing. This is like a documentary of before we can’t recognize it at all for the identity it once had.
Question: Are audiences harder to surprise with twists and turns?
Ritchie: I think it depends on what genre I’m going into. The movie after this, we’re doing Sherlock Holmes and that is clearly going to be in a different genre, right? So I think people would expect something very different and hopefully a flavor of what it is they are familiar with. This was clear in the fact that it did what it said on the tin. I was interested in this genre that people are familiar with and as I say, I hope it’s got enough stuff in it, new nutrition, to inspire an audience.
Question: Does it keep people guessing?
Ritchie: Oh no, no, I’ve been ambitious with how the plots interweave. The hard work is actually writing the thing. Shooting it is comparatively easy.
Question: How different is your Sherlock?
Ritchie: It’s going to be very contemporary. I mean, I suppose originally Sherlock Holmes was this intellectual action man and I think what happened was they played down the action man aspect because they just didn’t have the means of executing the action in interesting ways. Well, we do have the means and we have the technology so we’re just riding on the back of that.
Question: Contemporary like now?
Ritchie: No, it still remains in its period but we like the idea that he’s an intellectual action guy to a degree.
Question: Is there a race against Sacha Baron Cohen’s Sherlock?
Ritchie: I don’t even have a script yet so we’re hoping not.
Question: Still London?
Question: Are you still a fan of London?
Ritchie: That’s me home town, yeah.
Question: Got a pub?
Ritchie: I do have a pub. It’s much harder to run a pub than it is to make a film by the way.
Question: Why do you love London?
Ritchie: I was born there and I’ve seen it change and I know a great deal about it, I’m invested. I live vicariously through my wife so I was once a spy and now I’ve become a tourist and it’s much more fun to live in London as a tourist than it is as a spy. Someone told me the definition was a spy always looks for the bad stuff and a tourist always looks for the good stuff. So that makes it easy, being married to an American.
Question: Have you discovered new things about London being married to an American?
Ritchie: Sure. I mean, London’s big. I don’t really know how big it is but you think New York’s big. New York goes up. London just goes on and on and on. London’s been going on for 2000 years and it hasn’t stopped for 2000 years. New York’s been going for like 300 years.
Question: Does the smoking ban in England affect your pub?
Ritchie: The only reason I went into the pub business is because they stopped smoking in pubs, so yeah, but I think four pubs a day go out of business in England.
Question: With everything going on this summer, is everything okay?
Ritchie: As far as I’m aware of.