Some Frank Talking

Monday, January 7 2013
Some Frank Talking

With an impressive CV that dates back to Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and beyond ­ through to more cent outings such as Screwed, taking in the likes of Rise Of The Footsoldier and The Football Factory along the way, Frank Harper is the ultimate Britflick star. His name is a fixture in the cast of key homegrown gangster and hooligan films and has been in some of the most iconic and lucrative movies of this genre.

But now the affable star has turned his hand not just to writing, but directing too, with St George’s Day, his debut in both fields.

This writer first spoke to Harper as he made his breakthrough in Lock, Stock, so it’s somewhat fitting that we’ve come full circle, speaking to him again as he makes his bow behind the camera, and a typewriter too.

So how did it come about? How did the archetypal geezer (and Millwall supporter too, it must be noted) end up writing and helming a feature, as well as acting in it?

“A lot of the film has been in my head for a long time, and the opportunity came up to do it,” he explains. “I’d been involved with one project for a couple of years and that fell through. Some money was made available and it was the best opportunity I’d had to put all this stuff down on paper.”

And as the writing progressed, it became clear to Harper that maybe he was the best man to direct too. “As we went down the line,” he continues, “it became more obvious to me that, because it was personal, that other directors [would want] to do their version, and the only way to do it [the way he wanted] was to direct it myself.

The story itself was the relatively easy part. “It’s a lifestyle I’ve been outside looking in at,” he says. I thought I’m only going to get (cash) to do this once. In some respects it’s homage to all the films I grew up with in the 70s, when I first fell in love with film.

“The characters had this sort of their own version of the world. They see themselves as a way of life coming to an end. What I wanted to get across was that sort of connection. I wanted to make these characters articulate. They read, they’re not just mindless thugs.”

But the film is nothing if not commercial: it blends elements of Brit classics such as The Italian Job with a more contemporary, post-Lock, Stock British gangster and football hooligan feel. It’s also hugely ambitious: “We shot 130 locations in six weeks in three different countries,” Harper explains. “We wanted to do it big, in London, Amsterdam and Berlin. We were the first crew to film in the red light district [in Amsterdam], no-one’s ever done it before.”

And the experience proved to be an enjoyable one. “I enjoyed it, I had a very good crew, a brilliant DOP and a very experienced cast,” Harper says.

“Anything technical I would ask Mike [Southon, the aforementioned DOP], for other questions, if I didn’t know what to say, I’d say ‘what do you think?’,” he adds, laughing.

“The actors were on the ball from the (off),” he further adds. Which brings us on neatly to the talent involved: St George’s Day boasts a hugely impressive cast, including some of Britain’s finest, many of whom are the kind of instantly familiar faces that have helped the film off to such a lively start. As well as being recognisable faces, the likes of Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Neil Maskell and co are all mates of Harper’s. He had no hesitation in calling them. “Why wouldn’t I? It’s a talented bunch of mates,” he laughs, adding that some, such as Maskell, had bespoke roles written for them. Charles Dance was brought in thanks to a friendship with one of the producers. “It was a big buzz for me. He did a fantastic job. I personally think he really nailed it.”

One thing that Harper had to get used to was acting a bit more responsibly on set, even when his pals were getting up to hi-jinks. “[During filming] at 11pm the actors carried on drinking. I had to be sensible and go back to my room,” he laughs. “It does take over your life.  More so than a normal acting role.”

And what of the end result? “I don’t think you’re ever entirely happy in your head,” he admits. “When I started out I knew at times I’d have to compromise. Maybe in a couple of years’ time I’ll be able to enjoy it.

“Lock, Stock is a classic example of that. Three years after the film had come out it was on the telly. I watched it and thought ‘this is pretty good this film’. It’s very difficult, you’re constantly analysing it.”

The film has got off to a bright and lively start (see our newsletter for more), despite receiving something of a lambasting from critics.

“I didn’t make the film for British critics,” he says. “If certain people had liked it I’d have been worried. I’ve been in enough films now, you know the audience. I still go to football and they’re my biggest critics, walking in to Whelans before I go to the Den on a Saturday.”

And it could well have paid off. For after its bright start things are looking good for St George’s Day. Harper’s already landed some seed money for another project. “That film was made for a particular audience, now I want to move on, broaden my horizons. I’ve got development money for the next project, so in that sense, it’s worked for me.

“I’ve now got a track record, I’ve directed a film, that’s what I look at.”

It should help as a calling card when it comes to finding actors too. “I’m out of favours with my mates,” he concludes, laughing.

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