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Adulthood - Noel Clarke interview

Noel Clarke in Adulthood

Interview by Rob Carnevale

NOEL Clarke talks about the combined challenges of writing, directing and taking the lead in Adulthood, the keenly-anticipated sequel to Kidulthood – and why it shows young people today they do have a choice.

He also talks about the possibility of being perceived as a role model, the musical opportunities that arose from making the film, and his personal influences and the filmmakers that inspired him…

Q. What made you decide to direct Adulthood?
Noel Clarke: Well, I was offered the chance by the film company so it was really Pathe’s decision and the film council. The director of Kidulthood was doing W10, so he couldn’t actually direct this anyway. A few other people were mentioned and none of them were approved. But then Pathe and the film council said: “Well, why doesn’t Noel do it?” I’m not one to miss opportunities, so once they suggested it I said: “Yeah, fine, I’ll do that.” I had to do a test shoot, which involved choosing a few scenes from the movie, going away and shoot them in one day, before editing them and putting the music on as if you were doing a short film. So, we did that, they approved it and I got to do the film.

Q. Do those scenes still exist within the movie?
Noel Clarke: No, we re-shot them for the movie.

Q. Would you do all three again – writing, directing and acting in the same film?
Noel Clarke: Yeah, sure. If I’m given the opportunity to do it again I would love to do it again. It’s something I don’t think that anyone else is doing in the country at this level… not many people are doing it in the world. I think if you check that out and find it’s quite accurate, there’s only a handful of people that actually are doing it. George Clooney, Kevin Smith… Obviously, I won’t always want to be the lead. There’s films that we’re doing at the moment where I’m not the main part but I still want to direct it and I’ve written them. There’s one film I’m doing that really needs a female perspective, so I’ve brought on a female writer to write it with me as well. There’ll be variants of all three jobs. I’m doing Jim Sturgess’ new film, Heartless, at the moment, which I’m just acting in. It’s good just to sit back and watch Philip Ridley [the director] go: “Oh, what’s happening!?” That’s fantastic because it’s good to be under another director.

Q. Would you say you’re creating a Hollywood feel in London, whereby you’re taking on many roles and getting to do your own films?
Noel Clarke: Yeah, I haven’t heard it described like that before. But I guess so, it’s something that happens over there. Also, in terms of everything we’ve done with the film we have music videos, which have footage of the film in them. Ashley Thomas, otherwise known as Bashy, has got a music video with footage in the film and we’ve got songs directly written for the film. These things only usually happen with big budget British stuff like Love Actually or American movies. It’s not really done here… having music specifically written. It’s kind of bringing a real American feel to a British film. Again, it’s a follow-on, a sequel, and I defy you to name more sequels. I’m going to name three… Bridget Jones 2, Mr Bean’s Holiday and 28 Weeks Later. Name me another one… a British film and I’m not counting Bond films or Harry Potter films. Sequels just aren’t done in this country. It’s an amazing feat to even do that, so I think we’re definitely trying to create that feel where your audience speaks for you and they almost cause it to happen by the huge response.

Q. What’s the reaction been like in America? Will you be taking Adulthood over there and do you envisage any problem with people understanding it? *Noel Clarke: I’m not sure if Kidulthood had a theatrical release in America. I think it might just have been the DVD release. But if a country wants a film enough they’ll put subtitles on it. Lock, Stock… had subtitles in America because who can understand that Cockney stuff, really? So, if a country wants a film enough they’ll take it. And whether they’ll decide to take it or not is not always dependent on the dialect, but the demographic of people in the movie.

Q. In terms of dialogue how much improvisation was there?
Noel Clarke: Very little. There was a lot less improvisation in the first film than people think. People thought we just found people off the street and improvised, but it was 95% script. In this film, it was probably 99% scripted with very little improvisation at all. I allowed the actors to have freedom and sometimes change words if they needed to or thought that another word was more current. But generally it was as it appeared on the page.

Q. How did you tackle the dialect that’s being spoken by kids that are obviously younger than you. It’s changed quite a bit recently, hasn’t it?
Noel Clarke: Well, I grew up in the area and it hasn’t changed as much as people would like to believe. It’s just that people who don’t know that kind of dialect think it’s come out of nowhere and this is amazing! Actually, a lot of the words have been around for years; it’s just now, in the last few years, getting into the consciousness with the exception of a few new ones here and there. If you listen to kids, and they say something like “ah man, that’s nang” and you see them looking at a really fast car, you get the jist of it.

Q. You do get to an age where you start to think that kids don’t have any respect any more, which is echoed by a line in the film…
Noel Clarke: [Laughs] Said by the worst character in the film. It was kind of a joke…

Q. But you do start to feel old even when you’ve grown up in that environment…
Noel Clarke: Very much so and it always seems that the generation below you is getting worse, which is why I had the worst character in the film that said it. I don’t remember speaking to my elders like that, because you never remember… actually our generation was quite bad because everyone else always seems worse. But more important than that is the one that goes “when I was 15 all I wanted to do is get older…” And that’s the problem, isn’t it? All the young people grow up too fast and want to be able to do this, or that. When you get to the older age and you have a mortgage, bills, this and that you think: “If I had done that differently when I was younger, then I wouldn’t be in this situation now.”

Q. Were you ever worried that by depicting some characters in the film as being quite so aggressive and scary that you might get a negative reaction from people who are older? That people might think that someone wearing a hoodie might just as soon mug you as look at you?
Noel Clarke: No, because if you go and watch the film and suddenly get scared by that, I think you’re very jaded or sheltered. The truth is that society writes the movies – these things are happening already. In the movie, you have to have characters like Dabs so that you can have characters like Henry. You have to show the negative to show the positivity that comes from it. You have to have someone like Dabs say: “Let’s go and do this…” So that someone like Henry can go: “What? Are you crazy? I don’t want to go and do that!”

You have to have characters like Jay, to have Moony go: “What? I’m studying at university… Have you seen my girlfriend, dude? Are you mad?” But you have to show some of that stuff. I think Kidulthood was telling people this is happening and was ignored – not by the young people, but by those who thought they knew better. Unfortunately, two years later, we’re in a situation where people are saying “this is happening, this is happening, this is happening” where if people had maybe paid more attention back then we’d maybe not be in this situation now. But if Kidulthood was reflective of some of the bad things that some youths are doing, then Adulthood is the repair. If Kidulthood was reflective of the damage that some young people are doing, then Adulthood is the repair because it’s essentially about choice. Through various characters, it shows you can actually say: “I’m not going to participate in this…”

Q. How realistic is Adulthood to what’s going on today?
Noel Clarke: Well, it’s a movie. It’s set in 36 hours, much like the first one was. So, obviously there’s moments in it that are exaggerated because it happens in such a condensed period. But I think we can see what’s happening with today’s youth. What we really need to focus on is if this film, or if what we’ve done with our music initiative… we gave young people an opportunity to make some music and send it in to us with a view to maybe using it in the film. We had 900 tracks. If you give young people something positive to do, they’ll do positive things. So, 900 tracks came in and one of the kids’ tracks is in the movie. This is going to go international and his song is in the movie. So we’re not trying to focus on the negatives, but on the positives of what can come out of it and how we went about making the film. If you’re willing to do the work, then you might reap the benefits. I can’t always say that good things happen to good people, but you have to work hard. If you want to work hard and live right, then good things can happen to you. I’d much rather work hard and earn something and say: “Man, I earned this!” Than getting it through a short cut, having hurt people. That’s just not the right way to do it.

Q. How do you feel about being a role model to young people?
Noel Clarke: I don’t feel that I’m a role model. I’m just me. If people want to look up to me then that’s their business. I’m not perfect and I don’t consider myself to be a role model. But to be honest, I’d much rather my kids look up to me than look up to some rock star who gets off jail more times than is even funny. I’d rather them look up to me than some super-model who gets more famous the more bad things she does, or some other super-model who just thinks she’s going to beat up everyone she meets and gets more publicity and more money from it. That’s outrageous. Or these singers that do more and more ridiculous things and all they do is get more famous, more publicity… or girls who sleep with footballers, sell their stories and get £25-£30,000. Do you know how long some people have to work to get £30,000? I think it’s outrageous. So I’d much rather people look up to me than look up to those people. But I’m not going to consider myself a role model because that’s not for me to say. I just do what I do and if people want to look up to me, they can.

Q. You’re not the sort of celebrity that gets photographed buying their milk…
Noel Clarke: I won’t but the reason I won’t is because I won’t court the press. You’ll never see me in any of the tabloids because I’ve made a conscious effort to stay out of that. I’m not interested in fame. I’m interested in hard work and letting my work speak for what I do. I’ve been in high-profile shows but you don’t see stories on me because I don’t go out and court them.

Q. But do you also take into account that the following you have from some of those high profile shows [such as Dr Who] can help to bring people to films like this?
Noel Clarke: Well, it’s a completely different audience. There’s a few crossovers. I do get certain people saying: “Oh man, I loved your film…” But that’s a different audience. As an actor, director or writer you never want to be doing one thing. To show that diversity and be able to do more than one thing, and to play different characters, is part of the job that I’m supposed to do. Hopefully, I can continue doing that.

Q. What do you think is the state of black talent in the UK? You mentioned you attracted 900 tracks from your music initiative…
Noel Clarke: Firstly, I would like to think that a lot of the tracks weren’t just from black talent because the films Kidulthood and Adulthood aren’t really about race at all. It’s not touched on in Kidulthood at all and it’s only skirted on in Adulthood a couple of times. They’re not really about race, so I’d like to think that the tracks came from different places. The soundtrack itself is very eclectic. We have a great, great band comprised of three white kids called The Click Click who do a great song. And then we have people like Bashy and famous people like Dizzee Rascal who gave us a track. But I would say that black talent is becoming more and more represented as time goes by. I mean, it’s a process of breaking barriers as it were. But to be able to be considered someone who breaks barriers, you have to believe that the barriers were there in the first place. If you don’t pay attention to that sort of stuff, then you just go about doing your work then the benefits will come.

I’ve never been one to say: “Oh my gosh, there’s a glass ceiling…” If there’s glass, I don’t see it. When people say to me: “Oh don’t worry, if one door closes another one opens…” If one door closes for me, go through the window – I’m not interested in waiting around for people to give me opportunities. I try and make things happen and if I am given opportunities I take them and work harder. I would say to any young black youth out there that are listening that, f truth be known, if you get a job and you’re asked to work 100%, then you work 125% and don’t complain about it. The moment you complain about it, then you don’t really want to work. Always do more than you’re asked to do and you’ll get far in life – and that applies to all youth.

Q. Do you think that having taken your opportunity with Adulthood that it’ll lead to other offers?
Noel Clarke: Well, I would hope so. I can only make films that the industry will allow me to make. I would hope that it would lead to more opportunities but it’ll be interesting for all of us to watch and see what happens. Whatever does happen, it’ll also be interesting for us to analyse why it happened. If I go on to more things then we can think, “fine, that’s what should have happened”. If I don’t, then we need to really question why and attempt to look at what’s going on. But we have to wait and see.

Q. But you’re in a position now where you’re able to generate your own material and that means you could do something completely the opposite to Adulthood, so long as you get the financing?
Noel Clarke: That’s the idea. Everything I do from now has to be different. This story is done. Here’s the bottom line: If other people make another film like this one, they’re going to have to know that in reality they’re going to be compared to Kidulthood and Adulthood. If they’re not going to be as good as those films and you’re not going to get a sequel, then give up and write something else. Write about a doctor, or a black lawyer, or an Asian nurse, or even a Chinese physicist, or write about a female Prime Minister! Let’s start doing new and different things that enable us all to grow as a film culture and a community in total. We can’t leep doing stuff like this because I’m personally not going to do it anymore. And while people might be annoyed, I’ll personally be glad if lots of films get shut down if they’re of this similar thing because I’d rather new things come out.

Q. Who were your influences when you started out in the industry?
Noel Clarke: When I was acting way back when, and when I just wanted to get into acting, definitely Tarantino’s early work… particularly Pulp Fiction. I try and take elements of that way characters can just talk without really moving the story forward… because he did that really well. Kevin Smith’s Clerks was, again, just guys talking about stuff that guys talked about. Larry Clarke’s Kids… I remember at the tkme people were in uproar saying: “This doesn’t happen!” And yet all the kids were like: “This is what happens!” So, stuff like that.

Recently, Aronofksy’s Requiem For A Dream, Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien and I like Amelie as well. Doug Liman’s Go. I don’t aspire to be any of them but I like their films and like the way they’ve done things a little bit differently that aren’t “first act, middle act, final act”. They can actually play with the narrative or do slightly different things, or have scenes where people are talking and a script editor might say it’s not moving the story forward, but you can say: “No, but it’s fucking funny, isn’t it?” I like stuff like that, so that’s what I try to do.

Read our interview with Scarlett Alice Johnson

Read our review of Adulthood