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Attack The Block - Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Alex Esmail and Simon Howard interview

Attack The Block

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FRANZ Drameh, Leeon Jones, Alex Esmail and Simon Howard talk about the making of Joe Cornish’s directorial debut Attack The Block and finding their characters.

Franz also compares his experiences of working with Clint Eastwood on Hereafter to filming Cornish’s British blockbuster.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your characters first of all and what appealed to you about playing them?
Franz Drameh: I play the character of Dennis, who is the hot-head of the group. He’s a samurai sword wielding, pizza go-go stolen moped riding, kind of hyped up right-hand man to Moses. If Moses or any of the gang said: “There’s trouble… let’s go, go!” He’d be the first one, no questions asked, there ready to brawl it out.

Leeon Jones: I play Jerome, who is the brains of the bunch… the intelligent one. He likes to sit back and watch what’s going on, take in information and think how he’s going to get out of it safely. He really doesn’t want to be in these situations but he has to be down with them.

Alex Esmail: I play Pest, who is kind of the joker of the gang. He smokes a lot of narcotics. I think what appealed to me most about playing this character is that there’s mild elements of psychotic behaviour with this guy. I think he’s slightly psycho. I think smoking so much weed probably doesn’t help. I think that I can bring that out in him.

Simon Howard: I play Biggz, who is the youngest of the group but he has this buzz to him that makes him very energetic, funny and he’s kind of the mummy’s boy. He has a lot of passion for his mum. Somehow, he has to contact his mum to say what he’s doing that day. I doubt he wants to be there but his ego is such that he wants to prove to the gang that he’s committed.

Franz Drameh: He’s a physical representation of peer pressure [laughs]! He has to earn his stripes.

Q. How long have you been together because you share a close bond? I’d imagine that was a key part of the audition process?
Franz Drameh: We met around November/December 2009 and we kind of rehearsed ever since. We’ve had a while to get a close friendship, so by the time we actually started filming we were all fast friends and we knew a lot about each other.

Alex Esmail: But even on set we grew more as friends.

Q. How did you all take to being on a film set because for most of you it was your first time?
Franz Drameh: I’ve done a couple of things. I’ve worked with Clint Eastwood on Hereafter, which was crazy. But working on Attack The Block was crazy and so much fun. There were big sets, loads of people, and you see everyone just doing their job. So, you see them and think: “I’ve got to do my job!”

Q. So, go on… compare Clint Eastwood to Joe Cornish…
Franz Drameh: They’ve both got their different styles, obviously, but they’re both so amazing to work with. I mean, Clint Eastwood knows what he wants and he doesn’t do too many takes. He kind of has ideas right away and tells you what he wants, and how he wants you to get there, but he really just lets you go and just do it. Joe trusts you a lot and he’s very, very, very serious about exactly what he wants from the scene, so he’ll kind of be like: “OK, well how about you raise the pitch in your voice and get some more breathing?” So, he really, really helps you get into what he wants the character to be. But at the same time he allows you to bring your own ideas forward and shows you a lot of respect as an actor and as a professional.

Q. How did you all enjoy being able to contribute ideas for your character? I gather sometimes you insisted on making them harsher than Joe had written them? And you also had input on your wardrobe?
Leeon Jones: Yeah, specific to the wardrobe stuff, we wanted to make it cinematic but real at the same time because we did talk about keeping an air of authenticity. But ideally the whole thing is a sci-fi film, so we had to have elements of that in our mentality and put that in.

Q. And Franz?
Franz Drameh: Towards the end of the film, the gang starts to warm a bit towards Sam [Jodie Whittaker]’s character but I was pretty adamant that Dennis wouldn’t. Dennis would not warm to anyone. So, Joe let us put in our own ideas and tweak little things, which was really cool.

Q. How physically demanding was it – not only in terms of being chased through corridors and jumping over things, but also because it was a night-time shoot…
Simon Howard: It was cold, very cold! Hypothermia cold [laughs]!

Leeon Jones: But at the end of the day that was part of the job. It’s what we had to do.

Alex Esmail: Yeah, the glamorous life of an actor involved waiting around in rat-infested underground garages.

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