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Looking For Eric - Paul Laverty interview

Paul Laverty

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SCREENWRITER Paul Laverty talks about some of the challenges of bringing Looking For Eric to the big screen, working with football legend Eric Cantona, and why the film does tackle some important social issues as well as adopting a more playful tone than usual.

Q. How difficult a challenge was finding a version of Eric’s voice that we see in the film?
Paul Laverty: Well, to be honest when we first met Eric we were so delighted, as any football fan would be to welcome him. He had such a strong personality on the field, but off the field too. He’s full of contradictions, which was fascinating to both myself and Ken. But what was really important was to try and get the tone of the piece. The previous films that Ken and myself were involved in were quite heavy, so we thought it would be good to have a sense of mischief in this film. We both remember Eric’s wonderful press conference many, many years ago and two things struck us about that. First of all, it takes a lot of balls to go in and face a whole pile of press after such an incident. And secondly, there was great mischief in it. So, we were convinced there was a lot of sense of fun with Eric.

And what was key to, once we actually started talking in detail about the film, was that he was really prepared to laugh at himself. We weren’t going to celebrate celebrity, we were going to puncture it. So, that notion of laughing at yourself was very important. And secondly, he had great sympathy and insight into Eric Bishop’s fragility, which was so wonderfully played by Steve Evets.

Q. And how did you incorporate some of Eric’s observations?
Paul Laverty: In the conversations I had with Eric before I wrote the script there were some wonderful insights. He’s too modest and will play them down but the line where he says: “To surprise a crowd I had to surprise myself first… you must be prepared to take risks.” That came from Eric and that’s the way he talked about playing football. I think he was a person that was prepared to take a chance and take a risk. I think going into acting again is exposing yourself and taking a risk. Also, it was a real gift from Eric when I asked – like any football fan would – “what is your sweetest moment?” It was a direct question I had when writing the script, and he said: “It wasn’t a goal, it was a pass.” That was an absolute gift because you could integrate that into the rest of the story.

Q. Is this a gift to Manchester United?
Paul Laverty: I think many, many football fans are obviously very loyal to their own team but there are certain personalities that transcend their own team. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Messi or Best? Eric falls into that category. I got into a taxi this morning with a Chelsea fan and he just loved Eric’s football because it had an unexpected quality and some very exciting qualities. There was also something about his personality that transcended the pitch and I think any football fan who really enjoys football is obviously aware of players of that quality.

Q. Do you think this film will appeal to fans of other clubs other than Manchester United?
Paul Laverty: It’s not just about Man Utd as FC United. I think there are many, many football fans who feel maybe alienated from their clubs because they can’t afford the season tickets. It was very interesting doing the research for this story. I spoke to real postmen and people who had more humble jobs and some of them were lucky enough to see Eric play live. But none of them could afford to go now and so they have great respect for FC United, who said: “We’ll form our own club, we’ll try and keep the spirit of the team, but we’re going to set up something much more modest and you can bring the kids along for £2.” There’s a sense of ownership of their clubs and I think that’s something that many, many fans can identify with.

Q. How was writing Cantona-isms for Eric?
Paul Laverty: Like I said, once we had the tone of the piece we wanted to bring a sense of mischief. You’re inspired by all sorts of things. But I felt very, very free. I wasn’t worried what Eric would think. I had a sense he’d enjoy this. We were very keen that it wouldn’t celebrate celebrity culture. We’d just undermine it and poke fun at it. We do it in a fun way. When Big Eric says to Little Eric: “Do you think my friends are more important than yours?” That was something that we all kind of meant really. It’s a recognition of our common humanity and this idea that there are superior beings to others. Actually, what we have to really value is friendship. I felt that was implicit about the three of us.

Q. What’s your favourite scene?
Paul Laverty: I was actually a terrible French student – I could never pronounce it and I used to get punished for it. So, it was actually great to have vengeance on the French nation by having a Frenchman trying to say: “He who sows thistles shall reap prickles.” Fortunately, Eric had his own teeth so that made it a lot easier.

Q. There’s quite a lot of violence in the film. What do you think the film says about violence?
Paul Laverty: In trying to make a story you have to be faithful to the premise and to the characters. This wasn’t just bolted on to make it melodramatic but to get a point in. Eric Bishop grows up in a certain area in Manchester and if you go to many of those areas one of the biggest worries for many parents is what’s happening to their teenage children. There is massive unemployment and there is unfortunately a great problem with guns. It’s not just about dealing drugs. They call them respect issues. I spent time with some wonderful people called Mothers Against Violence, some of whom had lost their children, or their relatives, or their brothers, and they were absolutely terrific. But I think there is a massive challenge for us all, especially just now. The level of unemployment for 16 to 25, not only in Britain but around Europe just now, is absolutely terrifying.

Read our review of Looking For Eric