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Mr Nice - Howard Marks interview

Mr Nice

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HOWARD Marks talks about some of his experiences of meeting Rhys Ifans for the making of Mr Nice, the movie about his life, and some of his memories (or lack thereof) of his time as a hashish dealer…

Q. Has there been a film project of your life mooted before over the years?
Howard Marks: Well, this one was mooted in 1996.

Q. But no one ever came to you before that?
Howard Marks: No, I was in prison [laughs]. You don’t get too many film directors giving you a visit!

Q. I gather it was you who first suggested to Rhys Ifans many years ago that he should play you in a film of your life. What did he say?
Howard Marks: Well, it wasn’t my suggestion more than his. We were just having a conversation in Pontypridd where I’d met him for The Super Furry Animals and we were talking about each other’s aspirations, hopes and fantasies for the future. My book hadn’t been published then, so we roughly came to an agreement that should my book get published and should it be made into a film, and should be become an actor [laughs] could he play me. I was very happy to say ‘yes’ and I stuck to the promise.

Q. What’s it like subsequently watching his performance?
Howard Marks: Very, very satisfying. He’s taller, younger and better looking, which helps!

Q. Was it important to you that a Welshman was playing you?
Howard Marks: Yeah, yeah, very important. Occasionally, because it didn’t seem like it was happening, I entertained the possibility of other people doing it. I think Hugh Grant expressed interest at one time [laughs].

Q. Going back to that first meeting with Rhys, didn’t you sign a Risler paper for him, or something?
Howard Marks: Well, he did bring a packet of cigarette papers with him and before we started talking about the film or anything like that, he asked me to sign them. I did [sign one] and he looked very disgruntled and disappointed and said: “No, I meant every one!” Something about that endeared me to him tremendously.

Q. What are the great differences between you and Rhys? I guess you must get asked about the similarities all the time…
Howard Marks: There are differences in terms of where we were born. He was born about 200 miles away, up in the north of Wales, and I was born in the deep south. There are the difference I mentioned earlier about him being taller and better looking [smiles] and younger. I can’t think of any topic that we had bitter disagreements about. We discussed basically everything you could possibly imagine. So, very little difference really.

Q. What do your children think of the film? Have they seen it?
Howard Marks: Yes, they’ve all seen it and obviously they find the arrest and everything… that drags tears out of them, for sure, as it does to me. But they really like it. They’ve all come back to see it again and will continue to see it again and again. I often wonder the same myself, you know… what do they really think?

Q. With regards to the character of Jim McCann, how similar is David Thewlis’ portrayal in the film to the real man?
Howard Marks: Oh, frighteningly similar. Given that David has never even met Jim McCann, and I have… but the few people who have seen David’s performance, who knew Jim McCann, think it’s absolutely brilliant and bang on.

Q. The film places you in a lot of dangerous situations… so what’s the scariest situation you ever found yourself in during that time?
Howard Marks: Well, there I felt the most afraid, I guess, was when I first got into Terre Haute, the prison that I did most of my time in. The first day there, of course I was terrified, absolutely terrified. But I had to learn very quickly never to show one’s fear. It’s a bit like jealousy, we all feel it, but once you start acting on those emotions, you’ve f**king had it inside.

Q. Bernard has said that you’d forgotten a lot of the details of your life when it came to recreating them on-screen. Is there a danger that it then becomes like a false memory when you see the film?
Howard Marks: Well, it reminded me of what I’d forgotten. Sometimes, when a bit of your past life is re-enacted on the screen, that is sometimes stronger and more compact than the boring tedium of having actually lived through it. So, yes it is like that but at other times it can be: “Well, hold on, maybe I got out of the other side of the car.” But once you get into that mindset, you’re obviously on one of those… It’s a combination of too much to remember and the brilliance of Bernard’s direction. I remember very little as a child in terms of real memories. I know m parents used to tell me stories about how we went to this place, or that place, and obviously I have no memory of them, but I can still visualise being in those places as a result of hearing it. So, memory is a funny one.

Q. So, when the day comes when your life flashes before your eyes, will it be you or Rhys?
Howard Marks: A combination of us both! He’ll definitely be in it [laughs].

Read our review of Mr Nice

Read our interview with Bernard Rose