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Outlaw - Nick Love interview

Nick Love, director of Outlaw

Interview by Rob Carnevale

OUTLAW director Nick Love discusses some of the controversial issues surrounding his latest film, such as the levels of violence in Britain and Blair’s government.

He also talks about some of the tactics he employed to get the film made and why it’s important to him that his movies reach as many people as possible…

Q. This film has already touched a few chords. Is that what you wanted?
A: I didn’t set out to make a film that upset people but naturally some of the subtext of the film and the issues it raises are organically quite topical and controversial at the moment. So it seems to be putting a few noses out of joint.

Q. Have any of the reactions so far surprised you? Have you found unlikely allies from anyone?
A: Yeah, it’s been much more in the broadsheets than some of my other films have been. The Football Factory got a bit of broadsheet stuff. I can actually see a slight trend that some of the lads’ mags are not as favourable on Outlaw because it’s not as jokey, and some of the more serious publications are interested in it.

Q. Where did the story come from in the first place?
A: It came from Rupert Friend’s story in the film, which I’d read as a very small article in the paper a couple of years back. It was basically about this university student who had been the victim of a totally unprovoked attack. He was beaten and slashed. The kids who beat him up were teenagers and they were sent to borstal. But they had such short sentences that they’d come out before the student had finished having reconstructive facial surgery in hospital. I remember reading it and thinking that there’s something fundamentally wrong in the justice of that. Then I started thinking about it as a film, and as a character, how would that boy feel if he read that. Would you just go “oh well, I believe in God and I’m going to let it pass”? Or would you want to exact revenge on that? What would you do if a crime was perpetrated against you or someone you love? How far would you go? Would you be able to take the law into your own hands and allow rationality to slip out of your hands? Or would you trust the police?

Q. Is it true that Sean Harris [who plays Hillier] went a bit method and got a bit possessive about the furniture in his room?
A: Yeah. He’s a lovely man, Sean, but he’s a different sort of actor… he’s a closed book until he trusts you. He turned up when we were filming all paranoid and spooky and trying to weird everyone out, but within about three days he was everyone’s best mate.

At first, he was really obsessed about what he’d be wearing and he went to bed in his tracksuit. But I think it shows in his performance. He’s a really terrifying character but what’s amazing about it is that these kinds of people do exist – these loners that fantasize about world domination in their own sick way. I think he did it really well.

Q. The newsreader in the film asks viewers whether they think the characters in the film are heroes or villains. What do you think?
A: The bottom line is that if you break the film you’re a villain and they’ve all broken the law by the time that question is posed. Therefore, they’re on the wrong side of the law, which is why the film is called Outlaw. But it is a good question because there are a lot of moral dilemmas in the film and that’s why it’s an interesting film.

For instance, the scene in the barn where they’re about to hang or not hang the thug… there’s so many different issues going on in that one scene. For Cedric, the lawyer, to be put in front of the person that has killed his wife, there are so many things in there that viewers are unclear about. The idea was that all the way through the film you’re constantly asking moral questions. It goes beyond whether it’s illegal or not; it’s more about to be desperate enough to do something like that you’re really not thinking about whether it’s illegal or not.

Q. With all the media attention on young people, ASBOs, the hoodie culture, etc, your film seems to portray young people in quite a negative light. Is that what you think?
A: It depends. Some people may watch the film and say it’s very anti-chav or whatever. But then you’ll get a whole sway of chavs watching it and saying it’s great. It’s such a subjective thing. I remember with The Football Factory I was being pilloried in the press for making what they saw was a film that was negative about working class people. But at the end of the day it’s a film with a bunch of characters in it.

Outlaw has more of a political backdrop than The Football Factory but it’s still ultimately about a group of people that get together and do whatever they do.

Q. It’s also about the perception of fear, isn’t it? Gene’s nightmare at the beginning of the film doesn’t come true… he’s scared of these guys who in the end don’t pose him any threat?
A: Absolutely. Weirdly there’s a scene in the film that got cut because it didn’t feel like it was the right tone. It was when the outlaws, towards the end of their time together, came across a bunch of kids in a small countryside town who had found out about who they were and were hero-worshipping them. They were essentially a gang of chavs. It was cut for different reasons. One of them was that giving these characters so much adulation in the film would be putting out the wrong message.

The film is obviously provocative and is treading fine moral ground a lot of the time but, to me, that was one scene too far. You can’t idolise these people and to have these kids opening copies of Nuts magazine saying “we know who you are” was a step too far.

Q. Where did you get the idea to use contributions from fans to actually fund the film?
A: I remember when I was editing my last film, The Business, I saw a trailer online for King Kong, which was still being shot at the time. If you make low-budget British films like I do, you’re always struggling to get awareness for them. It’s the crime of making smaller British films – that people don’t really know about them until they get on Sky and stuff. There’s a long history of not being able to get exposure.

I remember thinking that if we could find a device of getting the public aware of this film before it’s actually been made, what a brilliant thing that would be. So, for me, it became about wanting that publicity and planting it in people’s consciousness. It also meant that we had a thousand people running around with Outlaw T-shirts on publicising the film on a very underground level.

Some people have since said they thought it was a very cheeky idea – and it probably was. But put yourself in my position, where you’re making small films but you want them to aspire to do bigger business. To me, I work my bollocks off, so what’s the point in spending all this time if only 3,000 people end up going to the cinema to see it? It’s so soul-destroying when that happens, so you want people to know about it.

Q. What frightens you in real-life? Does violence scare you?
A: I’ve always been terrified of violence which is probably why I keep making violent films – I’m trying to exorcise some demons or something. My parents are very straight middle-class and my mum and dad got divorced when I was a kid. My mum ended up bringing me up on the edge of a big estate in south London, so I was on the periphery of violence – a lot of football violence and stuff because I was a Millwall supporter. So I’ve always had a very healthy fear of it, yet at the same time a fascination. I think in all of my films that’s a really strong subtext… people who are terrified by violence but are yet compelled by it as well.

Outlaw, more than any of my other films in the past, is about men’s attitude towards violence and how it’s used as a negative form of comradeship, as a banner, as a badge of honour and is destructive. Yet, we’re living in a country where the whole pub culture of fighting, football violence and thuggery is more prevalent in this country than in any other country in the world probably.

Q. There’s a real sense of something should be done in the film. Is there a message you want the audience to take away about what should be done? Or is it more about exposing what the problems are?
A: First of all, I think one of the luxuries of being a filmmaker is that you can ask questions but not necessarily have to answer them. Certainly, if I was a politician I’d need to come up with some answers. But it’s amoral – it has a moral backbone and a political backbone but I don’t think it’s one thing or the other. For me, it’s just a story about this group of guys whose lives start to entwine with each other because they have similar feelings and events start to happen that become very negative and have a very devastating effect on their lives. I guess if there’s a moral message in there somewhere it’s about not taking the law into your own hands.

I’d be a liar if I said that was my intention all the way through making it. I made it because I thought it was an interesting debate. It certainly sparks debate – no one walks away from it going “that was alright”. People either love it or hate it and that’s OK.

Q. Do you see the film as a direct criticism of Blair’s Britain or of the law and authority in general?
A: I have to say, like most people, when Blair got into power a few years ago I was enthusiastic about it. I felt like the Tories were dreadful grey bores and Blair was dynamic. I felt that he was going to do some amazing stuff in this country because I felt he was listening to the man on the street.

But 10 years later, I don’t know if we’ve regressed but we’ve certainly stagnated. We haven’t made any forward progress. I’ve got very strong feelings about the war, I was marching against the war – it was a fucking waste of time. That money could have been so much better spent on the NHS or education or something.

I also do feel that there’s an issue with street crime. I think the kids are more disillusioned and hopeless than they’ve ever been. I think that’s a failure of Thatcher as well but it’s certainly something that Blair has inherited and will be part of his legacy, I think. But the politics in the film are more of an extreme version of how I feel. My gripes are more day to day, such as: “Stop sticking it up us mate, leave it out with the taxes and all…”

Sometimes I feel that in the bracket that I earn money in – which is not a great deal – it sometimes feel that this country is not being set up for people to really want to go to work because they feel like so much is getting taken away from them. The divide between the haves and have nots is getting so much more polarised.

Read our review of Outlaw