The Angel's Share - Ken Loach and Paul Laverty interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
DIRECTOR Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty talk about the making of The Angel’s Share and why it serves as both a comedy and a serious commentary on a depressing social situation.
They also discuss their relationship and how working together continues to provide each of them with an endless motivation.
Q. A lot of people have written this off merely as a comedy when it actually has something serious to say about what you perceive as being a wasted generation. So, what made you decide the time was right to address this issue?
Ken Loach: Well, I mean it’s something we’ve talked about on and off as the years have gone by but it gets worse and worse, the situation. The economic system is collapsing and the people who are paying the price most heavily are the young ones. There’s over 50% unemployment in Spain among young people and a million here. These are people who face a lifetime with no work, no prospect of work, insecurity, depend on state hand-outs and abused for it. So, to write them off to a life of hopelessness is really a crime against their humanity.
And I guess, what should wind us all up is that it’s an inevitable by-product of the system. It’s not an accident, it’s not an Act of God, it’s an economic system working and this is what it produces… like a motor car produces carbon monoxide, this system produces mass unemployment and there is no political representation to change it. And their remedy for the disaster they’ve caused is just to increase the pace that capitalism works at, so that Greece now has to sell off… sell off its own coastline, sell anything, to appease the system. And the lunacy of it just hits you in the face. And the danger of having a working class without political representation, which is what we have virtually, is not only wrong but very dangerous because we know the Fascists will wait in the wings to capitalise on those frustrations. So, all that was… you tell a story and these are the roots that go down but the story is a microcosm of one’s feelings, I suppose.
Q. So Paul, how easy was it to explore these themes and keep it light as well?
Paul Laverty: Well, I think once you have these characters in your head… you could tell a tragic story with the same character, Robbie, very, very easily and we did that with My Name Is Joe and Sweet Sixteen. But if you spend a day with any of these kids on community payback it’s absolutely hilarious. Some of the notions and some of the ideas they had… just their wit and their nonsense. We just wanted to capture some of that mischief and fun… and life-force. And the sense that – and this is what always gets me – they need a project. I mean, everybody needs to look forward to a project of some sort in their lives – it’s what motivates us. It’s a guiding principal for your entire activity, so to take that away is like a death sentence. And that’s what drives them mad. And that’s why these communities are so kind of self-destructive. They’re violent, they’re frustrated, they’re self-destructive and there’s lots of problems with drink and drugs and depression and all that type of stuff because there isn’t something to do to share, to meet, to work, you know… So, it’s just so dysfunctional.
But we wanted to show their wit and their fun and then if they have a project, like this mad whisky heist, you see them coming alive. And that’s what kills them in the end. They say: “What are we going to do now?” They had this grand project, which sees them coming alive and coming together and having to think, but once they’ve completed it and they’ve got plenty of dosh, they merely say: “Let’s get wasted!” So, in the end you see Robbie has a bit of luck go his way and he gets a job but the other three you can see will go back again into that vacuum. And all it takes is something so simple to give them purpose.
Q. Do you feel you’re doing a bit to help by having made this film and making a difference in the life of your leading man, Paul Brannigan, especially, given that he was a former product of the system you’re exploring?
Ken Loach: Well, I mean a film is one small voice among other large ones. The film is a tiny part of the discourse. You do what you can but under no illusions of what a film can do.
Q. But you kind of turned Paul’s life around. And Paul, in particular, sounds like you were a bit of a father figure in the way you kicked him up the backside enough to force him to come to the auditions initially?
Paul Laverty: Oh, not a father figure! Anybody would do it! Even from self-interest, you would do it, so it’s probably just been exaggerated a little bit. What we did was we saw this remarkable young man who had a great wit and intelligence… I mean, seeing him organising a group of people who were gang members to play football… the way he handled them was brilliant. He got some to calm down, others a bit of space to talk. He was held in high-esteem. But he only used wit and intelligence to do it. I mean a trained psychologist would get paid loads to do the same.
So, it also made sense to have that for our film, quite apart from any respect for the man. It’s all been exaggerated. What won through was his talent. Ken gave him a chance and gave him a secure place in which he could grow and his confidence grew and grew and grew. But it’s like winning the Lottery [for him]… it’s young one man of many that have got talent but don’t get the breaks. I mean Paul couldn’t get a job! It’s unbelievable! Graduates can’t get jobs just now, so the Robbie’s of this world, who have come from very tough backgrounds and haven’t finished their education will struggle. But by implication, you hope you can imagine the wasted lives of millions.
Q. I read a quote from you, Paul, describing Ken as ‘a tough mind with a tender heart’. So Ken, how would you describe Paul and would you agree with his assessment of you?
Ken Loach: [Laughs aloud]
Paul Laverty: You should never have quoted that! You’ll be asking if we’ve had sex next! [Laughs] And the answer’s no by the way!
Ken Loach: Oh well, he’s a Celtic supporter at heart and I think that says it all [laughs].
Q. So, what makes your relationship so strong and how has it evolved over the years?
Ken Loach: I think Paul’s writing has developed and got more complex and just gets more and more interesting for me. It leads to a prolonged, active life. It’s like that Pal you give to dogs… it prolongs their lives, and Paul’s writing prolongs my active life. We always start from the same point of view and the way we see the world, I suppose, amd find the same things funny and the same things make us angry and then ouit of that you work out priorities and what stories demand to be told and what flms you need to make. And then one follows another. But it’s not something you want to dig up by the roots and examine all the time. We just get on and do it.
Q. Paul recently wrote the screenplay for Even The Rain in one of your rare forays into writing without Ken directing. Did you miss Ken?
Ken Loach: Well, he worked with a terrific Spanish director, Iciar Bollain, who makes wonderful films in Spain and is much feted there. In fact, we’ve seen a couple of her films here… Take My Eyes and Even The Rain, which just opened. She makes fantastic, brilliant films.
Paul Laverty: But having said all that, yes I did miss him [laughs]. It’s no disrespect to Iciar but if you’re used to working with someone who is a very tough collaborator. Iciar is equally tough in a different way. But every relationship is very, very particular, so yes I did miss him, to be honest.
Q. Are you working on something else together at the moment?
Paul Laverty: Yeah, we’re kicking a few ideas about so touch wood.
Ken Loach: There’s a few saucepans on the hob, yes.
Q. I gather Paul, you were a whisky connoisseur prior to making the film…
Paul Laverty: Connoisseur would be a total exaggeration! [Laughs] I was an amateur. But my brother-in-law comes from Ireland and he just loves it. Sharing his company and taking his notes is a very pleasurable experience. The other thing with whisky, too, is that there’s lots of different levels to it: there’s the craftsmanship of it, it’s a national drink, there’s advertising, there’s a lot of pride in it and yet many of the kids, like Robbie, have never tasted it and never been to the countryside where it’s distilled. And on top of all of that is the pretension of the rich and the powerful who spend £100,000 on it and the bullshit and the vulgarity of doing that. So, that gives you a lot of space to examine it and play with it and that was a lot of fun.
Q. And Ken, do you have a newfound appreciation for whisky?
Ken Loach: I wasn’t before but I do enjoy it. I enjoy the aroma as much as the drink. One dram will do me. I like wine, actually, rather than spirits. But I can see the enjoyment of it.
The Angels’ Share is out on Blu-ray & DVD on September 24 from Entertainment One.