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The Sweeney - Nick Love interview

The Sweeney

Interview by Rob Carnevale

NICK Love talks about some of the many challenges of getting The Sweeney turned into a movie, including the false starts and the decision to stage a big action set piece in Trafalgar Square.

He also discusses the level of expectation surrounding the film in the context of his own work, casting Ray Winstone and Ben Drew and why he would love to do a sequel.

Q. What was your memory of The Sweeney?
Nick Love: My memory of The Sweeney was that I was allowed to watch it if I was well behaved, so I never watched it! No, I saw the later stuff. I saw the last series, I think. But it was really only a treat to be able to watch it. So, I started watching it when it started coming on satellite television.

Q. How did you go about finding your perfect Regan and Carter?
Nick Love: Well, Ray was always my choice. And the reason that Ray is an executive producer on the film is because he f**king suffered me talking bollocks for six years! We had two or three false starts over the years and we got into pre-production a couple of times, but I won’t bore you with the development thing. But Rau and I met with a few possible different Carters and I talked to Ben about playing a smaller part in the film, about being one of the young coppers. But we never really met anyone that inspired us that much as a Carter. So, we talked about the idea of Ben doing it because he was so sort of… I wouldn’t say leftfield as a choice but he’s just a raw talent rather than someone who might bring a lot of drama school training into it.

So, I think also what excited me about Ben when I first talked to him about playing Carter was the fact that he said: “I want to do it but how the f**k am I going to play a policeman?” And so that immediately made me feel excited about creating some sort of a back story for him and just making him feel fresh. I also like the fact that there’s two different vernaculars really with Ray and Ben. There’s an older tongue and a younger tongue and that excited me. We had a lot of false starts with the film but once we had Ben we were off and running because then suddenly it fell into place. When you’re trying to cast something as iconic as The Sweeney it is all about who plays the two roles. There were a couple of false announcements prior to Ben’s and it was interesting that they never really lit the touch paper. But as soon as we talked about Ben playing Carter, it suddenly became a story that became interesting to people and it made a lot of sense. So, once that was sorted we were offered money.

Q. How daunting or thrilling it is planning a major action set piece in as iconic a setting as Trafalgar Square? Was it always going to be that landmark?
Nick Love: It wasn’t always going to be Trafalgar Square. In the first draft of the script I wrote in 2006 or 2007 it was actually in Oxford Street. But that was when we had the false starts and we sort of got nowhere with it. We approached the council about filming a big action sequence in central London but when the film went into turnaround and we bought the rights off Fox and I re-wrote the script from page one, it was then I thought that given the fact we’re going to have very little money to actually make the film the one thing that would help sell the film is shooting an action sequence in an impossible location. So, I set myself that target.

Actually, it was filmed in one day and there’s a whole history to it. I spent a year basically working with the council trying to convince them and developing weapons with the Ministry of Defence that made no noise. So, these guys are running around with essentially toy guns and we painted on all the stuff afterwards. It’s terrifying a sequence like that because you don’t have a second shot at it. If you’ve got money, you can say: “Well, if the weather’s bad we can come back.” But we had one Sunday, on November 6 because I remember it clearly, and we had that moment to shoot that sequence and everything had to be lined up perfectly because all our money went into that one sequence. Any sort of force major would have killed us. But it was a great experience and the feeling afterwards of thinking we might have a sequence to cut together there in an iconic location was very exciting.

Q. How did you go about casting Damian Lewis as Frank Haskins?
Nick Love: Well, Frank is much older in the original show but that was part of the re-invention of it, to go for someone younger where the ranking was coming from class rather than age. I quite liked the fact that Ray could get dressed down by Damian. I thought that was quite an interesting dynamic rather than going for someone like Michael Gambon. Damian and I talked about that choice a lot.

Q. How did you go about modernising The Sweeney and making them as tough at a time when police brutality, or anything out of line, is now immediately subject to an internal review and investigation, as well as public scrutiny?
Nick Love: Well, I always thought from when I first got involved in the film in 2006 that the only way to make it, for me, was to almost make it post-modern. There was never a thought from me to set it in the ‘70s. I always thought that the London skyline is sexy and cinematic and the great thing about having to wait so long to do it is that the skyline got better and better! So, there was the visual aspect of it, which I always thought we’d have to make very modern. And the fact is the police can’t get away with as much now.

But this is a film, it’s not a documentary, and so I always thought there was a slight licence with what you could do. But we know the police can’t act anymore like they used to in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, even though there is a lot of police corruption around still. But so much of policing is about bureaucracy and pen-pushing and very little of policing is about meeting crime head on, which is what The Sweeney is all about. But I didn’t want to make a film about police bureaucracy, I wanted to make an action thriller, so I basically put the whole Internal Affairs guy in there as a kind of engine that they can’t just get away with doing what they want… there is a price to pay. And then I came up with the idea of making him Hayley’s husband so it felt more natural when it got to the film.

It’s not that easy to re-imagine something and make it completely plausible. I spent a long time basically thinking about whether I wanted to make a film about the internal struggles of a police department, or make a film that was pure entertainment and I opted for the second option because, ultimately, that’s what I want to watch. For some people that will be an issue, the fact that there’s not enough consequence for the police and the fact that they run around Trafalgar Square with assault rifles, etc. But as a viewer, I would rather watch an action movie than an internal affairs movie.

Q. You’ve also made the type of action thriller that can stand alongside the big Hollywood thriller we so often see in the summer. Was that always in your mind to achieve as well?
Nick Love: Well, for me that was the excitement of the challenge. Our production budget was £2 million and we’re trying to compete with $50, $60, $70 million movies. It doesn’t make me feel daunted; it makes me feel quite liberated in a way because the expectation… look, I’m also aware of the fact that a remake of The Sweeney directed by me is going to have a fairly low expectation, so in a weird way it’s a good place to start because you can impress people. So, in a way it’s quite a liberating place to be. You haven’t got the same sort of worries that studios have.

Sometimes, studio movies don’t feel inventive because they’re made by sort of committees… the thing about The Sweeney is that even though it may feel a little bit rough in places, it is entirely my ambition. If the film is shit for people, then that’s absolutely my failing because I didn’t have 20 studio execs saying to me to do this or that. For me, the strength of the film is about the relationships between the characters and that’s why I assembled a cast like these guys because – again – I think that that’s another area they pay less attention to in Hollywood. And that doesn’t cost any money, to have decent relationships and viable situations. What costs money is car chases and shoot-outs, so I always thought that the thing to work on was the characters.

Q. Will there be a sequel?
Nick Love: I think we all want to do a sequel. But it is all about how the first film does. If it doesn’t make any money at the box office, then that’s where the talking is done. But I think we’ve all enjoyed making the movie. This is one of very few iconic brands in the UK behind Bond and maybe The Professionals. And so I think it’s a real privilege to have been able to make.

Read our review

Read our interview with Ray Winstone