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Wild Bill - Dexter Fletcher interview

Dexter Fletcher, Wild Bill

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DEXTER Fletcher talks about some of the challenges of making his directorial debut with Wild Bill and subverting some of the expectations surrounding him and the genre.

He also talks about choreographing the movie’s big fight scene, calling in a few favours among his co-stars and the importance of maintaining a believability in the characters.

Q. Dexter, you’ve been on-screen for about 35 years, so how come it’s taken this long to make your first film? Had it been festering for ages?
Dexter Fletcher: I suppose brewing would be a good way of describing it, yeah, but when you’ve been involved with acting for as long as I have maybe there’s always aspirations to move to the other side of the camera eventually. It just felt the right time, the right piece of material, the right people… it was a magical coming together really. So, it was something I’d always wanted to do and that had become more and more apparent to me in the last five years. So, it was about finding the right piece of material.

Q. But also original material as opposed to an adaptation? I gather the germ of the story came from a real-life story you’d seen about a mum who’d gone on holiday and left her kids behind?
Dexter Fletcher: Yeah, yeah, that was the treatment. This woman had gone to Greece and left her kids alone. I don’t have any kids of my own but it seemed like an extraordinary thing to be able to do and that kind of stayed with me… I thought there was an interesting idea in that. And then there was something interesting in creating the character of a man who was still a boy. It was something that I had kind of experienced during my own experience of growing up as a child actor. You have a lot of adult responsibility, so now here we have a boy who is a man and a man who is a boy. I thought it was a really interesting way of bringing them together. These kids were abandoned, their father comes back after many years away, and those elements made me want to put them together and see what would happen.

Q. You’ve made an East End Western with Wild Bill. How did you choreograph the final fight scene?
Dexter Fletcher: It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears to be quite honest and not a lot of time. I had a very strong idea about how I wanted it to look. There was something particular that I liked and wanted to reference, which I discussed with Charlie [Creed-Miles] first of all. And Charlie was quite adamant about… look, we’re talking about a guy who goes to a pub and fights eight guys! Now, if he goes in and starts bashing everybody up immediately we’re going to lose all the things that we’d earned throughout the rest of the film, which is a believability and honesty and so we were both very concerned to make sure that Bill wasn’t just a superhero. And that’s why he gets the living shit kicked out of him. In the first half of that fight he really doesn’t do well and that was intentional.

But we had to find a way of making that work in a short space of time. Ideas were thrown around and we quickly fell upon an idea that we liked, which involved the bite… Charlie had a mate who had got involved in a fight and was forced to bite his way to safety, so to speak. But I always wanted some kind of ridiculousness or humour about it – although there’s all this tension I didn’t want to make it out and out violence. They all end up running away, these cowards, so when Charlie came up with that we included that in and ideas came through that.

Q. The Western reference is deliberate, isn’t it? There is some Sergio Leone in there?
Dexter Fletcher: Yeah, the old man reading the paper and the barroom door closing, the music stopping and the close-ups… we started calling them ‘spaghettis’ on set. We’d say ‘give me a spaghetti’, which basically was a close-up. We also did those wide open vistas, too, and got those lovely shots of the kids walking in front of the Olympics building site. That kind of kept the breadth of the film.

Q. Were you able to call in a few favours from friends to get them to do cameo roles?
Dexter Fletcher: Yeah, I mean Sean Pertwee pops up and Jason Flemyng pops up and Jaime Winstone and they all sort of pop up, I suppose. But I also wanted to create opportunities for them to do something that was a little different. Jason playing a social worker with Jaime as his assistant is quite an interesting idea. You automatically think of Jaime Winstone as a single mum role but she’s done it. And of course she can do it, but why don’t we go another way and offer something more interesting? It’s the same with Sean Pertwee playing a policeman. It’s just an interesting take on what we hopefully expect. It makes it interesting for the audience and for those actors to sacrifice a day for a friend.

Q. How difficult in the writing of it is getting a balance between something that’s deadly serious and moments that are lighter?
Dexter Fletcher: I don’t think we ever made the choice to go, ‘hey this is comedy’. We never said ‘this is a comedic moment’. What I wanted to do was show this man who is trying to do the right thing but not finding quite the right way to do it – and it being recognised in some ways. He knows he doesn’t know what to do but it doesn’t stop him trying and that’s what the heart of the film is. It means we can laugh because at least he’s trying to do the right thing and he’s not neglecting his duties any more. He finally starts to give a f**k. For his son’s 16th birthday, for instance, instead of baking him a cake, he sees Roxie and thinks she’s great, so asks her: “Would you sleep with my son for his 16th birthday?” And she agrees. So, there’s something human and warm and real about it that creates the humour. He also realises he’s done wrong when it doesn’t work out. I didn’t want it to just be bleak.

Q. Were you tempted to put yourself in the film?
Dexter Fletcher: Well, I am in the film somewhere [laughs] buying drugs! I’m in a yellow jacket. I do the voice of the policeman as well.

Q. You’ve been involved in a lot of movies where gangsters have been coated in a certain glamour. How important was it for this where actually the gangsters were pretty much the scum of the Earth?
Dexter Fletcher: Yeah, that was paramount. This film is about people and it’s about relationships. There are lots of those films and I’ve been in them and they’re great for what they are. I knew that, to a certain extent, people would be interested if I said I had a film set in the East End… it’s my jumping off point and people know me for that. But it was very important we made a film about real people. Hopefully, this film could be set anywhere and these characters and these relationships can be shown anywhere.

It’s just the East End is where we chose because it’s a world that I know and felt comfortable with. But I felt there’s so much more in this genre – if it is a genre film – than a load of blokes kicking the shit out of each other and saying stuff that doesn’t matter. I wanted everything to matter in this film. I wanted everything to be important. It was about being human and connecting with people. By setting it in this environment, we already knew about the gangsters and what they’re about, so that worked to our advantage in a way because it meant we could really focus on these real people.

Read our review

Read our interview with Charlie Creed-Miles