words: Jared Wilson photos: David Bowen
Shane Meadows is a bit of a legend around Nottingham. On the eve of the release of his fourth feature film Dead Mans Shoes, he is already well respected in the British film industry, with big name actors queuing up to star in his films.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about our Shane, however, is his willingness to film in locations that you are usually more likely to see on East Midlands today, rather than in the cinema and in particular his eagerness to work with local untrained actors.
Before Shane, the streets of and people of Nottingham had not appeared so prominently in British cinema since Albert Finney starred in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. On the eve of the release of his latest film Dead Man's Shoes he returns to the city where he made his name...
How does it feel that Dead Mans Shoes is finally out. I understand it took a while to get it finished?
"The edit of the film took about fifty six years, but we got there in the end. Me and Paddy wrote it really quickly, but it took forever to actually chop the footage together. Unfortunately we missed the Cannes film festival with it. We originally planned to take it to the Sundance festival in January, but it wasn't finally ready until August."
What's the reaction to it been like?
"We went to Edinburgh and it went well there. You expect it to go well in the UK, but the other week we took it to Toronto and it's been unbelievable. I was expecting much more of a love-hate reaction to the film because it's quite hard and deals with some tough material. They've gone mad over it though. I suppose everyone loves a murder mystery."
Tell us about the latest new actor you're unveiling, Toby Kebbel...
"When I was making Dead Man's shoes, a lead member of the original cast walked out of the film, basically because he didn't think he was good enough to do it. I had found Toby during one of my sessions at the Carlton Drama Workshop in Nottingham - where i've found lots of actors in the past. He was about 20 when we met him and came in with only two days to go before filming began."
"The part is a lad with mental disabilities, so it's a difficult role to play even with a lot of research time. Toby came in with two days to go in almost the same way that Paddy (Consadine) came in to do Morel in Romeo Brass. He's more than ably filled the shoes."
Everyone loves you in Nottingham. Are you still living around here?
"It certainly seems that I've been adopted... My whole career has been born in Nottingham. Everything that I've done, right from the beginning when I was doing little tiny video festivals. I live over in Burton on Trent at the minute, but I've already been back three times this week! Half of the crew for the last film came from Nottingham, so I don't just dip into London resources, I always want to give something back to the city."
Are you originally a Notts boy?
"No. I originally came here when I was 18. I went to do a year at college and I lived in the city on and off for ten or twelve years. I was actually born in Uttoxeter, a little market town in between Derby and Stoke."
Your previous film Once Upon a Time In The Midlands was a departure for yourself, working with big name actors rather than the usual unknowns...
"Having famous people in your films makes a difference to your box office, but it's not something I'd do regularly because it doesn't fit with how I work. It wasn't my choice in the first place to fill the cast with lots of big names. I was half forced into it to be honest, but I sat back was pleased there were lots of good actors who wanted to do it."
"I respected people like Kathy Burke, Rhys Ifans, Ricky Tomlinson and Robert Carlyle and it was a chance to try working with them. They were really nice, but the problem with working successful actors is that it's totally different to the way I normally like to work."
"Usually we all live together for six months before I start shooting, so I'm getting to know the cast. When you're working with famous people they're so busy that they can only turn up for the odd week here and there. I enjoyed the experience, but I'm going to continue to work with more untrained people in the future because I think that's where my skills lie."
We're also talking to fellow Notts Director Chris Cooke in this issue. Are you a fan of his films?
"I first met Chris down at Intermedia. I remember him coming onto the scene when I made Smalltime. We were both much thinner in those days and whenever we see each other now, we talk about what we've gained in weight since that time. There is a real sense of people helping each other at Intermedia. It's very rare that you find that kind of support. There is no competition between us, we just follow each others careers. Now he's got his first feature under his belt I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next. It's good to have more than one person making films in Nottingham.
What do you watch on TV at home..?
"We watch American Idol. You know Simon Cowell and all that! The American one's on Sky. Every single week I'm like a slave to it! There's a woman in it called Fantasia Burrino and she's really amazing. I want her to win it. Quentin Tarantino was a judge on it last week. I didn't feel quite so embarrassed about liking it when I saw he liked it."
You've just signed up to your next three feature films. Can you tell us a little about each of them...
"The first is called Mary and is a dark film set in the care system. It's about all the abuse that goes on in the foster homes and young offenders centres. I'm going to be looking into things in an almost documentary style."
"The second film hasn't got a title yet. It's a superhero story within a council estate. It's the story of guy who comes into Nottingham, to work in a care centre on a housing estate and basically all the kids hate him and treat him like shit! In the end, because he can't do anything to help them in the day, he starts going round at night. No-one pays attention to him by day, but because he's got this ninja mask on people are more prepared to listen."
"The third one is something i've wanted to make for about ten years. It's a true story called King of the Gypsies and is about a bareknuckle fighter from Uttoxeter who is champion of the gypsies. I knew him for about twenty years, he was a close friend, and it's the film I've always wanted to make. Altogether it's probably going to take about four years to do all three..."
I understand comedian Johnny Vegas is lined up to star in one of your future films..
"He wants to be the superhero in the second film I mentioned. We've become friends, he's such a smashing bloke. By God he can drink! I went out with him to Ronnie Scott's. I have never in my life put away so much alcohol. It was like three pints and three chasers a round, so after about two rounds I was heaving my ring up and he was just getting warm..."
Shane Meadows Filmography
Images copyright David Bowen