Those of us who dig cool cinematic coming age stories know that the great ones almost always use era for inspiration. Be it the last day of school in the 70’s via Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused or the 80’s ridden tale of love found and lost with Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything, true tales of teen woe frequently involve a plethora of outside influences. Such is the case with the outstanding new film London Town (out Oct. 7 in select theaters, iTunes and VOD from IFC Films), a flick set in the turbulent times of England 1979 and at the height of the Punk music movement. The story itself centers around a young 14-year-old boy named Shay who, amidst being forced to grow up fast due to family obligations, one day is exposed to the colorful and thoughtful music of The Clash and it changes his life forever.
Having been utterly blown away by the film and its rock influenced message of love, determination and perseverance, we were more than eager to dig deeper. So we tracked down Director Derrick Borte (yes, he of The Joneses fame!) to get further insight into all things London Town. From the magical musical influences via The Clash to the detailed character work of actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing real-life band frontman Joe Strummer, we get the skinny on a fantastic film that we think is a must see. Break out the LP, hit the turntable on and put the needle down – here’s…
With London Town you served as director as opposed to writer/director on The Joneses – what spoke to you about this script and made you want to direct it?
Derrick Borte: I always thought the best way to tell a story that involved The Clash was from the perspective of someone affected by the music rather than a biopic. The music and its powerful effect on other people that was the thing about them – far more than their personalities or anything like that. And I connected with it because there are parts of me and my story as it relates to The Clash in this particular script and it was a story I wanted to tell.
Do you remember the first time you heard The Clash and was there one song that spoke to you most?
DB: Absolutely. I remember in Junior High School two friends handed me a cassette of the first Clash album and I popped it in and it was literally cued up to (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais. It caught me in such a way that I felt very quickly like this was the music that I was supposed to listen to.
Reading that Jonathan Rhys Meyers performed all the songs himself as Clash frontman Joe Strummer was it a factor in his casting and what were some of the logistical issues of doing it that way?
DB: I always knew that Jonathan was musical from other films that he had done. I felt like he was such a great and talented actor and we started talking about the music and the options. We both agreed that there was a wrong way to do it and a right way to do it when it came to this particular project which was don’t use The Clash studio recordings, don’t use the live Clash recordings, but put a band together and re-record the stuff so they can really be performing it themselves. And yet it has to be believable from a performance standpoint, but also from a Clash standpoint. So I walked the streets next to Soho where there are a bunch of music stores in London and talked to people. I found a guitarist first, then held auditions and put a couple of different versions of the band together and then finally agreed on the band that was the right band. We had rehearsals and then went into the studio and re-recorded all the live tracks with a legendary producer who was just blown away with how these guys nailed it and sounded like The Clash – it just felt right.
How deep did you and Jonathan dig to try and bring Joe to life?
DB: I know we all did a tremendous amount of research – I was with this project for five or six years. Everything from listening to the music, which I do anyway, to tons of research – even Rude Boy their film which has some parallels to this film.
I so loved the sweet and simple, yet complex relationship between young kids Shay and Vivian – how do you get such real seeming work out of two actors so young?
DB: Both of them are very different. Daniel (Huttlestone) has a lot of experience. He’s done a lot of big productions from Les Misérables to Into the Woods – big productions with huge rehearsals and he’s a true polished pro. The challenge with Daniel was keeping him fresh – he had to carry the film as Shay. Nell (Williams) as Vivian did not have that much experience, but she came through it with a fresh energy and captured the character. We auditioned something like a hundred and fifty girls for that role and I saw her tape and within thirty seconds knew she was the one for the role. She has this attitude and thing about her that was wonderful, so with her it was about refining the character. But both of them had history lessons – we wanted them to know what was going on at the time.
I also dug the idea of two parents with opposing ideas of life – one more selfish and one more selfless. How important was it to let both sides have their due and can you talk about casting Dougray Scott and Natascha McElhone?
DB: They’re kind of polar opposites in terms of parenting. They didn’t have a parenting style back in that period, but they absolutely have polar opposite styles of being a parent. And while Natascha’s character just thought it would be cool to be friends with her kids, I think Dougray’s character really did take it seriously that his main responsibility was to not only take care of these kids, but also prepare them to function in the world without him in a selfless way. As far as casting it was amazing how both of them had connections to the material and to their specific characters that they drew from in their own lives. They came to set with great ideas and just connected with their characters. But casting is always different with every project – sometimes it’s an idea and other times it just falls in your lap. We had a great Casting Director in London named Celestia Fox and she was so insightful.
So what’s next for you?
DB: You never know what’s going to happen next! I’ve got a number of things at the starting gate, but The Joneses took seven years to start shooting and this one took between five and six and you never know when that phone call comes which one it’s going to be. But I definitely gravitate to stories and characters that I’m drawn to as opposed to a genre. It’s all about finding great projects and people I want to work with.
LONDON TOWN OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS AS WELL AS iTUNES AND VOD ON OCT. 7 FROM IFC FILMS.