British actor and Terry director Nick Nevern has made a career out of depicting hardened characters through a series of football hooligan and career criminal roles in the past few years, as well as donning fangs and claws as a werewolf.
His new film, The Fall of the Essex Boys, directed by Paul Tanter (The Rise & Fall of a White Collar Hooligan), sees Nevern play supergrass Darren Nicholls, the supposed fourth member of the notorious Essex Boys drugs gang that included Pat Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe who brutally met their fate in a country lane in Rettendon, Essex, in December 1995.
Nevern discusses the new angle Tanter’s film offers into the ongoing mystery of the Essex Boys’ deaths and who was ultimately responsible, how he portrayed Nicholls, and what it’s like working with his mates, Tanter, Peter Barrett, Simon Phillips etc.
HeyUGuys: There have been many accounts of the Rettendon Triple Murders – how does this film differ?
Nick Nevern: When Jonathan Sothcott (producer) came up to me and said, Nick we want to do an Essex Boys movie, I was a little bit like, oh really? C’mon mate it’s been done, kind of thing. He said, no, have a little read of this. It was basically more to do with the police angle, which I’m really intrigued in, and it wasn’t so centred around the three guys who were murdered [Tate, Rolfe and Tucker] – it was more centred around something different, and that was quite interesting to me. It’s not a biopic; it’s a ‘what if’? This fascinated me.
Why was the girl victim’s name changed in the film from real-life victim Leah Betts?
Leah Betts was the daughter of an ex copper, and that character was basically meant to be her. Obviously, out of respect for the families, they changed the name and scenario surrounding her death. I think it’s based around that tragic incident and what happened to her. This is also why I liked this script because a lot of the names are real, but the one person who I really feel for was Leah Betts because I remember that story happening, and I really respect that they changed it a little bit. Everything else they kept the same.
Someone asked me the other day; do you feel a responsibility to the families to Tony Tucker and Pat Tate etc? I said not really as I’m very anti drugs and not into all that kind of thing, and if you run around doing what they were doing, I don’t feel nothing for you. The people I feel bad for are people like Leah Betts whose lives they destroy with their drugs.
From the police angle, was there anything new you learned about the case that surprised you?
[SPOILER] Obviously, Darren Nicholls, my character, was never an undercover police officer – that’s a definite ‘what if’, a made-up scenario to this film. But I really liked that because he could have been, and you never know. I just enjoy playing parts like that, that are really layered. The part’s been played before by two great actors, Adam Deacon and Neil Maskell, and I wasn’t trying to compete with what they’d done. I was just trying to create something new, and the whole police officer angle really interested me. That is kind of how I got involved the project.
Did you get any feedback or talk to anyone involved in the old firms?
Not really. I try to avoid all that, to be honest. The geezer I’m playing, there’s nothing about him on the Net. He’s in Witness Protection. It’s hard to find any character stuff on him. As far as for meeting and speaking to anyone from that area or anyone related to these people, I’d rather not. I’m an actor, not a gangster. I’m just doing a role, and I’d rather not. I’m sure some will come out of the woodwork and comment, but there have been four other films about the murders and we’re not doing anything different – if they were going to complain, they would have done already!
You mentioned there’s not a lot of background information on Darren Nicholls himself and what he’s up, so how have gone about portraying him?
I’ve got a lot going on in my own life at the moment and that I need to be doing, and he [Nicholls] might hate what I’ve done with the character but I can’t worry about that. As the guy’s in Witness Protection it’s very hard to find anything about him, so the only things there are about him are accounts of what other people thought about him and those aren’t very nice. However, I can’t just go on those as they are one-sided – I’m sure he wasn’t just a w***er and a grass. He had girlfriends and was a regular bloke who went to the pub with his mates. I’m sure on many occasions he was having a drink and was telling a joke and everyone was listening and he was the toast of the night. Maybe some might say he was a nice bloke. If I was going to go on what people have said, I’d have just played him like an absolute w***er but I’m sure he wasn’t that all the time.
You work a lot with Paul Tanter, Peter Barrett (Pat Tate), Simon Phillips (Craig Rolfe) etc on lots of different but related projects – almost like an ‘Apatow Brit Indie Crime Flick Gang’. So what’s it like working that closely all the time and on set?
[Laughs] We’re just really good mates, and if you’re in a privileged position to do what you love, why not do it with people that you care about and that you’re going to have a good time doing it with? That’s another reason why I did this film; they’re all my friends and it’s such a nice atmosphere on set when you’re working with your mates and you respect everyone there and ideas are banded about and it’s just a lot of fun.
You’re also in another Tanter film with Phillips, Barrett etc, called White Collar Hooligan 2: England Away, which I’m sure is just as intense and has heated dialogue. How do you all relax after filming?
It’s just a job at the end of the day! It’s not like anyone takes anything we say to each other on set personally. We all have our own ways of calming down – some people take characters off set: When I was doing G.B.H, I took that character home. He [Damien] really infested my brain. That’s my favourite performance I’ve ever done, just because I invested so much into it. However, because you’re with mates, you have a pint at the end of the day then before you go home, you say ‘see you tomorrow’.
2012 was a busy year for you. Looks like 2013 will be to, what with directing and then promoting The Hooligan Factory – has the directing bug bitten you a bit more as you’ve said you prefer the acting in the past…
I do prefer the acting. Directing I love as well because I love creating and I’m becoming more and more aware of what cameras can do and what film-makers can achieve with the equipment out there. That really excites me. I’m a writer too. All I think about is work, as I love it so much. It’s all I do; I’ve got to succeed!
What do you want audiences to take away from seeing The Fall of the Essex Boys?
I hope everyone enjoys it and follows it on Twitter and follows me, if they want to – just have fun with it. Go into it with an open mind, as it’s really not a biopic. It’s definitely a ‘what if’ story and that’s what’s exciting about it. Every mystery case has an authorities angle to it – how can certain things be done without people in higher authority?
The Fall of the Essex Boys is out in cinemas on 8 February and on DVD from 18 February. Read our review here.