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The film centres on ‘hyper-masculine characters – that is, films set in ‘a man’s world’ with hyper-masculine characters. This tends to be a theme that runs throughout your films, what is it about these characters that you feel drawn to?
I think Anti-Social is the first film I’ve made that sort of has an underworld setting. What inspires me is characters, scenarios and situations as opposed to genre – all four of the films I’ve made are very different although I suppose they are all quite masculine environments. What we have in Anti Social are characters who are effectively modern day outlaws, and they live in a society within a society, that was what I was initially interested in.
Now of course there are aspects of the film that are ‘masculine’ in a sense – you wouldn’t expect to see women committing smash n grab robberies I suppose, but the women in the film are very much involved in the criminal world. I think what attracted me to this film is that I whilst I was interested in the genre, I wanted to make something which I felt was quite authentic. The characters in the film aren’t necessarily macho, they want to remain low key, and whilst they can be quite charming, they rely on their organisation, their daring and how audacious they will be, and their drive to make money. They’re not enforcers or thugs, they’re a different breed of criminal.
Marcus (Josh Myers) and Dee (Gregg Sulkin) are two characters who both break the law, but in completely different ways. They aren’t gangsters, dons or thugs, they’re far more complex. There’s no judgement placed on any of the characters.
I thought it would be silly for me as a director to judge them, I think it’s for the audience to judge them, all I needed to do was make sure that I didn’t romanticise their lives – that’s judging them as well in a way. There’s a lot of things in the story that are there for the audience to read in to if that’s what they choose to do. Dee is running around consciously challenging society with his artwork which is very anti-establishment and Marcus certainly isn’t from the outside, he seems very much a part of the mainstream – a conformist. And in a way he doesn’t want society to change or be brought down because that’s how he makes his living.
The irony is that Dee becomes socially acceptable, and Marcus is never socially accepted, he is outcast. All of the characters in one way or another do pay a price for their involvement in criminality. I didn’t want to judge them any more than we would judge somebody that we see in the street. I just wanted to show these people as real people and tell their story.
The cast felt like it was incredibly carefully constructed. As well as Josh, you’ve got musicians such as Skepta and Devlin- the music that is in the film is very London-centric, and the film itself deals with issues that are very specific to London.
Absolutely. I think in principle if you took the core story, then there are other cities that it could work in, but for me, it had to be London. From the outset, I wanted London to be another character, and certainly, through some of the internal struggle that Dee has is a reflection of some of the conflict that certain people in London face.
We’re going through a phase where London is changing a lot, the amount of different subgroups and subcultures in the film are representative of what London is at the moment. The sheer fact that somebody could go to an event tonight, and on the one hand be rubbing shoulders with various socialites, and on the other side be rubbing shoulders with someone involved in organised crime, you might not be aware of it, but that can happen in London- and I’m not sure that it can be like that anywhere else.
I purposely didn’t tell the story of how Dee and his girlfriend (a wealthy model) met. we could assume it was somewhere like Shoreditch at a party- but it’s not unusual in London. You can have people from totally different parts of society that can somehow still relate to each other. You have the smash’n’grab robbers from Marcus’ world at this art event, and whilst they’re sort of mucking around and it’s not really for them, they’re not against it either and I think that’s because in their mind, it’s still part of a culture outside of the mainstream.
Behind closed doors, everyone can relate to each other, but what’s imposed on them from the outside is this idea of a social structure. The film is certainly anti-society in that way.
Your character is more than just a thug – he’s a good brother, a good partner, a good son.
I’m glad that’s how Reg wrote the character – of course Marcus is a sort of villain but there’s the other side of it – he loves his girlfriend, he looks after his mother and brother. I just wanted him to be a guy that does his job and makes his money – he is good at his job, he’s highly organised. He’s just a good guy that does bad things – you could sit next to him in a restaurant and never know that he did those things.
What was it about this role in particular that attracted you?
Well firstly it was a good script, and also I love working with Reg. I personally think he’s one of the best directors working in the British film industry. He’s got a great eye for things, there’s a lot of camaraderie, I’ve known him for a long time. And to be offered this sort of role was something was great – he felt that it’s my time and I can’t be more appreciative of that. And at the same time it’s a great role – it’s great, I love everything about it, and I can’t quite believe I’m part of it!
Did you identify with Marcus at all?
Yes and no. Obviously when you’re about and about and you meet people and you hear things – not everybody is squeaky clean – but the role was sort of written for me to play myself – so it’s quite a natural character for me for me to play. I can definitely identify with his relationships – obviously I love my family and everything, but on the other side of things, as a criminal, I can’t say I relate to him that much because I’m not a villain! But I spoke to lot of people when I was researching – what they get up to, how they go about things, their mannerisms, and I had a lot of advice from Reg.
Would you say that Marcus is a hero?
I can’t say he’s a hero because I don’t like what he does, and I can’t condone what he does. I think that with my character coming from a world where his Dad is a criminal, I think it’s just an easy thing for him to do. I don’t think he’s conflicted, he just thinks- if I want something, I’m going to go and get it.
Reg: It depends on which way you look at it, but from societys’ point of view, they’re anti-heroes. The pair of them. But from within their own groups where they are socially accepted, they are heroes. Marcus is a hero in his world. But if you’re looking at the film in a broader sense, Dee is the hero, Marcus is the anti-hero because Dee actually has a choice to make and he comes through. Even with regard to the crimes though, there’s something about these sorts of crimes that’s pretty old school- they’re not snatching someone’s handbag, or mugging someone in the street, or even using weapons. It’s the fact that it’s so well organised that people find sort of appealing I think.
How do you prepare for a role like this?
Josh: Well I did a bit of working out! But I also liked researching – watching the actual CCTV of the smash n grabs, how they did it etc. Again, meeting people who have been to prison for certain crimes, picking their brains – what is their mind-set when they know the police are after them? And I spent a lot of time with Reg working through the script. It’s actually very hard to play yourself in a way. Working with Reg helped because when we were on set, despite the fact that we’re friends- on set he’s a director, I’m an actor, and I listen to what he says.
Although you obviously don’t want to condone the behaviour of your character, did you find that talking to people who had done that sort of thing helped you understand it better?
I think I was quite fortunate to be able to speak to people who have been through it and have done their time and can talk about it openly. In a way I did end up feeling quite sorry for some of them- one guy in particular just did it for his family. I don’t condone it and I never will, but listening to some of them talk, they just felt like they had no other choice. They’re criminals so they can’t get a proper job, all they know is crime. Knowing my character was doing it for his family meant that I could understand in a way, why he wanted to be the biggest and best at what he did.
Anti-Social is out in cinemas today.