“I wanted to make a film about a man who’s a fighter, rather like a boxing movie, where he wins in the end through love and determination” explains screenwriter Paul Viragh. “I started looking at 70s music trying to find a good story there and it suddenly it became apparent that Ian Dury’s story was perfect because he was both a determined fighter and lover.”
Filmmaker Mat Whitecross was recently interviewed:
Q: For a younger audience that maybe isn’t familiar with Ian Dury, tell us about him and about this film
MW: The film is about Ian Dury who was a legendary English musical talent during the seventies and eighties. I knew the basics. I knew what he looked like. I knew a couple of his most famous songs like Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll but I didn’t know that he’d coined the phrase ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll’ and put it into the English language. I didn’t know about his polio and I didn’t know about his family life. I didn’t know how influential he was on the punk movement or on countless people from the last twenty years, so for me it’s really about him emerging from the shadows after he died (in 2000) and telling an audience, a new audience, who he was and why he became who he was.
Q: What sort of physical transformation did Andy Serkis have to make? I gather he had to work out on one side of his body as Ian Dury was affected by polio on the other side?
MW: Andy’s incredibly fit – he’s a mountain climber, and he’s incredibly muscular and he’s built like that naturally. So to prepare for the role, he’s spent the last three months pretty much, not eating! He’s just eating the basics – his diet for this is horrible and he’s not drinking alcohol and there are all kinds of things that he can’t do. It’s got to this point where every time he looks at a bowl of pasta, every time he sees someone else eating, every time he sees someone else drinking beer you can see his eyes change – it’s like a rabid dog salivating!
It’s amazing what actors will do. You hear about people like De Niro transforming their bodies in that way and it is a big deal, it’s not something Andy took on lightly, but in this he’s gaunt because for him he get as close as possible to Ian Dury.
When it came to creating the polio-affected left leg and left arm we got a prosthetic in for his leg and we tried to do simple things for the arm, like shading it and hiding it, using looser t-shirts on one side so you get the idea that one arm is different to the other. We’ve used a load of different tricks
Q: In terms of the live stage performances, how much of that is Andy Serkis?
MW: Everything you see on stage is Andy. Initially we debated using Ian’s voice and have Andy lip-synch it and the same for the Blockheads. We asked ourselves ‘do we use the real Blockheads for the backing band or do we do it with actors?’ We spoke to Andy about it initially and we quickly decided that the only way to do it was for him to do his interpretation of Ian. There was no point in doing ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ or some weird impersonation. He had to create a new character because a lot of the people coming to see the film probably won’t know who Ian Dury was. It’s not necessary for him to embody a particular person; he needs to create a new character. As far as the Blockheads go, as far as the backing band go, we did pre-records with the real Blockheads. We spent a lot of time with them just getting a really great live performance out of them and when we came to the live gigs that we’ve been doing we’ve used a mixture.
Q: Can you tell us about the cinematic style of the movie?
MW: It’s tricky with someone like this to tell their story in ninety minutes because most people aren’t one person; they’re a hundred people in a lifetime, and different things to different people. I think Ian was incredibly generous and inspirational to a lot of people, very loving and very caring when he wanted to be but he could also be a monster and horrible and very destructive. They were both the same person and with the script in the same way we’re trying to do a kaleidoscopic version of Ian’s life so there are moments when it’s very funny and cartoonish. There are moments when it’s tragic. There are other moments where there’s a documentary feel, and it should feel as raw and real as we can possibly make it. There are other times when it’s completely surreal, and it’s mythical and magical hopefully. There are other moments when it’s a live gig and the idea we hope will hang together is to try and show someone’s life with all of the different colours rather than just choosing one avenue to explore.
Lead Actor Andy Serkis also answered a few questions:
Q: How long have you been involved with this project?
AS: It’s been quite a long time. Paul Viragh, the writer and myself first had the idea about the same time that Damian Jones the producer had the same idea to do a film about Ian Dury. It must be two-and-a-half to three years ago. It’s been something we’ve been investing in for a long time and something that I’ve felt very akin to and very focused on for a long time”Q: Have you always been a fan of Ian Dury?
AS: I distinctly remember Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. I can’t say I was a massive fan but I absolutely remember the moment when I first heard Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick which was a defining moment for me, as it was for a lot of people my age. I felt it was the first record that I really acknowledged that was around and that spoke to me.
Q: Can you remember where you were?
AS: It was on a coach actually, we were going on a school trip and it was on the radio. We were on the bus and listening to this extraordinary song which just conjured up so many amazing things.
Q: What’s was it like to go into a studio and record live with a real band?
AS: It was quite an amazing experience, and one of the most pleasurable parts of the job. This was back in February, before we got anywhere near the actual filming, but it was scary at the same time. Fortunately they’re such an amazingly lovely bunch of guys who were absolutely passionate about pouring into this film, as were a lot of people who we’ve gone to talk to and freely given a lot of insight into Ian’s character. Jemima, Ian’s daughter, in particular, and Baxter his son, Sophie his second wife, then the Blockheads who made for an amazing couple of days but I was terrified! Standing there, in the same room, as the original Blockheads doing the recording with my version of Ian must have been weird for them too.
Q: Apparently The Blockheads were so impressed they think you should go on tour with them
AS: Ha! I would love to do that! I think I‘ve found my inner rock star! I love being up on stage because this particular material really speaks to me. I love and that wave of real lyricists and songwriters and performers like Nina Simone and Tom Waits where you really want to listen to what they are saying and Ian’s work is definitely of that ilk.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is part of the Encounters program of the Tribeca Film Festival. It will be premiering at the festival this Saturday at the Village East Cinema.
What do you think of Andy Serkis taking on this challenging new role?