(Warner Bros. Pictures) British director Guy Ritchie returns to crime in a new film about London's traditional underworld adapting to the onslaught of another, more corporate generation of crooks. Buzzine sits down with the energetic Englishman and gets the inside story.
Emmanuel Itier: What was your inspiration for RocknRolla?
Guy Ritchie: It's in the same genre as Snatch and Lock, Stock [and Two Smoking Barrels], and I felt I wanted to do another one, partly because of the amount of enthusiasm I got from those movies, but also because England's changed so much in the last 15-20 years. The world of crime has consequently changed so much so, to a degree, part of the movie is about old-school gangsters getting pushed out by the new-school. And an aspect of that is eastern European or Russian. So a few years ago, if your average gangster made a few million pounds, it was seen as a big to-do. That's been eclipsed by the international eastern gangster who now comes packing billions. So he comes; he's like a mobile corporation and this is, to a degree, one of the stories. It’s reflections of the old-school natives trying to hang on to business as it used to be, but they're being pushed out by corporate massive crime. I mean corporate in a purely criminal sense.
EI: Why did this genre click with you so much?
GR: I don't know. I just like under-cultures and sub-cultures. It just happened to be my thing.
EI: How different in tone is it?
GR: It's in the same genre, so if you saw this and you saw Snatch, you would suspect that the same filmmaker was behind it.
EI: Are there any differences?
GR: I'd like to think so, because otherwise we'd have called it Snatch 2. No, it's a new take and it's a contemporary take, and the stories are new. But you can tell that the guy who made those movies previously is the guy who made this movie. That's part of the package. That's what I like to do, so it's influenced.
EI: As you get older, do you approach criminals less romantically?
GR: Probably not. It's pretty much an objective view of crime on the whole. I try not to be ethical or moral about it. It's simply an observation and commentary on that observation. That sounds relatively intellectual.
EI: The Americans came from an Outkast video?
GR: It did, yeah. It was influenced by Andre and Big Boi - I can't remember the name. They were influenced by that and inspired by that.
EI: Have you ever met any underworld members?
GR: Absolutely not. The criminal underbelly of society is heavily frowned upon by me.
EI: Do they ever want to get involved?
GR: Yes. I mean, many of the ideas - the pig-feeding story in Snatch, for example, if anyone is familiar with it - that's a cliché of how people dispose of bodies. Since then, I've seen it pop up in several movies. I had met the guy who used to remove the teeth before they chopped him up and gave him to the pigs. By the way, now he's a grandfather, a lovely chap; he gives to charity, runs his local football team, and looks like your average avuncular generous individual. So sometimes there's nothing exotic about the exoticism of crime. That's kind of interesting in itself, that sometimes people can do what we see as heinous and nefarious acts, and to them it's just par for the course.
EI: What are the social commentaries in RocknRolla?
GR: The social commentary is everything I've been talking about. It's how the face of England no longer has the identity that we previously understood it to have. It's become international like New York has become international. So the commentary is, I suppose, how cultural identities have shifted. If you take New York and London now, they're much more similar than they used to be. It's commentary on that. It's commentary on how crime has shifted. It's commentary on how business is conducted. Previously, people could offer let's say a million pounds for a house, and then an oligarch will come along and say, "Just to take it off the market and to save haggling, I'll offer you 20 million." That wasn't necessarily uncommon. It suddenly became, "It's going for a million, well, I'll offer two, three." Then you just go, "Oh, fuck it. How much do you want for it? Here's 20 million." Now they did that with football teams, with football players. They did it with every sort of cultural manifestation that we had. These exponential bids would suddenly come into the equation. That had tremendous cultural effect on the way everything was manifested. We try to reflect some of that within the movie too.
EI: Is it important for you to keep exploring contemporary London?
GR: I've used the word exponential and I think it's pertinent toward culture in general, particularly any capital that moves as fast as New York or London. Technology is a reduction of time and space and motion. It's done that to culture too, so everything is moving exponentially, so fast that we can't keep tabs on it. So I suppose this is the interesting part - just before it completely goes off the Richter scale in terms of its changing pace. This is like a documentary of before we can't recognize it for the identity it once had.
EI: Are audiences harder to surprise with twists and turns?
GR: I think it depends on what genre I'm going into. The movie we're doing after this, Sherlock Holmes, is clearly going to be in a different genre, so I think people would expect something very different and, hopefully, a flavor of what they are familiar with. This was clear in the fact that it did what it said on the tin. I was interested in this genre that people are familiar with, and I hope it's got enough stuff in it - new nutrition to inspire an audience.
EI: Does it keep people guessing?
GR: No, I've been ambitious with how the plots interweave. The hard work is actually writing the thing. Shooting it is comparatively easy.
EI: How different is your Sherlock?
GR: It's going to be very contemporary. I suppose, originally, Sherlock Holmes was this intellectual action man, and I think they played down the action man aspect because they didn't have the means of executing the action in interesting ways. We do have the means and we have the technology, so we're just riding on the back of that.
EI: Contemporary like now?
GR: No, it still remains in its period. But we like the idea that he's an intellectual action guy, to a degree.
EI: Is there a race against Sacha Baron Cohen's Sherlock?
GR: I don't even have a script yet, so we're hoping not.
EI: Still London?
EI: Are you still a fan of London?
GR: That's me home town, yeah.
EI: Got a pub?
GR: I do have a pub. It's much harder to run a pub than it is to make a film, by the way.
EI: Why do you love London?
GR: I was born there and I've seen it change, and I know a great deal about it. I'm invested. I live vicariously through my wife, so I was once a spy and now I've become a tourist; it's much more fun to live in London as a tourist than as a spy. Someone told me the definition was a spy always looks for the bad stuff and a tourist always looks for the good stuff. So that makes it easy, being married to an American.
EI: Have you discovered new things about London, being married to an American?
GR: Sure. I mean, London's big. I don't really know how big it is, but you think New York's big. New York goes up. London just goes on and on and on. London's been going on for 2,000 years and it hasn't stopped for 2,000 years. New York's been going for, like, 300 years.
EI: Does the smoking ban in England affect your pub?
GR: The only reason I went into the pub business is because they stopped smoking in pubs, so yeah. But I think four pubs a day go out of business in England.
EI: With everything going on this summer, is everything okay?
GR: As far as I'm aware of.