Star of the massive cult 1998 film, “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, Nick Moran joins Arabel Windsor-Hoye
for lunch at Boisdale of Mayfair to talk about the joys of directing and the perils of ‘Nollywood’
Athought it best to get the classic line, ” It’s been emotional” out of the way, because the temptation to end this article with those three words, was at some points overwhelming. Nick Moran was of course Eddie the card shark who gets in a bit of ‘bovver’, in the ground-breaking film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He is remarkably OK about discussing it, given it must inevitably rear its head at every interview he’s conducted over the last 20 years. Twenty years! We can all remember those comical action sequences; the ‘mockney’ vernacular, Hatchet Harry, Big Chris, Barry the Baptist. “Lock, Stock, the whole fuckin’ lot”.
Everyone’s a bit older when we meet at Boisdale of Mayfair on a roasting hot day in June. The sun is shining and with Boisdale Sauvignon Blanc in hand, I begin by getting LSATSB completely out of the way, because Moran frankly must be bored of it by now. Is he?
“You can’t get bored with that! The older I get, the more relentlessly proud of it I am. There are fewer and fewer films that meet the grade now. When we made that film in ’97, were there films from two decades earlier that I was still talking about? The Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Star Wars – those have stood the test of time and I have a sneaky suspicion ‘Lock Stock’ will too”.
This summer we have Matthew Vaughn’s much anticipated Kingsman sequel, sure to be a commercial success and in some way built on those heady days of “Lock Stock”. I asked Moran what he made of Matthew at the time. “He was the brains behind the film really. It was supposed to be made by Handmade Films, who produced Long Good Friday and Withnail and I, but they hit some financial problems. Matthew just piped up saying, ‘I’ve got some money’ and basically he tapped up a load of his godparents and his mum’s friends! Trudie Styler came in with a chunk, the majority of the money came from Stephen Marks, who was actually Matt’s godfather and owned French Connection. Then there was Peter Morton who owned the Hard Rock Cafe franchise.”
Matthew clearly had a gift for ‘getting things done’, he went on to produce Layer Cake, Kick Ass and X Men. “Yes, I think Matt just does whatever he wants and gets away with it because he’s this bizarre genius. Here was a film made for £700,000 with nobody in it, absolutely nobody, I mean, embarrassing and he raised the money himself. He produced it and sold it to the right people. He was all over every deal.”
Moran is proud of his fellow Lock Stock cast and crew, especially Jason Statham who has forged a hugely successful career in Hollywood. During the filming Statham lived with Moran in a disused pub and Vaughn asked classically trained Moran to, “make sure that he’s getting into the film, help him with his acting.” The pair went on to become great mates and for a while at least, tabloid fodder, filling Sky magazine’s diary pages virtually every month.
The ‘celebrity’ lifestyle had different rules back then I wondered what Nick made of that period? “Firstly, it was brilliant fun! It was absurd and the more I look back, it is like being one of the Beatles – but only for six or nine months. You were invited to everything and Prada or Armani are going to dress you. The things that went on were just hilarious. But it goes sour very quickly and people move on. I got accused of over gilding the lily a bit. Accused of being some sort of party ligger but I don’t care, I had some incredible adventures and did some ridiculous things. Only ever because I was invited, I never gate crashed anything.”
And social media? Perfectly on cue he pulls out a battered Nokia 3310. “I’m not a celebrity and I don’t really have anything to say about it. I have no social media at all, I have no Facebook, I have no twit, twat, whatever, fucking nothing. It means that I’ve become a bit of a non-entity, which is wonderful. People have to actually talk to me. I don’t have any desire for anyone to know what I get up to and what I do.”
Fair enough, but I remind him that back then he definitely was a celebrity of sorts and in some respect courted the media? “I justified it and dealt with it, because – if I’m allowed to say this without blowing my own trumpet – I’d been really good in a brilliant film and consequently people wanted to know who I was. So it wasn’t that I was a celebrity, celebrity is a facet. I think it was notoriety more than anything. Thirteen newspapers coming out every day and they’re all desperate for something. Then a silly chump like me jumps up and is doing stupid stuff that you can write about. They thought ‘Oh, thank fuck for that. We’ve got someone that can fill some of these column inches. I realised towards the end of it, I’m just here because they needed something to write and soon enough there’ll be someone else that will come along. Now it’s as if fame has replaced religion, as if fame will make your soul better, make you a better person. And it doesn’t. It makes you worse. Pubs still close. Shit still stinks and people still hate you.”
Where did the initial spark to enter the film industry come from? “People like [Richard] Burton and [Peter] O’Toole, Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay, Richard Harris, Albert Finney, Michael Caine and Terence Stamp. They were the people that literally, I would sneak into theatres in the West End to watch. I wanted to be a really good actor, to be like those guys.”
Moran studied drama at sixth form college and had been the lead in all the school plays, but he had no real aspirations to be an actor because he didn’t know anyone who was. “One of my teachers at the college, a Canadian woman called Anne Lomax said, ‘have you thought about applying to drama school?’ I thought, ‘What? You mean you can actually go somewhere, where you do this all day? No, shut up!’ I then spent three years reading plays, drinking and mucking about really. I was very lucky after I left, going to Blood Brothers as an understudy. The lead fell off a ladder, so I took over aged 21.”
So is he a director or an actor? “I think you play whatever’s in front of you. I prefer directing to acting now because it’s tremendously rewarding, but that’s because it’s so draining. As an actor you turn up; people make you look nice; they give you breakfast, they give you a lovely frock to wear and some makeup. If you’re half decent, you do a decent turn, then four or five weeks later there’s a big round of applause, everyone raises a plastic glass of champagne and that’s a wrap. There’s a stop and a start when you’re an actor. 10,000 man-hours and hundreds of other people are trying to make it to the point where it can be broadcast and appreciated. When you’re the director, you’re a part of those 10,000 hours.”
In fact Moran had a fairly unusual introduction to directing. Not long after Lock Stock, Stuart Murphy the Head of Channels at the BBC, had struck on the idea of getting involved in the Nigerian film industry or ‘Nollywood’; this was around the time of the launch of BBC3. The Nigerian film industry was just gaining prominence with hundreds of titles being made each week starring people that had never acted or directed before, shot on VHS cameras and sold on cassettes.
The sheer volume meant Nigeria suddenly had the second biggest film industry in the world and Moran somehow became embroiled in the adventure. “The BBC, in their wisdom, thought that it would be a great idea to try and get this younger, funky appeal. So they parachuted me into Lagos, to be the first white guy to write and direct a Nollywood film. Lagos was one of the most dangerous places in the world! People were getting kidnapped, fingers and toes sent to the offices of Shell with notes saying, ‘would you like to see your employee again?’ I was about 32 and just thought, ‘yeah, this will be fun, I’ll end the year with a bang.’ So I went out there with a documentary team of one woman from the BBC, a cameraman and me. No one in their right mind would have done that – the local boys they came after us. I got robbed. I got shot at. It was spectacular! I made some great friends for life and learnt the trade.”
Up next for Moran is Edinburgh Fringe where, by the time you read this, he will have just finished directing Irvine Welsh’s, ‘Performance’. Perhaps not a surprise Nick eventually found his way behind the camera, he’s tremendously engaging company and a great story-teller. I still can’t resist ending this piece with a LSATSB quote. This time it’s from his actual character, Eddie the card shark; “The entire British Empire was built on cups of tea, and if you think I’m going to war without one, mate, you’re mistaken.”