The Sweeney cast and director Nick Love talk about toy guns, The Wire and sushi.
Following its screening at the FDA’s annual Cinema Showcase and before its premiere in Leicester Square last night, the cast and director of The Sweeney popped by the Savoy Hotel to talk about their upcoming reboot of the beloved UK cop show.
Talk first turned to original memories of The Sweeney, with Damian Lewis pointing out that the question was a test of how old each of the cast was, and so it proved. Ray Winstone talked effusively about the show, describing it as “groundbreaking”. “This was probably the first show that I can remember that was down and dirty. We can all kind of relate to it in a way. Now you’ve got shows like The Wire that are making the same sort of stuff, just updated.”
When it came to the younger members of the cast, memories ranged from never watching it because it wasn’t of interest - “I watched the original pilot and feature-length version but I still felt it was dated,” recalled Ben Drew - to being too young to watch it - “I knew it was iconic and that it had a huge impact on the time when it broke through, but the great thing about this is it felt something new and fresh for now that wasn’t trying to remake anything,” commented Hayley Atwell.
For director Nick Love, the film is the result of a long gestation period (Love first got involved in 2006), with the casting of Drew as George Carter providing the impetus needed. “We met with a few possible different Carters and I had talked with Ben about playing a smaller part in the film and being one of the young coppers, and actually we never really met anybody that inspired us as Carter, so we talked about the idea of Ben doing it.
“When you’re trying to cast a film that has a legacy like The Sweeney, it’s all about casting the two roles and there were a couple of false announcements over the years and it was interesting that they never really lit the touch paper. As soon as we talked about Ben, it suddenly became interesting to people.”
The Sweeney proved to be a learning curve for Drew. “I’ve kind of been getting by on raw talent my whole career; even when I started as a musician, I taught myself to play guitar and the songs I wrote were songs I wrote in my bedroom based on natural ability I had,” explained Drew. “As much as [acting] is about emotion and raw talent, there is a science to it and a psychology to it, and I learnt a lot about myself and my strengths as an actor by being in this film. I was way out of my comfort zone and there were times where I wasn’t as strong as I could have been and Nick and Ray would pull me up on it.”
Much of the talk was centred on the film’s action sequence in Trafalgar Square, originally set to take place in Oxford Street. “When we bought the rights off Fox, I rewrote the script from page one and then I thought that given the fact we’re going to have very little money to make the film, one thing that would help sell the film is shooting an action sequence in an impossible location so I set myself that target.”
Having spent a year developing the sequence, including creating guns that made no noise, the shoot took place on Nov 6. Atwell likened it to a “choreographed dance” with her overriding memory being of the toy guns commenting that “because there was no sound, I did find myself doing the oddest thing,” before mimicking gun noises.
Lewis wasn’t involved in the sequence, but pointed out that he wanted to get involved just because it was The Sweeney. “I just thought it sounded like a [adopts cockney accent] ‘right laugh,’ and it turned out to be. It was a treat because, for me, it took a couple of weeks and I got to work with a lot of actors that I hadn’t worked with before.”
When asked whether shooting The Sweeney was any different to his work on TV hit Homeland, Lewis didn’t really notice any difference. “There’s been a lot of talk about how TV is the new independent film, so locations and page count that you shoot every day is fairly similar. We’re all doing the same thing. [Catering] wasn’t pie, mash and beer though, it was sushi and sake on this.”
Finally, talk turned to Love’s approach when it came to updating The Sweeney for the new Millennium, self-deprecatingly stating that he was “aware of the fact that a remake of The Sweeney directed by me [then] the expectation is going to be fairly low”. “I always thought from when I first got involved in the film in 2006, that the only way to make it for me was to make it almost post-modern. There was never a thought to set it in the ’70s.
“It’s a film so there’s always a slight license but part of the problem is the police can’t act anymore like they used to, but the dilemma I had is I didn’t want to make a film about police bureaucracy, I wanted to make essentially an action-thriller. For some people that will be an issue that there isn’t enough consequence but as a viewer, I would rather watch an action movie than an internal affairs movie.”
So would Love and the cast be up for a sequel? “Without a shadow of a doubt. I enjoy making films and some experiences are better than others but turning up and going to work on this every day was an absolute pleasure,” said Winstone.
Love jokingly added: “If the development process takes as long as it did last time, we’ll be dead by the time it starts.”