23 August 2016 (released)
23 August 2016
Interview with director Alex Cox ahead of 30th anniversary restoration of Sid & Nancy, released on special edition DVD & Blu-ray on August 29 2016.
What did you find inspiring about punk?
It was a revolutionary, anti-capitalist movement. It showed that groups of individuals without money or permission or even skills or talent could declare themselves independent artists, connect with an audience, thrive and challenge the corporate status quo. It was very exciting.
What made you want to retell the couple’s story?
The script came about because I had a meeting with a producer about another film that I was trying to make, and he said in passing that some studio was talking about making a film about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, potentially starring Rupert Everrett and Madonna. Because I was really into the punk scene, I was absolutely horrified at the thought of this, and in the spirit of punk, Abbe [Wool, screenwriter] and I felt this had to be stopped, or at least pre-empted.
Do you have a favourite memory from shooting that you could share?
Shooting the exit of Sid & Nancy from the boat on the Thames in one continuous hand-held shot, the camera being operated by Roger Deakins.
Apparently Malcolm McLaren and John Lydon both criticised the film, John Lydon especially. Have you had words with him since about that?
Lydon was very kind to us, talking to me about his character, reading the script, giving us notes, and inviting Drew Schofield – who played “Johnny” in the film – to New York to observe him. He was a gentleman throughout. Lydon's notes were excellent and I wish we'd followed them more closely. In criticizing the film when it was finished, John managed to create a sense of scandal around it -- just as he and his colleagues had around the Sex Pistols. This was immensely beneficial, and generated a journalistic fascination which continues to this day.
McLaren was also generous with his time and talked to me about his experiences – I don't remember if he saw the film or not, but he and his wife came and stayed with me at my little house in Almeria some years later, so I don't think he can have been too offended!
What about the other members of the band, were they involved at all?
I was in touch with all of the members of the Sex Pistols, although Cook and Jones I didn’t know very well. Glen Matlock was the musical director of the Sex Pistols scenes; he ironically was kicked out of the Sex Pistols because he wasn’t cool looking enough. He was the only person in the band at that time who could actually play an instrument, but they kicked him out and brought Sid in instead, because Sid looked so cool. Glen got his revenge a few years later by recording all the bass guitar tracks for the movie, so when you see Sid & Nancy that’s Glen Matlock playing Sid Viscious’s guitar, and playing deliberately badly, because he was a really good musician.
Gary Oldman apparently wasn’t originally interested in playing Sid, can you tell us about his casting?
Gary was desperate to get the role. Over the years he seems to have given interviews in which he claimed to have initially rejected the part. This is untrue; perhaps his words were misinterpreted. If Gary hadn't been keen on the role, we would have offered it immediately to Daniel Day Lewis!
What did you see in Gary Oldman that made you feel he could become Sid Vicious?
He was a very good actor – I'd seen him on stage at the Barbican – and he came from the same poor area of London (Bermondsey) as Sid did, from a similar (though not drug addicted!) working class background. So I felt he'd understand some of what Sid felt when offered the opportunity to join the Sex Pistols, and to find his way out of there.
Is it true your first choice for the role of Nancy was Courtney Love, who does still have a cameo in the film?
Courtney has more that a cameo in Sid & Nancy. She's a fully-fledged supporting character! And she did very well in the role. But she was never our first choice for Nancy. She didn't have the experience or the acting chops to go head-to-head with the actor playing Sid. I thought she was an excellent actor and was delighted to work with her again in Straight to Hell.
You wanted to romanticize Sid and Nancy yet keep the film authentic. However, you have said before you feel you have failed in your attempt to not glorify their doomed relationship. Can you explain?
When I started researching the script, I met people who had been part of the Bromley contingent, like Alan Jones and Debbie Wilson, and people who had been part of that movement and interviewed them at length about it. I amassed a mount of written material just by talking to people… it was fascinating; it was out of that research that we made the screenplay. It was based on what we thought of as a fairly authentic version of those events. I think probably Abbe and I tended to sentimentalise the characters, especially the two principals. We wanted to tell the story authentically but we got trapped a little bit in being a little overly sentimental.
It may be an inevitable part of all drama, that in depicting something you make it to some extent heroic or glorious. Or it could be that the ending of Sid & Nancy, with the "taxi to heaven" which seems very sentimental now, contradicts the message of the film… There is a scene in which Sid & Nancy go to a methadone clinic in New York and are lectured by a medic, played by Sy Richardson, about how they have thrown away their opportunities and betrayed the forward-looking, revolutionary potential of punk. That is the message of the film, the most important scene in the film. I wonder if anyone remembers it?
What are you working at the moment?
A Western titled Tombstone Rashomon, telling the story of a famous Western gunfight from six different perspectives, in the style of Kurosawa's film Rashomon. It was shot in Arizona earlier this year and will – with luck – be finished by the end of the year.