Friday, 9 October 2020

[RETROSPECTIVE] Lapse of Honour

Writer/Director; Rayna Campbell

Stars; Tom Collins, Lady Leshurr, Louis Emerick, Gary McDonald

College students Tom and Eve, two teenagers from the Moss Side, Manchester, are studying hard to get into university in an attempt to escape their abusive parents. When Eve discovers she's pregnant it changes the course of the couple's lives. Eve’s aspirations to be a rap artist are thrown into doubt whilst Tom, obsessed with being able to provide a luxury life for Eve and their child, makes some questionable choices that put him at odds with local Yardie Razor, and local gang The Moss Crew.


If you’re a fan of ‘Fame’ - be it the 1980 film directed by Alan Parker, or the stage musical, then ‘Lapse of Honour’ is right up your street. Both have their roots in stories of young people with artistic aspirations set against the backdrop of an impoverished urban area that ultimately and adversely impacts their lives. For Rayna Campbell’s debut as writer and director (she also produced it through her own company J Rocka Entertainment) that urban fairy tale of sorts is told  in the truest tradition of British Social Realism with a modern twist - think Ken Loach meets Noel Clarke. Rayna Campbell’s debut is highly impressive showing a real skill both as writer and director. In bringing the grittiness of M15(nickname for Moss Side) life to the screen Campbell wrote authentic dialogue incorporating the slang from the area. This added realism with the urban setting creates an unsettling feel for some, adding an extra dimension of gritty authenticity to the film.

Campbell pulls no punches putting the characters through hell pushing the boundaries of their friendships, and exploring the tense unpleasant family relationships. Only Eve’s lyrical gymnastics rehearsing in her bedroom or competing in the rap battles offer any kind of levity.  Her skills in creating likeable and authentic characters not only lies with Tom and Eve’s young romance, but also Tom’s friendship with Dean ( John Weaver) - the kind of friendship where you can argue and row but cool off and be the best friends. The performances of the young cast is certainly award worthy to say the least, many of them making their debut and shining throughout. They are amiably supported by veterans of British film and television  Louis Emrick and Gary McDonald whose commanding presence alone fills the screen. The scenes with both these actors together are a joy to watch, the privilege of seeing two on screen pros in action. McDonald’s performance as local Yardie Razor in particular stands out, blending likeable charm with a sinister deadly quality. This use of smiles and soft words that chills - emphasized by Emrick’s performance as Tom’s father Bruce trying to hide his fear with nervous smiles and jokes - contrasts with his younger rivals Moss Crew’s more direct approach to intimidation. 

Much of the drama focuses on Tom and Eve’s plight to leave Moss Side and it is where the film’s heart truly lies. Their story is the most touching and heart wrenching aspect of the film aided by the endearing chemistry of both leads. Campbell introduces sub plots of young Marios (Shaqueel Walton) being seduced, almost bullied into running for the local Moss Crew street gang, and Tom’s Dad Bruce (Louis Emerick) struggling to pay off local Yardie Razor (Gary McDonald). These three lives ultimately intertwine and illustrate, with shocking tragedy, the dangers of life in the M15. Campbell’s script and slick no nonsense direction keep us embroiled into the players’ lives drawing us into their daily struggles giving it a powerful gravitas that has us smiling one minute and jaw dropped in shock the next. 


Lapse of Honour’ is hard hitting British filmmaking at its best, an impressive debut by Rayna Campbell. With a background in filmmaking that is mostly self taught Campbell boldly showcases a very innate talent for compelling storytelling that grips from the start and doesn’t let go. The film’s gritty authentic setting and dialogue with incredible performance all round make this a multidimensional story that takes you on a dramatic emotional rollercoaster ride.

Veterans Louis Emrick and Gary McDonald give incredible performances as do the troupe of supporting actors but the show belongs to Tom Collins and Lady Leshurr. Their natural chemistry and heartfelt performances simply make you smile setting up the tragic events that follow more gut wrenching. Some levity is offered with some engaging lyrical rap performances from Lady Leshurr and an assortment of talented artists and an amazing debut by Lady Killa. If ever there was a showcase for the talent of British black filmmakers it lies with ‘Lapse of Honour’ and with her debut as writer, director, and producer Rayna Campbell sounder her arrival as a veritable talented cinematic storyteller.   

Thursday, 23 July 2020

[Retrospective] Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

Writers; John McNaughton & Richard Fire
Director; John McNaughton
Stars;  Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Henry is a self-employed pest exterminator, who after ridding homes and businesses of scurrying vermin, gets his kicks from nocturnal extermination of a different kind - choosing his innocent victims at random then killing them anywhere and anyway he can. His only companion is Otis (Tom Towles), an ex-convict on parole who washes cars at a local garage and indulges in selling drugs and flirting with young men. Sensing a kindred spirit in his housemate, Henry introduces Otis to the pleasure of killing brutally and spontaneously in a horrific scene involving the two men beating, stabbing and bludgeoning a television salesman who refused to serve them. Things get complicated with the arrival of Otis’ sister Becky escaping her violent husband and looking for a fresh life, and soon Becky and Henry fall in love much to Otis’ jealous laden chagrin.

Framing the Portrait

The idea for the film came about when executive producers Malik B and Waleed B Ali hired John McNaughton - who at the time was working as delivery driver for their video equipment rental business - to direct a documentary about 1930 American gangsters. The film ‘Dealers in Death’ was a moderate success enough to spur on the Ali brothers to commission their young employee to make another film this time about Chicago's wrestling scene. However that film fell through and so the brothers gave McNaughton a $100,000 to make a horror film. McNaughton was inspired by a documentary about real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who claimed to have killed over 100 people between 1960 and 1983. 

Steven A Jones was hired as producer and music composer, and he in turn hired Richard Fire to work on the script with McNaughton. Given the very low budget, friends and family of the crew were used for filming with some playing multiple walk-on roles, and all of them wore their own clothes.  Michael Rooker was reportedly working as a janitor at the time and auditioned in his work clothes. After winning the starring role, Rooker wore the same uniform throughout filming and stayed in character throughout the month long shoot. 

McNaughton opted for shooting this like a documentary, but using static cameras slowly zooming in and out, adding a surreal voyeuristic quality to the viewing. To make it even more uncomfortable viewing McNaughton’s script dispenses with the fancy debonair dialogue and witticisms attributed to the most malign movie villains, and with no sub-plots or heroic law enforcement types coming to the rescue he audience have to endure horrific killings one after the other, without relief. Filming finished on time with barely anything left of it’s meagre budget but when McNaughton showed the film to his business partners they were less than impressed. 

Fighting for Henry

To say Malik and Waleed Ali were not impressed was perhaps an understatement. They had largely expected a slasher film but were presented instead with a darker more thoughtful film. They were so underwhelmed with the finished film they didn’t even consider it for a VHS release let alone a theatrical run. One of their employees - Chuck Parello saw the film’s potential and persuaded the brothers to let McNaughton screen it at the Chicago Film Festival. 
The film received mostly positive praise especially from Chicago Tribune writer Rick Kogan who described it as accomplished, arresting and haunting, Soon ‘Henry’ earned a reputation which followed it to the Telluride Film Festival where apparently half the audience were so disturbed and repulsed they walked out of the screen. It screened at Splatterfest Festival the following year, 1990 to a standing ovation. With critics praising it’s daring and whetting the appetites of horror fans, the film’s run in with the dreaded censors - the MPAA - would further delay a release. 

When submitted to the MPAA ‘Henry’ received an X rating, one normally reserved for porn films back in the days when such films graced the cinema screen. An X rating for such film was usually the kiss of death and so a fight ensued to negotiate with the censors. John McNaughton asked them what he could change to receive an R rating to which he was told in no uncertain terms that no edits would change their minds. McNaughton decided on the spot not to challenge the rating, and instead moved for the film to be released unrated with a disclaimer for no one under 17 to be admitted to see it. The MPPA relented and the film was released generally in the US on 19th September 1990. It took a little longer for it to receive a UK release on the count of similar tussles with the British Board of Film Classification.  

A Dark and Bloody Tale 

The finished film is gratuitous movie making at its best (or worse) leaving little to the imagination. It makes for uncomfortable viewing from its chilling start, with scenes of murdered women ditched in fields and the sounds of their agonising screams as they struggle and plead for their lives, echoing in the background.

Henry is not for the light-hearted and may even unsettle viewers with a strong constitution or penchant for gore fest slasher flicks. It is not just the no holds barred murder scenes that result in a reflexive turning away of the head or squinting shut of the eyes. The performances from the film’s two male leads, whilst hardly OSCAR worthy, are chillingly real. Rooker and Towles clearly relished their gruesome roles with a ruthless combination of icy remorseless stares and evil grimaces.

Although the film was made in 1986 it wasn’t released until 1990 for fear of attracting the wrath of the censors at the height of the video nasty debate. Yet its release added further fuel to the roaring fire of the video censorship movement, and was banned from having a video release, most likely due to such horrifying moments like the scene where Henry and Otis are watching a video recording of themselves brutalising a family in their home, raping the women and then slowly killing each one as the others look on terrified knowing that their fate would be the same,

Banning the film may have seemed like an overreaction although given its unnerving nature, somewhat understandable. However such was the uproar over its release and censorship that the nuance of the film seemed to have been missed by all except a few critics. McNaughton cleverly tapped into the macabre curiosity and voyeuristic nature of the audience making them accomplices to the crimes they witnessed.

In a further bizarre moment, McNaughton, using the scene where Henry and Otis enjoy their murderous recording, makes the unsettling implication that those watching violence unfold for entertainment may well be as guilty as those committing the acts. This may not have sat well with some audiences including the censors hence a further reason for it being denied a video release

The Renaissance of Grindhouse

It is ironic that such a film that found itself the victim of censorship and outrage, is now commonplace in cinemas as well as readily available for home viewing. The recent resurgence of what used to be called “video nasties'  are now affectionately termed ‘Grindhouse’. Films such as ‘Hostel’, ‘Wolf Creek’, and of course the ‘Saw’ movies continue to shock and terrify audiences and which leave Henry seeming tame by comparison.

Henry became John McNaughton’s only memorable and somewhat noteworthy work. His follow up ‘Mad Dog and Glory’ kept audiences away whilst the 1998 thriller ‘Wild Things’ was talked about for all the wrong reasons, mainly the threesome sex scene midway and co-star Neve Campbell’s no nudity clause in her contract. Those in front of the camera, particularly the males fared better with Towles having lined up a never ending stream of television work before returning to the genre in gore meister Rob Zombie’s ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ and its sequel ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ and also the remake of Halloween. Michael Rooker is more recognisable to cinema goers in major studio productions with big name stars including Mississippi Burning (Gene Hackman), Days of Thunder (Tom Cruise) and Cliffhanger (Sylvester Stallone).

‘Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer’ is McNaughton’s stunning film to date and does seem tame compared to the slew of its compatriots gracing the silver or plasma screens today. Yet it does contain strong (stomach turning) memorable moments, with cold hard performances from Michael Rooker and Tom Towles elevating the violence to a whole new chilling level. An inevitable sequel followed written and directed by Chuck Parello but made little impact. McNaughton's cult hit remains a lasting legacy to unrelenting realistic horror slashing the fantasy villains that reside in our dreams or rise from the dead, and reminding us monsters are real and wear a human face.

Friday, 17 July 2020

[INTERVIEW] Rayna Campbell

Four years I ago I was offered the opportunity to interview British actress Rayna Campbell about her debut as a feature film director. That film was the award winning gritty drama 'Lapse of Honour'. Starring Tom Collins and rap artist Lady Leshurr, it tells the story of college students Tom and Eve, two Moss Side teenagers studying hard to get into university in an attempt to escape their abusive parents. When Eve discovers she's pregnant it changes the course of the couple's lives.
'Lapse of Honour' is a story packed with drama and tragedy carried by stellar performances from its young cast, especially Lady Leshurr giving an award worth performance, ably supported by British veterans of the small and big screen Louis Emerick and Gary McDonald. Having screened at various festivals, including the BFI Film London event, critics praised the film with one writer concluding "Lapse of Honour never feels staid or tied to the inertia of its characters, as the bright lighting, lively performances and brisk storytelling propel the viewer along. The ride may not be a pleasant one, but Campbell ensures that it is a compelling one."

Born in Manchester of Jamaican origin, Rayna moved to London at the age of 18 to study her BA Honours in Retail Management. It was a trip to the theatre watching a performance of 'Fame The Musical' that inspired a change in career direction to become an actress. Alongside her degree studies Rayna enrolled in part time acting classes and after gaining her retail management degree, ventured to the US to study at The American Dramatic Arts. After graduating, Rayna returned to London and began the gruelling audition process before landing roles various British television dramas and her first feature film 'Layla Fourie'. Rayna then formed her own production company 'J.Rocka Entertainment' and produced, wrote, and directed her first feature film.

'Lapse of Honour' it seems, was Rayna's only film having then returned to acting appearing in various films including Disney's 'Maleficent; Mistress of Evil' and the Netflix thriller 'Extraction' starring Chris Hemsworth. In my interview I spoke with Rayna about her break in acting and taking the giant leap into her first feature film.
UK television audiences may be familiar with some of your roles in shows such as ‘The Bill, ‘Waterloo Road’ and ‘Scott and Bailey’ but your breakout role came in the thriller ‘Layla Fourie’. How did you get the role and what was your experience like on set?
I did the first audition in Soho, London which went very well. I got a call back the following week, then the director asked if I would be available after Christmas to do another audition. I said for sure. So just before Christmas I went to California to see friends and family and my agent called me and said you need to be in Berlin in two days time for a chemistry test with the lead actor. The role is between you and two other actresses. I had literally just landed in LA. Anyway I flew to Berlin via Paris then found out I had the wrong script. By the time I got to the audition I just thought all I can do is my best, the rest is in God's hands. I did the chemistry test and flew back to Los Angeles and a few days later the director called to say you have the part. I was too shattered to scream with excitement.

The director then asked me to come out to Johannesburg four weeks before shooting the film to get used to the way everything was there. Johannesburg is an interesting city; it can also be very intimidating. During those four weeks I worked with a voice coach, learned how to use a polygraph and I had an amazing driver called Kedi who took me round the city and showed me all the sights like Soweto, and The Lion Park. Filming was gruelling because I am in almost every scene and we had a very tight schedule. On set it varied depending on where we were, sometimes the heat was so intense you thought you would pass out especially if the scene was quite physical and sometimes it was just filming me driving through the Draconsburg for miles on miles, which was fun. Every time I felt like I can't do this anymore I thought you have to do this for the audience. We filmed for six weeks in Johannesburg and Durban, then had a break and finished filming in Germany. 

Did it get you much notice?
It definitely raised my profile a little. We opened in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, which was just amazing. Tim Robbins was on the jury and asked to see me. I met him and he just wanted to personally say what a wonderful job I did and that he was routing for me all the way.  I travelled to other great festivals with the film too, Morocco, Los Angeles, Belgium and got to meet a lot of film makers, producers, directors, actors as well as the audiences. It also got me a lot of perks such as gifts and invitations to events, festivals and premiers and I have even sat on the jury of a couple of film festivals.
You’ve decided to get into film production and set up your own company ‘J.Rocka Entertainment’ and through it released ‘Lapse of Honour’ which you wrote, produced, and directed. What led to your decision to move from in front of the camera to behind it?
So initially I never intended to direct it. I originally wrote 'Lapse of Honour' for me to act in it but then I outgrew the role. I met the producer, Tara Cooke and she had read the script and encouraged me to direct it myself and that put the directing seed in my head. After that I bought a set of DVD's on how to make low budget films and that gave me a lot of confidence. I also read a lot of books on low budget film making and eventually felt courageous enough to make the move. The day before filming I was sitting in our production office and thought, I should just keep making films, its way more fun than waiting for your agent to ring.
The film feels like a personal project to you, how much of it is based on personal experience, people you’ve known and so on?
I would say 80 per cent. Almost all the characters are based on an amalgamation of people I've known or met. I've added fictitious story-lines or exaggerated some true events.
I love the film’s title, an excellent play on words and although I have an idea can you tell me what you feel it means? 
[Laughs] Originally the film was called M15, then apparently there were some people in the local area that were not happy about that. So, Tom the lead actor and Jordan the first AD [Assistant Director] and I were trying to come up with a new title - now there is some dispute as to who actually came up with the final title but we all loved it immediately. To me it means Tom's lapse into the dangerous path he chooses and because he does that he loses his honour in those moments. Is that what you thought?
I thought it was along similar lines but that it also applied to Linda (Eve’s mum) Bruce (Tom’s Dad) and Marius. I was very impressed by the performances of everyone, especially the younger actors. Where did you find them? Are they all from Manchester?
We held auditions in Moss Side and put casting notices on the Internet, the local radio and in local takeaways and hair salons. Word spread very quickly. Prior to casting I had helped a friend of mine Simone Riley; conduct some drama workshops around Manchester that were funded by the local council. They were targeted at under privileged kids who wouldn't normally have the chance or the means to get into the acting industry. After the workshops we took their contact information and kept in touch. When we were auditioning we also invited some of them to the castings.
Gary McDonald and Louis Emerick were outstanding in this – what was it like working with them and did they offer you any insight from their years of experience? 
Yes they were both brilliant. I was very excited to work with them and a little nervous at the start but they came with their skills, knew their stuff and were totally respectful towards me, especially as a first time female director. They both have great senses of humour so that was nice to have on set and when the pressure was on they were very calm and always reassured me that everything was going well and I had nothing to worry about. The fact that they loved the script was a good feeling.
Who are your film making/acting influences?
Film making it has to be Tyler Perry because he started from the bottom with no help and is a major Hollywood player now. He does it all; act, write, direct and produce and he has an amazing work ethic, he is constantly creating and putting out content across all platforms, that is really inspiring to me. Acting I have a few; Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Brad Pitt, Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor and I thought little Jacob Tremblay was awesome in 'Room'.
Given that you’re pretty much the creative force driving the film what challenges did it present to you?

Oh I wish I had had more money to spend on the film ha ha. I was very limited financially so a lot of thinking outside of the box had to be done to keep everyone happy. Then there was the challenge of negotiating locations for free, organising cast and crew and extras with limited funds and resources and as I hadn't made a film before there was a lot of thinking quickly on my feet for example if I had forgotten to sort out a location, we had to think of an alternative setting that was nearby and where we would be free to film without getting arrested. It was very exhausting also but you had to keep going first one up and last one to bed, stocking up on food on the days off, sending people on errands, answering a million questions all day everyday. Then post production was another big learning curve, I thought the editor put everything together and that was it, I didn't realise that the film needed sound editing, colouring, VFX most of which I hadn't budgeted for and then it was about finding good people who could do the job properly. Film making has certainly taught me patience, trust and the art of negotiation.
Does you acting experience help you as a filmmaker?
I would say so. I think it gives me certain empathy for the actors and I feel I can communicate what I want with them in a way they will clearly understand.
The film is currently doing the rounds at various festivals. Can you tell me a little more about them and generally how is it all going? 
We first screened as part of Film London's London's screenings at The BFI in the Breakthrough section. I was so nervous I didn't eat or drink for 12 hours prior but we got an amazing response. Then we went to a lovely festival in Croatia called The Avvantura Film Festival in Zadar. I hadn't managed to get the film subtitled in time and so the film was screened in English and I was thinking they're going to walk out, this has a lot of slang in but they stayed and many audience members told me even though they didn't have a clue what anyone was saying they were very much moved by the story. We won the Special Mention Award there so that was a great honour. Then we opened the British Urban Film Festival in London, which was cool because lots of the cast and crew came up from Manchester to see the film in all its glory for the first time and I had friends and family come and support. We were sold out at the festival and there was a huge excitement about the film. Then we played at Dinard Film Festival in France which is a small 'A' list festival so there were lots of stars there which was exciting and I got a lot of support, encouragement and advice from them about my career and the audiences there were just magnificent, probably some of the biggest audiences the film has had. We did a small festival this January called British Film Week at The Grand Logis in Bruz. The festival screen popular British Films to local audiences and the students at nearby schools and Universities so that was great and they were screening films like The Suffragettes, Legend and 45 Years so it felt like a big honour to be screening alongside films of that calibre. Lastly we screened at The Keswick Film Festival in The Lake District, there was a heated q and a after which was excited because it meant the film had evoked different yet powerful emotions in the audience. It's just been an incredible experience overall. 
Do you still plan to carry on acting or are more spurred on by writing and directing? 
Yes I plan to carry on acting, writing and directing. I love them all equally. The next challenge is to see if I can direct myself in something I've written.
What does the future hold for J.Rocka Entertainment? Any more projects in the pipeline?
I have a slate of five screenplays now - a mix of genres. I'm currently meeting with various producers, financiers and film organisations to get the next set of films made. The great thing is that once you've made one film the doors start opening up. I wish I could speed things up but everything happens in the right time, though with me you just never know what's around the corner!

Saturday, 11 July 2020

[INTERVIEW] I am Vengeance Retaliation - Ross Boyask

Forget Hobbs and Shaw; if you're looking for a fast paced, fun filled action packed thrill ride featuring two of the genre's biggest hard men taunting and trash talking one another in a testosterone fuelled measuring contest look no further than Gold and Teague aka Stu Bennett and Vinnie Jones. The dark avenger from the 2018 independent hit 'I Am Vengeance' ('Vengeance') returns on an even more personal mission with plenty at stake and this time has to deal with a nemesis from his past whilst leading a team to capture him. For star Stu Bennett it means ramping up both his action credentials and his thespian abilities, as writer and director Ross Boyask puts both star and hero through one hell of a explosive and personal journey. 

Along the way film maker Ross, who is also the Creative Director of British independent film company Evolutionary Films, packs his latest action extravaganza, 'I am Vengeance; Retaliation' with laughs, thrills, explosions, and lots of hard hitting no nonsense martial arts fun expertly choreographed by the legendary Tim Man. Ross also shows that the girls can more than give the guys a run for their money with the inclusion of Phoebe Robinson-Galvin and Katrina Durden kicking arse and taking names and with sport packing some serious weaponry all joining the line up. The film is already enjoying a US release attracting the attention of big industry publications such as 'Variety' and is waiting in the winds to descend upon the UK so of course Ross can't wait to talk about his latest film. Cine Bijou had the pleasure of a sit down chat with the action aficionado and storyteller to talk about the latest adventures of John Gold and his more personal, challenging mission to date. First there was a little matter of the film title to clear up - is it 'I am Vengeance; Retaliation' or 'Vengeance 2'?

It’s called ‘I Am Vengeance: Retaliation’ and the reason it's called that is because Saban Films, and Lionsgate in North America called the first film ‘I Am Vengeance’ and so the title has changed in accordance with that. Also, you don't actually have to watch the first 'Vengeance’ film to enjoy this movie; it allows it to have its own title so we're not too concerned whether or not you've seen the first firm.  We see our character John Gold [played by Stu Bennett] - an ex Special Forces soldier turned mercenary - on one of his missions to avenge the wronged in a gentlemen's club in Basildon. On completion of said mission he is met by his former handler Frost played by Mark Griffin who approaches him about a job. Gold has stayed off the grid for a number of years and has no interest in working for the government again because they abandoned him a number of years ago. When he finds out an old colleague  [Teague played by Vinnie Jones] who betrayed his team leading to his issues with the government, who was presumed dead but is actually still alive, Gold is enticed back for the job. He signs up with Frost's team of operatives, and they go to take Teague down so he can stand trial.  However Gold wants him dead and to top it off there are a couple of flies in the ointment which makes it very difficult for him to do that. 

It’s a very different film from the first one, like you said you could almost watch this without revisiting the first one. What made you want to bring back John Gold for this story, what is it about him that is so appealing? 

That's a great question. Part of the reason for the sequel was that, obviously the first film was well received so there was always that potential for John Gold to become a franchise of some sort. When we delivered the film to the distributors internationally, we were asked fairly swiftly before they actually released the film, “So what are you doing for a sequel?” For anyone who doesn't know, Evolutionary films, the company that I'm creative director of in partnership with John Adams and Diane Shorthouse who are CEO and MD (they're also the film's producers) is also the sales agent for the UK distributor. So, the fact that buyers, especially international buyers liked the first film to the point where they asked us “So what’s the next one about?” it made us get out the sequel fairly quickly. It's interesting that you asked about why we dropped John Gold into the story. The two key aims really were; If you're going to do a sequel, however possible it should be bigger and better, because that tends to be what a franchise does so that was one aspect of it. The second part was to do with opening up the role of John Gold - how were we going to do that? Well one of the ways was to first of all have him bounce off different characters in the movie. The idea then came about for the team and that by exposing John Gold to them – and you have to bear in mind that he hasn’t been with a team and that he had exiled himself for many years - the idea was eventually they would warm him up somewhat so that you find out a bit more about him. Then you’ve also got a villain from his past, a Nemesis if you like who was also previously a friend. They had saved each other's lives, many times before Teague turned traitor. 

Teague and Gold  Team Up

With the scenes between Gold and Teague   we didn't want to go into full details about their past but enough about their previous friendship and then the obvious animosity to come together. You then get some layers to Gold,  a lot of his history alongside all the warming up his personality for the movie. The first film, as you said was very much a Western, a revenge thriller; in many ways the remit for the first film was ‘Get Carter’ meets ‘Commando’. What we wanted to do with the second film was to make it more of an action movie as opposed to a revenge movie even though we wanted to keep the theme of revenge in there which comes along with Katrina Durden's character Jen Quaid. So the theme of vengeance is still in there, but with an expanded action-packed chase movie. If you look at genre movies those are two sort of flip sides of the same coin of where action can go. 

I was going to ask you was about the evolution of John Gold. In the first film he's very much the avenging force singular in purpose, very dark. Now he's become sort of a team leader and has to balance all these things. In a way he's become kind of an inspirational figure as well but there's a real evolutionary growth that Gold has to go through to get the job done isn’t there? 

Yes that’s a really good point and you’re the first person to have picked up on that. It’s funny because a couple of interviews have talked about certain things other people haven’t mentioned. And the idea of becoming a co-manager of the team – in fact you mentioned pep talk -  the scene he has with Lynch [Phoebe Robinson-Galvin] after that explosion in the middle of the movie where he tells her to go do one thing while he goes off to do this thing. It was interesting because partly it becomes a little bit flirty -  that was absolutely done on the day by the way, it wasn’t in the script - I think it came across well because it wasn’t so obviously flirty but it has a little moment there, just the way that he gets her to agree to do what he's asking of her was as a commander in the field. That was fairly, I don’t think subtle is the right word because there is nothing subtle in this film, but there are all these little things that make you go ‘Wow he is a team player’. I hope people see that there is a lot of story and character in the action and also these little moments with particularly in the very last scene with Gold and Frost. Both Stu and Mark Griffin were the only actors from the first film to be in this movie so we bookend it with them. There’s also a  comradeship that’s there and it's very easy, it's not forced with just the last bit where he says’ let's go off and get plastered" and they go off together after quite a day. I believe that  comes through without being too heavy handed. 
Honestly, it’s great and you’ve done a fantastic job. Now it’s no secret you’re an action fim buff and you love your 80s action. There are lots of homages to classic action in both the films - we've got a bit of ‘Walking Tall’ ‘Commando’ you mentioned earlier and ‘Lethal Weapon’ it’s quiet a dark picture. With the second film, it’s definitely lighter in tone I detected some ‘Midnight Run’, ‘A Team’ even the relationship between Lynch [Phoebe Robinson Galvin] and Shapiro [Sam Benjamin] is reminiscent of Frost [Mark Rolston] and Vasquez [Jeanette Goldstein] in ‘Aliens’. So where did you draw inspiration from for this film? Were some those influences on the script? 

There's a lot of drawing from that not specifically but I think all of that anima draws together – you could go back to ‘The Dirty Dozen’ I guess but we’re not as gritty as ‘The Dirty Dozen’. Even going back to more modern films like some of ‘The Expendables’ which I'm not the biggest fan of, I actually prefer the sequel to the first film. Some of the comradeship examples in those films work really well and also some of those little comedy moments. A film like this moves forward at such a pace you always try to find  these little moments. There's a bit at the end, which someone obviously came up on the day, in the scene where Katrina [Durden] who plays Jen Quaid causes havoc in the final act and really disrupts Teague’s plans basically to kill Gold at that point. I think they hide behind some barrels together and he says "well that was interesting" and she says "Dad always said you were so dramatic”. I mean she's avenging her father’s death and she says it like a little girl, almost. It takes Katrina’s character, at that point in that little moment to talk about her Dad in amongst the madness. So, we're trying to find those moments because otherwise it'd be really easy to have all the action, be really po-faced, be really straightforward about it and everyone acting badass and I think that’s boring. 

So, let's look at the two extra dynamics then that have come into John Gold's latest mission. Let's deal with the first one, the hard man himself Vinnie Jones. Was he your first choice to play Teague? 

Yes,we were excited to get Vinnie for the role. The key criteria was  would have to be able to stand up to Stu like physically on screen. That doesn’t mean they have to be the same size after all Stu is six foot six, he’s huge. He’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet by the way but he is a ‘Terminator’. So, you need someone to match up with Stu physically but with the way they carry themselves with magnetism and charisma on screen, and commanding the screen. Vinnie brought a huge amount of extra veteran experience to that. Also, he’s got the personality that would have you believe he's a viable, nemesis. Vinnie brought so much to the role and we had a long conversation before filming. He had his thoughts on the script and so did we. I'm not a precious person when it comes to the script I'm absolutely all about 'let's work this on the day’. There are certain things I want to keep it for whatever reason, but I'm pretty much  at home with trying things and improvising as we go. He was very good at getting things down to its core and stripped things down and I really appreciated it in the end. There were a few times when I had to say ‘you need to keep this in otherwise there is no story.’ 

Sean Teague is ready for some hard action
I love watching Vinnie work  and I really enjoyed working with him. We will do a take, obviously run it through first, but we’ll do a take and you can see him cogitating  about how everyone had been in the scene, it wasn't just about him. Then on take two, there'll be a really noticeable dip where he'll make some very specific choices. I don't think he faulted his performance he would just maybe look specifically at a character to react in a particular way. I thought was fascinating. If we then did a third take he would again make one more minor adjustment and it was interesting because it gave me options – I am the editor as well - but he never went too wildly off script in any direction and I thought that was great. He was definitive, he has his expectations and so you have to raise your game a bit which is a good thing. I think he delivers really well on screen. 

So, the other changing dynamic that comes into play obviously is, you mentioned earlier is Katrina [Durden]. She’s brilliant in the film and I curious why doesn’t she get more work especially in important roles like that of Jen Quaid? 

I obviously can’t speak for Katrina but I think she works incredibly hard, she puts a lot of thought in her work, her audition was fantastic - so was Phoebe’s in fact. There was a point was a point where I was genuinely trying to decide who would play which role because they’re both really good roles. Katrina puts a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm into her work on all sides the choreography concerns for safety on set, and other things like her nutrition, training, and performance and how she works with everybody else and she's always thinking about the camera as well. She’s super full on. 

The reason Katrina and Phoebe are so prominent is because the first film - with the exception of Fleur Keith who plays Barnes - was very male centric.  
It was to a degree I mean there are some female characters throughout the first movie but they don't get to get in on the action. It was partly to do with who we could cast at the time. For the second film we had to look long and hard to the cast for the second innings. Originally the character of Pearl. Sean Teague’s fiancĂ© played by Jessica – Jane Stafford, was going to be a tough female mercenary, an MMA type really. That was the original idea, but we just got to the point where we couldn't find anyone to fit the bill, it’s like they simply don't exist here, well maybe in LA. I don’t want to take anything away from Jessie she did an amazing job and it was the right way to go. It might have been cool to have a very physical female antagonist in there somewhere. In many in many ways though the Jen Quaid character is of course that antagonist.

Jessica-Jane Stafford as Peal 

For the action then you’ve assembled quite a team; Dan Styles, Dominic Kinnaird, and Tim Man for the fight choreography. What was it about them that made you decide to bring them on board

I've seen a huge number of films that they have worked on and I've met them briefly a few times before filming. What it really came down to was whilst we have Tim Man on board which was incredible, we couldn't just have a fight choreographer for the stunts we had to engage stunt coordinators for that aspect of it. The producers John and Diane, my partners at Evolutionary Films, brought Dan and Dominic on board. I think they worked on a number of productions together. 
For the fight choreography then Tim's obviously well known for working with Scott Atkins on some of his biggest projects, if not virtually nearly all of them. What was the remit you gave to Tim in terms of the fighting style to stage, or did you just leave him to devise it all? 

That's a good question. I first spoke to Tim on the phone and we had a really good chat;  he said to me “you do know there’s like 19 flights in this film?” and I replied “um yes.” So, we talked briefly about the kind of fights to include, about the cast that we had and their abilities. Tim had worked with Stu before on ‘Eliminators’, so there's already been some familiarity there. We did talk a little bit about the style of fighting but not hugely because I trust him to do what he does brilliantly. Tim is an absolute Maestro at what he does, particularly given the relatively limited resources and budget, and the very limited shooting time, as per this situation. We have a fair amount of time restriction and Tim understands that, he knows the camera set ups and everything. He just comes in and does what he does. We didn't have a lot of time before shooting when we engaged Tim but very quickly he got – not all of the fights - but a significant amount of the fights previz, that helps hugely. He would send me them on for me to watch and I might add a couple of notes here and there but overall, he was amazing.  I love watching him work with the actors and I definitely wish I had more time to just watch how he rehearses people; I really wish I could have done that - saw a little bit of his work and subsequently some of the behind the scenes stuff, but having been on set and working with him really was an eye opener. He’s very direct but gentle with it, very swift in terms of decision making he doesn’t stand around fumbling if he needed to change something he’d change it which was very rare. 

He really has knack of playing to the performers' strengths, and sometimes working within the boundaries of what they're capable of which actually with most of the cast their ability really is case of the sky's the limit really. He really got some of them to do a lot more beyond their background like with Stu whose background is professional wrestling but he’s doing some serious martial arts? 

Absolutely, and I won’t get too technical about it but there are certain things we did that I liked. We don’t have Stu throw a lot of kicks but when he throws them, I think they look amazing. I think he throws a mean sidekick particularly with a combination of strikes. There’s a scene near the end which I love that he did with Vinnie, where hit him with a punch combo that ends up with a sidekick and slams Vinnie into a load of crates. With Stu  his wrestling is kind of like brawling, and the same with Vinnie it's like grappling and a bit of close quarters knees and elbows, and that differentiates both boys from people like Jean Paul [Jean Paul Ly], Katrina, Phoebe, and everyone else. We’ve also got Greg Burridge in there who’s fantastic. We make Stu a brawler but who has a style, you get flashy moves occasionally, but at the end it's still close quarters, we use his size and his power. For a big guy Stu is remarkably agile one of his final moves is this huge drop kick he does on Vinnie’s character Teague. I am watching this and thinking ‘how does he get in the air. How does he do that? So, the idea was to give him this situation where he was still grounded but with all with those moves that make you go “hell yeah.”  

I noticed is the dynamic between Teague and Gold is a little bit like Hobbes and Shaw, the mutual respect and dislike for each other. They have a similar chemistry so will there going to be another ‘Vengeance’ movie, and if so, is it going to continue that dynamic with Teague and Gold? 
So, there are currently two scripts for '‘Vengeance 3’; One involves Teague, one does not, there's no particular reason for that, they could even be ‘Vengeance 3, and 4. They just both work independently and again, even with Teague it still works like a movie where you don't need to see the previous two films, but it will help you to have done so. We feel like that's just a strong way to move forward. In terms of how people receive it a lot of international buyers will just retitle it themselves anyway so it doesn't really matter. Of course, for those who know they'll see the stories continue like the relationships and have more nuance. So short version yes there is a screenplay for Gold and Teague together, and I guess potentially a greater nemesis. And then there's another one that's completely different and it could almost be its own movie, it doesn't have to be a John Gold film. I love working with Stu though, and would work with him again any day.  

Some pure 'Gold' high flying vengeance.
I know you're someone that likes to either pay homage to or revisit certain stories from films that you've loved as a kid, and still do. In terms of future projects and future action projects, is there anything that you really would like to revisit, and put to film again, to give it your own touch? 
Well in terms of films I would, dare I say remake - with all the horrible baggage that word brings us - '‘Commando’ and ‘King of the Kickboxers’ for sure. I would actually love to remake  ‘No Retreat No Surrender 3’ because I love that movie so much. It's hard though because you don't want to just remake the film but you want to do your own take on it. I'll tell you - having watched it again recently -  I would love to remake ‘China O'Brien’. I love ‘China O Brien’ so much;  the charm and the heart and the wit of it. Again, it has that kind of ‘Walking Tall’ aspect to it. Also dare I say, ‘American Ninja’ or ‘Revenge of the Ninja’ are you kidding? I’d remake any other Canon classics like ‘Avenging Force’ which I just adore. The idea of being able to sort of be told, ‘Hey Ross, do you want to do this? I'll be like, ‘F*** yeah'. Another one of my passion projects  is 'Remo Williams; Unarmed and Dangerous', either as a TV show ideally, or a film would be amazing. I love all of those films, they are very close to my heart and without sounding like too much of a hack, the idea to be able to remake any of those, the 'Seasonal Film',  Golan/Globus and Canon, any of them really would be extraordinary, I would jump at it. 

'I am Vengeance; Retaliation' will be available in the UK from 13th July.