I Fought The Law

Johnny Depp has swaggered past; Orlando Bloom pelted up the stairs and Stellan Skarsgaard stopped for a nice chat. So Total Film is packing away the dictaphone for the evening, dripping in the sticky summer heat and about to head for the tube.

“Hello. How are you?” A floppy haired fella is brandishing a straight-lipped smile in our direction. TF nods in recognition. Rupert Friend is at the Odeon Leicester Square to support his missus at the premiere of her new flick. Said missus, Keira something-or-other, has a little film out and it’s about Pirates…

Friend has changed since we saw him last. Gone is the dirty great scar across the left hand side of his face, his milky-white eye is now back to piercing normality and, truth be told, he seems a little more comfortable in his surroundings.

Two months ago, far from a thousand screaming girls in T-shirts emblazoned with inventive slogans such as ‘Mrs Jack Sparrow,’ TF chatted to Friend on the set of Nick Love’s latest flick, Outlaw. In the middle of shooting a pumped-up punch-up with Sean Bean, Danny Dyer and Lennie James, the atmosphere was tense. There was a job to do, a frame of mind to be in and despite the fact we were taking over a pub for the day, the testosterone was flowing faster than the ale.

“I won’t lie to you, it was a very testosterone-fuelled set,” Friend admits. “The women there had balls bigger than most of the guys and gave as good as they got. But it was very enjoyable. Nick Love is probably a genius but also probably quite insane. He’s an amazing guy. I look forward to seeing what he does with it.”

The film follows a group of men who’ve been the victims of the UK’s soaring crime culture and haven’t received a sniff of justice. So they go out and deliver their own brutal brand of vengeance. Controversial? Well, this is the man who’s been routinely (and many would say unfairly) consigned to making movies for the chav culture. The Football Factory, The Business… love ‘em or loathe ‘em; the fact is, Love’s ideas push people’s buttons, piss people off and entertain the masses. The fact that he’s managed to rope in Sean Bean and Bob Hoskins on Outlaw, goes some way to suggesting that Nick Love is growing as a filmmaker.

“Nick wanted something different on this one,” the amiable Danny Dyer tells TF over a pint on set. “In the past, he’s used certain type of actors, who I love to death; they are all my friends but they all only bring a certain type of thing. Whereas, when you’ve got Sean Bean, Lennie James, Rupert Friend; we all approach this game in a different way and that’s really going to stand out when you watch this.” So what is the major difference here from the usual Nick Love fare, you might wonder…?

“It’s not ‘cunt’ every other sentence and people are going to notice that,” Dyer tells us, taking a drag from his cigarette. “The Business is a fucking good film but it’s not necessarily a film for adults. So he had to come back with something that’s going to blow everyone away and I think he’s pulled it out of the bag with this. He’s not necessarily reinventing himself. He’s got a lot of critics but there’s also a lot of people who love what we do and a lot of people who fucking despise what we do and we want to try and shut them up a little bit.”

A month after we meet Sean Bean, he will be hip-deep in filming for slasher remake, The Hitcher - stuck out in the desert on a cushy set run by Michael Bay. Now, he’s perched on a pub garden bench in Cheltenham, chatting about his beloved Sheffield United with Total Film. “I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like,” he says, in his understated, hushed tones. That’s because Bean rarely gets Saturday off nowadays, especially during the hectic schedule on Outlaw. So why do it?

“These are well drawn characters, they aren’t just part of a gang for the sake of it. We’ve all got our own stories, that’s what makes it so real. There’s a feeling in the group that draws them together despite the different backgrounds and beliefs.”

Bean is getting a reputation as something of a jobbing actor who brings a bag load of talent to the party. He freely admits that he is just as comfortable on this set as he was duking it out with Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye. “Yeah, why not?” he muses. “Danny, Lennie, Rupert; everyone here knows what they’re doing and everyone knows what they want to get across. They’re pros”

Spend ten minutes within five feet of Lennie James and you’ll notice the fella can’t stop singing. When he does stop, someone will say something that vaguely resembles a song title and he’s off again. As we sit and watch rehearsals for a brutal scene in which a young teenage girl is smashed over the head with an ashtray, James’ mood alters. He is focused, drinking in the dark mood.

“I play a guy called Cedric Munroe, a criminal barrister, who is dealing with a particularly unsavoury character. He threatens me and my pregnant wife and in the course of doing that, they kill her.” For a man who has spent his whole life backing the law, Munroe feels abandoned and isolated. “Given the same situation, what would you do? It’s a question a lot of people are asking themselves and a lot of men my age are asking themselves. It seems, at a distance, to be a scary and lawless generation coming up behind us. So when it turns on you, what would you do? When that madness touches your life, do you hide or do you stand up and decide you can’t take it anymore? That’s what attracted me to the script.”

Outlaw will likely score points outside of Love’s usual audience based on the cast and their commitment to the cause. Gone are the little nods to pop culture and comedy asides that the director built his career on but suffered criticism for from the viagra-stiff sniffy brigade.

“There’s no light-hearted bits in this at all,” Dyer says. “It’s saying how fucked up our country is and how the common man has lost his voice. It’s about kids running around beating people up, sex pests moving in opposite schools - we’re dealing with this everyday in this country.” All finger on the pulse stuff. So is this finally the film that will get Love the recognition his huge fan base believe he richly deserves? Dyer thinks it’s high-time.

“Well, the fact that they do make these films and they’re doing it for half a million quid is something. All this BAFTA bollocks, where they keep rewarding films made with huge budgets, that have been made eighty times before in one way or another. What about Nick? What about Vertigo Films? Alright, we make films with a bit of a swagger, they’re a bit cocky but we made The Business for just under £2 million and made it look like it was made for just under £10 million. That’s down to Nick. That’s down to his vision. Maybe Vertigo are due something and this film could be it. No disrespect to everything else we’ve done but Outlaw puts them all in the fucking bin.”

Outlaw is released in cinemas on 9 March 2007...