With Adulthood set to arrive on DVD and Blu-ray on 13 October , writer/director Noel Clarke discusses the how he came to make a sequel to the acclaimed Kidulthood and his own experiences while growing up.
How did the idea come about to make a sequel to Kidulthood?
“The idea to make the sequel actually came about by accident really. The actress Red Madrell who plays Alisa in both Kidulthood and Adulthood was out in West London, she had just watched Kidulthood and I think she was getting mobbed by a load of kids and they were asking her what happens to the character Trife and this that and she got a little excited and said you’ll have to wait and find out in the sequel. Someone in the crowd was a friend of mine and they called me and it made me laugh. The next morning I had breakfast with the producer George Isaac and I told him the story and he laughed too but whilst we were laughing I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if this happened’, then he said ‘wouldn’t it be funny if this happened’. So we started throwing ideas back and forth and I went home and wrote the first draft in about seven days.
How did you find directing your first feature film?
“I enjoyed directing, I think that in terms of career longevity you have to have more than one string to your bow, so for me being able to write, act and direct, to do all three is something that I want to continue doing – it’s something I really enjoy. Directing for the first time was definitely a challenge and tiring at times. It was a steep learning curve and if you’re willing to do stuff and go with it, then it pays off”.
Do you have a long term relationship with Damian and George the producers?
“I’m not married to them! But yeah Damian and George are great guys. They produced Kidulthood and after I wrote Adulthood, the logical place and the only place I’d go was with the two guys who helped get the first film off the ground. As far as I’m concerned, they are my producers. Any script I write, they see first”.
What do you think the selling points of the film are? Are you part of that attraction?
“I think it has a core audience and a wider audience who were attracted to it on DVD as well. I think the film speaks for itself. The excitement we’ve built is because of the first movie not just because I’m in it. It could be a whole bunch of new kids and if it was still connected to the Kidulthood name or ‘brand’ people would still go and see it. It just happens to be a follow-on from the first one. I don’t think I as a name will sell it, I think it will sell based on its own merits”.
What attracted audiences to the first film?
“In the top fifty British films of 2006 if you look at the amount of money made per screen average, Kidulthood is number nine out of fifty. That’s because the audience related to it and people saw that it was authentic and wasn’t written by people pretending to know about situations but it was written by somebody who was at least around certain situations and could relate to the young people. That’s why people flocked to see it even though it was on a limited run. Then when it came out on DVD it lit a fire under that generation and even more people watched it. This is why the Adulthood promo was only on YouTube for about five days and it had 27,000 hits because people are looking forward to the film. There’s a buzz about it”.
Can you talk about the storyline in Adulthood?
“The story is pretty simple. Sam comes out of prison for the manslaughter of Trife and has to deal with the consequences of that night and realises that it’s not just about how it affects him, but how his actions have affected everybody else. Then he hears that people want to hurt him or his family, so he sets out to find who they are and all the while, he’s being hunted by a new bunch of boys”.
How did you come to cast the film?
“The casting process was pretty straightforward. We had some cast from the previous movie, but in terms of the new actors it was open castings. We wanted new fresh talent, so we also asked agents to send us their newest, freshest talent who hadn’t had many jobs yet. We got a great young guy called Jacob Anderson who plays Omen, he’s a fabulous actor and has just been working non-stop since he did our film. I think he’s going to do good things. We also got an actress called Scarlett Alice Johnson who worked a few years ago in a popular, long-running TV show and has been doing theatre for a while and we gave her the opportunity to play the lead girl in this movie. She is just fantastic, truly exceptional. You couldn’t ask for a better actress. I was told to see a lot of ‘named’ actresses and I did. I saw a lot who I’d been asked to see and a lot of them were really good, but Scarlett was just as good and she could also do what we needed her to do in terms of the accent and things”.
Can you talk about the actor Adam Deacon who plays Jay in Kidulthood and Adulthood and how you got that performance out of him?
“Adam Deacon is the loveliest man you will ever meet and I know that he’ll be upset with me for saying that because he likes everybody to think that he is some gangster, but he is a nice little guy! Adam has grown up in areas much like where I’ve grown up and you have the ability to become what people see as quite vicious or a monster, that doesn’t mean that you are. It’s just the ability to translate it onto the screen, to make Jay this guy that you love but then hate. Jay is vile but some part of you can’t help but like him because there is something about him. This film gives a lot more depth to his character and shows why he feels the way he does”.
Do you know someone like your character Sam?
“I knew various people like Sam when I was growing up. He was definitely based on one guy who I knew at school, but I don’t know people like that now, because I move in different circles. You just take that from the past and make it what it is. In this film he’s not so much based on that person, that was more in Kidulthood. This film takes the characters on a new journey and sees where they get to”.
Do you think it was getting into acting that stopped you from becoming somebody like Sam?
“I don’t think getting into acting stopped me from doing that because I didn’t get into acting until I was twenty-three, so that was quite late. By that point I had already been to university and was a personal trainer, gym instructor and life guard. But from a young age I was making choices in life, not necessarily knowing what I wanted to do, because sometimes you don’t know. Deep down since I was about five years of age I always wanted to act, but the practicality of going to drama school or affording stuff like that or even knowing where to go wasn’t practical for me. I don’t think I would have ever have become the sort of boy that Sam is because I was always making choices not to do things. There were people in my flats where I grew up who are now in jail or are now dead. For me it was just a case of making a choice. I wasn’t a coward, I wasn’t somebody who wouldn’t defend my friends but when there’s the choice of doing things for the sake of doing them, I was one of those people who could say, I don’t want to do this. I was never influenced by others”.
How did you choose the London locations for Adulthood?
“The locations for this film were pretty similar to the first one. The reason I chose them for the first film was because that was the area of West London I grew up in – that was the area I knew. The little record shop, the corner shop across the road, Ladbroke Grove, Latimer Road Station, those were all places I knew, so when I was writing the script, I was writing it about places I knew. Also because every film I had seen about my area might as well have had polo players riding down the street on horses because it’s all Bridget Jones-meets-Four Weddings-meets-Notting Hill with old Granty in them. I lived there, right there, and yet you never get to see where I lived. The main thing for me in Kidulthood and this one was to show how the two cultures mix. Like when the girls go round to get drugs from the posh guys in the first film. I wanted to show that the whole area is a real melting pot – there are so many different cultures and people from different walks of life. Portabello Road was just there on my doorstep, so for me, I wanted to show it as I know it. There was talk about doing the first film in South London, but I said no, we’re not doing it in South London, not because I dislike it, but for the simple fact that I don’t know it, so how can I write about an area that I didn’t grow up in”.
In this one you’ve got posh people buying drugs rather than selling them?
“People watching this movie are bound to say, ‘what you are trying to say?’ I’m not trying to say anything. You raise questions in films and it’s up to other people to answer them. Characters like Jay are the scourge of society, they rob people, they sell drugs and they are vicious, but who keeps them in business? who is buying the drugs? If he could afford to buy drugs, he wouldn’t have to sell them. There are little things in there that are making points. Some things I’ve done on purpose, not just because they are funny”.
What was the hardest scene to shoot?
“The last fight scene with Sam and Jay because we had to be off the estate by 11pm because you aren’t allowed to shoot at night on the estate. So, the night shoot was from the time it got dark at around 4.00pm to whenever we finished. We only had two days to shoot it. We didn’t get it all in so had to go back for a third day. That costs money. It was raining on one of the days, so we had to wet down the floor for the other days. We were rolling around on the floor so our costumes were wet and we were putting on and taking off pads to do stunts. The temperature was around minus four degrees. It was really difficult. I think Adam and I did a good job. Once we are off the ground on our feet in the last scene, the performances are good – that’s the main part of the scene. Fight scenes can be messy – I can deal with that, but as long as we have the performances, then I’m happy”.
Did you have a stunt man to choreograph the fights?
“Yes we did for most of the fight stuff, he is a great guy. But there were times where we fell out on that last scene! There’s a moment when I fall on the floor and they didn’t want me to do it, because the pads I had weren’t enough protection and we couldn’t have a mat there because people were going to see it. They were really annoyed that I did it and said ‘You’re putting everything in danger’. But it’s my film and the only person I’m putting in danger is myself and if I’m willing to do that then so be it. I didn’t want any stunt doubles, and that particular moment was during the extra day and we had to get off this estate. The crew had worked over time and everyone was tired, so I just did it. He wasn’t happy, rightly so because his job is to protect us all and my job is to get the film made, so I fell on the ground!”
Which scene was the most fun to film?
“Well, I don’t know whether I should be saying this, but I had a scene with Scarlett in the bedroom, that was quite fun to do, she is a beautiful girl, I’ll say no more!”
Is the point of the film that they find redemption?
“The point of this film is that Sam finds redemption, not because he is looking for it, he doesn’t come out of jail saying, ‘Oh I’m sorry for what I did, let me find people and apologize. He has to learn that things have affected other people and he can’t just come out of jail and say ‘I just want a peaceful time, I’ve serve my time and that’s it. That’s not it, you’ve got a young girl without a dad, friends without a friend, a girl without a boyfriend, mothers without sons and he needs to learn how his actions affected other people. Not only does he need to learn, but to deal with it and face the facts. When they come after him and want to keep the cycle of violence going, being the worst person in the first film, he has to be the person to say, ‘I appreciate that you’re after me and we could keep this going for years, but I’m actually just going to go, I don’t want anything to do with this and I’m going to walk away’. I think a lot of the problem with people these days is that no one is willing to walk away. It’s not necessarily being a coward, it’s the fact that if I hurt you, you might go get your friends and hurt me, and if you hurt me I’ll go and get my friends and hurt you and at some point, someone has to say, you know what, forget this. Otherwise at some point, one of us is going to end up dead.
“The key is that it all comes down to choices. The film is about choices. Henry makes a choice early on when Dabs says we’ve got to go get this guy Henry says, ‘Are you crazy? I don’t want to get this guy’, and he suffers for it. Moony makes a choice when Jay says ‘forget your studies, let’s go get Sam. Moony makes that choice. Lexi makes her choices. For me, this whole film is about choices, it’s about how every single choice you make, especially in that sort of world, is going to affect what happens to you and to other people”.
Do you feel that some young black teenagers might take the wrong message?
“First, I don’t consider myself a black filmmaker, I’m just a filmmaker. I can’t hide the fact that I’m black. But if we keep saying, ‘we are black filmmakers’ then people will keep saying, ‘those black guys’”
“Do I feel a responsibility? I think that there are always people who will misinterpret stuff and there are also mindless people who just want to take the wrong message from things. I’m not here to deliver messages, I’m not here to be a role model, if people want to look at me like that, they can. I’m not going to proclaim myself as a role model. The message in the first film for me was quite clear, you can’t behave in the way the boys behaved and expect to just swan off at the end of it. If you behave badly, this could happen to you, that’s what happened to Trife. The message for me in this one is clear; you can’t do stuff and not take the consequences. There are always going to be people that are going to take the bad out of that. What can you do about that? My job is raise questions, I’m not here to answer them, I’m not a politician, I’m not here to find solutions. The best films make you think, the best films show you situations. In terms of young kids in the streets that look at us, there hasn’t been a sway in my opinion. There just isn’t enough for young people to do, they need more to do. Things get closed down. There was an initiative in West London called YCTV – it was a training centre for young people to act, write, and direct and they’ve shut it down. I know a director from there, who’s now directing films, why would you shut that down? Now those kids have nothing to do. Stuff like that bugs me”.
“But also young people need to take stock of themselves as well, because like I said, they have a choice. They say “What do any of these people in the film industry know about me? I grew up on council estate with a single mother, went to a rough school and lived in a rough area, what do they know?” But I grew up just like that and I’m making films, I don’t want anybody using the excuse of their upbringing or where they grew up any more. If you can’t use that excuse what are you going to do? You’re going to have to take stock. So you’re going to have to fix up or look bad. I’m supposed to be a statistic – single parent family, council estate, but now I’m making films, so you can’t say I don’t know, because I do know”.
What do you want the audience to say when they come out from seeing Adulthood?
“I want them to come and out and think that they just saw a good British film. I want them to feel that they’ve seen one of the best British films in a long time. This is one of the first sequels to an independent British film that they are going to see and maybe the last. You don’t get sequels to dramas in this country, you barely get sequels unless they are big budget studio films and you definitely don’t get sequels that are about ‘urban’ kids. So, this film, whether they realise it or not and whether they want to accept it or not, it is history in the making and we made it happen”.
“I hope it will open up doors for other people to make films. At the same time, what I’m saying with this film as with Kidulthood, is that I want people to change their lives. It’s time to move on, to stop this thuggery and this street culture. I’m going to write different things now. It’s about progression and taking audiences into new areas.