DIAMOND GEEZERS – by Damon Wise
Oi you slags! Listen up! Here’s the deal: Guy Ritchie follows his Lock, Stock knees up with jewel bags, Brad Pitt, wide-boy barneys and, of course, that ol’ sod Vinnie. Snatch: you want some?
Interior. Daylight. A photographic studio in the East End of London.
A group of lads—Stephen, Ade, Lennie and Jason—sit around half-dressed in open-necked designer shirts. They’re a louche bunch, in their late twenties or early thirties, casually smoking cigarettes while leafing through the same copy of Total Film. To the side sits Vinnie, a hard-looking, focused man in his mid-thirties. Sharply dressed in a suit and tie, Vinnie is smoking a Hamlet cigar while rifling through a pile of scripts in his Louis Vuitton briefcase. In another room Guy, the director of the film they are here to promote, is changing…
Lennie [James]: Here, did you see how much money Tom Cruise is making out of Mission Impossible 2? His usual fee plus 12 per cent of the profits. It took over $100 million in the first weekend alone. That’s $12 million in the bank already.
Ade: You sure? Is that 12 per cent of the gross or the net?
Lennie: Dunno. Better ask Guy.
Jason: Oi, Guy, is that gross or net?
Guy: [Offscreen] Gross.
Everyone: Fuckin’ ‘ell… Fuck me… [Etc]
Ade: How much are you getting on this one, Vinnie? Oi, Vinnie!
[Vinnie pretends not to hear]
Ade: Vinnie! Vinnie! How much are you on, Vinnie?
[Vinnie looks up, takes a drag on his cigar and calmly exhales.]
Vinnie: We’ve all gotta sort out our own contracts, lads…
Guy Ritchie shuffles into the room with a walking stick. An old karate wound needed surgery, and he’s still recuperating. The pain doesn’t seem to bother him, however, because Ritchie has more on his mind today. This afternoon he faces prosecution for allegedly assaulting a man who demonstrates his admiration for Ritchie’s superstar girlfriend by lurking outside their home. Ritchie
still be acquitted, but he seems anxious all the same. The tension is broken when the photographer asks him to pose behind fake jail bars. Ritchie smiles and obliges.
Around him, the cast of Snatch, the follow-up to his surprise gangster hit Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels are milling around, and the camaraderie of the pack seems to perk him up a bit. In fact, the level of banter is a little like being in a Guy Ritchie film, and it’s not hard to see where some of the inspiration for dialogue comes from. Hang around Ritchie, a surprisingly likeable, boyish thirtysomething, and the phrase “comedy of insults” takes on a whole new meaning. If he hates your guts, chances are you will, at some point, be referred to as a “cock”, a “cunt”, a “peen-arse”, a “wanker”, a “tosser” or a “poof”. If he likes you, really favoured, you might be lucky enough to be accused of same-sex love practices and even called a “hom-bomb”.
But, for the most part, Ritchie is a placid guy, and much of it is dished out in jest. “I had the advantage of working with people who are a pleasure to work with,” he says. “I’ve not had an argument with an actor since I started doing this. I’ve never lost my temper and I lose my temper regularly. But never on set, for some reason. People lose it all a-fucking-round me and I get slightly miffed, ‘cos I thought I was the one with the bad temper. That said, there’s only been one occasion when I’ve seen someone lose it really badly. Some drug-crazed youth was driving around our set on a motorbike with no helmet and no clothes on, not allowing us to shoot sound. Took a while to catch him! But when they did, I think he got a right spanking.”
When we first meet, Snatch exists only as a rough cut, and the process is proving to be a bit of a headache. “It’s been harder work on this one, for some reason,” Ritchie frowns. “The post-production’s much longer. Everyone thins we got much more money, but we haven’t really. We’ve probably got about double, but that isn’t significantly more—we had to pay people properly this time, ‘cost on the last one they did it for love of the work. So this one was tricky from that point of view.”
Another crime caper set in the eastern margins of London, Snatch is a frenetic heist flick that, much like Lock, Stock, pulls together a myriad of madcap characters and storylines. All you really need to know is that it starts with a New York diamond dealer, Avi [Dennis Farina], who loses track of a humongous diamond being shipped to his British cousin Doug The Head [Mike Reid]. Traveling to London to sort out the mess, Avi hooks up with minder Bullet-tooth Tony [Vinnie Jones]-and the stage is set for a labyrinthine tale of coincidence and double-cross involving a rogues’ gallery of arms dealers, burglars and gypsies. There’s quite a lot of bare-knuckle boxing too, mostly provided by Brad Pitt, the film’s unofficial, A-list star, who plays pikey Irish prize-fighter Mickey.
“It\s got a darker tone to it than Lock, Stock,” explains Ritchie. “I was always torn between making it extremely funny or quite serious. So the first half’s quite funny and the second half’s more serious. There’s a lot more pathos in this one than the jolly-up of Lock, Stock. But it’s in the same vein—it’s by the same person and it’s got some of the same people in it, if you know what I mean.”
So why choose that particular title?
“Well, I wanted the antithesis of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels because it’s such a soddling mouthful. But because it’s so long, you remember it for being long. This one you remember ‘cos it’s so short.”
And not just because of the double meaning?
“Double meaning?” He raises eyebrows and registers comedy surprise. “Well, obviously there is some kind of connotation, but… it’s arresting, isn’t it?”
Were you much more confident this time round?
“Nah, but I definitely wasn’t as nervous. I was nervous making Lock, Stock ‘cos I was never sure that the finance was gonna be there the next day. That wasn’t a problem on this one, so I was much more casual. On this one, I just rocked up and had a jolly-up. And so did everyone. I mean, they all did their job properly, but it was more of a laugh to make.”
“I suppose,” he continues, “it was more rewarding being the underdog on Lock, Stock. It was more of a struggle to the surface. On this one, we haven’t had to fight in quite the same way. And Brad… Actually, I don’t think Brad will make that much difference in this country, I think it’ll make more of a difference internationally. But he’s been extremely popular in test screenings. We did one for 300 people the other day – people off the street – where they all filled out forms. Brad came out as their favorite character, even though a lot of them begrudged him initially, thinking: ‘What ‘e doing in an English film?’ It looks a bit… obvious? No… What’s the word I’m looking for…”
“Well, I mean, it just looks like we’ve just whipped him in because he’s a star. Which of course is the truth.” He laughs. “Nah, it isn’t the truth, really. I’ve always found Brad to be a very significant actor, but he always gets punished ‘cos he’s a good-looking bastard. And if you’re good-looking, you’ve got to be double as good as anyone else. But he’s brilliant in it, he’s funny. He doesn’t take himself seriously.’
Did you take him on at cards?
“Oh, we all did. Jones fleeced everyone. He’s a terrible card hustler, Jones. He’s also a terrible cheat.”
In what way?
“In every way,” he laughs “Jones is a cheat!”
Interior. Daylight. The photographic studio.
Jason, a gruff, likeable Cockney is talking to a reporter and explaining his part in the film…
Jason: My character’s called Turkish. ‘E’s, like, a boxing promoter and trainer. I’ve got a partner called Tommy, but we’ve also got another business… An amusement arcade that brings in part of our money…
[Enter Guy, who cuts him off mid-sentence.]
Guy: [Pretending to yawn] Christ, he’s boring, inne?
Jason: You wrote the fucking thing!
Two years back, while Lock, Stock was still on the starting block, Vinnie Jones was a different person. Defensive, cold, icy, he was an interviewer’s nightmare. The new Vinnie Jones couldn’t be more different. “He was so fuckin’ suspicious of the press at that time,” says Ritchie. “They were giving him such a hard time.” Since then, though, Jones has mellowed and the press have been kinder, especially since he made good on his promise to continue acting and landed a peach of a role in Jerry Bruckheimer’s mega-budget blockbuster Gone In 60 Seconds. Did he really expect to get so far so quickly?
“And on me ‘eart,” he says, “after I won a couple of awards I thought there would be an opportunity to do another film. Guy was on about doing another film anyway and he said: ‘I’m sure there’ll be a part for you.’ But when I actually got the role in LA, I knew I had to make a choice about my career. I either had to finish the football career and go into movies or I had to stay in football. So I decided to have a go at it.”
How would you describe your character, Bullet-tooth Tony?
“He’s a good guy but he’s still got the menace about him.”
Is there much violence in your scenes?
“Not really. But you can tell like that…” – he snaps his fingers – “…that Bullet-tooth can do whatever he wants. I shoot a few people…”
Which you didn’t get to do in Lock, Stock…
“No. The scene in Snatch I really love is a scene quite similar to be the one in Pulp Fiction, where they’ve got the gun on Samuel L. Jackson and he comes out with this biiiiig long statement. And you think: ‘Fucking hell, this guy’s serious…”
So what’s next for you?
“I’m starring in a move called Night at The Golden Eagles, with Farrah Fawcett. It’s a black comedy. I play a pimp with a difference: an English pimp. Farrah’s my main prostitute, and it’s one night in the life of this hotel. It’s a very, very small budget movie. They couldn’t even afford to fly me over there, I had to use me flights for the premiere of Gone In 60 Seconds. And then, hopefully, I’ll start The Mean Machine. It’s a remake of the old Burt Reynolds movie, and it’ll b my first lead role. It’s about a fallen football star, a former England captain, who gets put in prison. But it’s a bit up in the air at the moment.”
Interior. Daylight. The photographic studio.
Guy is seated. Jason is standing. Enter Vinnie, clearly agitated that his snowballing schedule will cause problems with the Snatch festivities…
Vinnie: When’s the party gonna be, then?
Guy: The 23rd.
Vinnie: What, we’re not having a cast and crew one?
Guy: [Laughing] We’ve already had that one, Vin, you cunt!
Vinnie: When? When?
Jason: The fucking K Bar!
Guy: That was the wrap party. You never turned up, you tosser!
Vinnie: Nah, that was Brad’s party. Anyway, what about the screening?
Guy: I dunno. Did we have one last time?
Vinnie: Yeah, Curzon Street. Then we all went in that pub next door. Had a right crack.
Guy: Yeah, we’d better have one of them, then.
Vinnie: But you better have it lively, ‘cos I’m off soon…
Guy: Yeah, we’d better have it lively.
A week later, we find Ritchie hard at work—well, at work—on the sound mix down in one of the studios on the Shepperton lot. Slumped in an armchair at the back of the room, his troublesome leg stuck straight out in front of him, he barks the odd instruction to the crew working the mixing desk. He’s on the fourth reel of five, and in the scene we’re watching, Bullet-Tooth Tony raps menacingly on a car window with a gun barrel. But instead of a crisp chink, we hear a dull clunk. “Make that harder,” snaps Ritchie.
There’s also a problem with Bullet-Tooth Tony’s theme, a spaghetti Western-style slide guitar motif—but Ritchie can’t quite put his finger on it. He turns to Snatch’s producer Matt Vaughn, who’s also his partner in Ska Films, for a second opinion. “It’s a bit Hollyoaks,” says Vaughn, who is absolutely right. “It’s shit,” nods Ritchie. Instead, he asks the technician to use a break from a track by Herbaliser, a rolling, funky flute instrumental that works much better. Ironically, the track is called Sensual Lady. Just don’t tell Vinnie.
We watch another 10 minutes or so as the scratchy work print unreels across a surprisingly large screen, and there’s a minor distraction when someone’s mobile starts ringing. It’s Ritchie, so Nick, his assistant, answers it for him. “Guy,” he says, “it’s your girlfriend,” and hands him the phone. “All right Ciccone,” he beams, and for a few surreal moments there’s a faint chirruping noise from the handset, like a sound effect from a Tex Avery cartoon. Nobody bats an eyelid. Surprisingly, nobody ever mentions Guy’s celebrity squeeze in his presence—and that’s the way he likes it. And from the look of Snatch, it hasn’t had an effect on his casting, either.
Er, there don’t seem to be many women in this film, Guy…
“It’s absolutely packed full of women!” he says none-too-seriously.
“The last two films have both been packed full of women! Everyone keeps saying: ‘Why don’t you put more women in there?’ but the film’s full of ‘em. They’re everywhere!”
What, topless on playing cards?
“Well, they’re still there, aren’t they?”
But didn’t you cut the love story from Lock, Stock?
“Yeah, because it didn’t really work,” he says, suddenly serious.
“Both these films haven’t really lent themselves to going that way, so I’ve sort of avoided it. There’s isn’t any romance in it, but there are women in it. They’re around.”
Are there any actresses you’d want to…
“I’d want to…?” Ritchie raises an arch eyebrow.
“Er…none that springs to mind.” Then, having taken care of business, he points to the door. “Let’s go next door and have a nit-nat, shall we?”
In the hospitality-cum-waiting room outside, Ritchie sits back and relaxes. How does he feel about the film now? “Interestingly,” he says, “this is the first time I’ve watched it and really got a tickle out of it, felt like I was watching something respectable. The print quality’s bloody awful but the sound’s good. It makes an enormous difference.”
And that’s about as much as Ritchie says about the movie. It’s partly to preserve a sense of mystery, but also because he’s quite reserved. Which begs the question: what made him want to be a film-maker in the first place? In the flesh, he’s not a shameless self-publicist, and neither does he bang on about other directors the way, say, Tarantino does.
“No, I don’t,” he muses. “I get lost in films, like I suppose everyone gets lost in films, but… I’m pretty film illiterate. I keep learning about it and thinking I should go through the motions, but I can’t claim to be the world’s greatest film buff. I’m very impressed by an eclectic array of films, but… you’re right. I’m just enormously impressed by people who do things full stop, whether it be film or… whatever the fuck it happens to be. Film’s a very complicated medium, in that there’s so much that goes into 30 seconds of filming.”
Ritchie can be precious that way, and mentally logs the names of critics who cross him. In fact, Ritchie and Vaughn initially had a problem with Total Film, on account of the magazine’s review of Lock, Stock…
Interior. A sound stage at Shepperton.
Guy and Matt are sitting on a sofa in the hospitality room.
Matt: I remember throwing the magazine across the room, wanting to kill the guy that wrote it.
Guy: What a peen-arse! It was the most insulting… Oh, apart from that cunt in the Standard. [Laughs] He called me a cretin!
Matt: No, he said it was made by a bunch of cretins. That’s why I was annoyed. But surely, you can’t say cretins made a movie.
Guy: [Addressing imaginary film critic.] Yeah, you cunt, you go and make a movie. That’s why I can’t slate any fucker that makes a movie. ‘Cos it’s so hard to make one. I’ve seen some right shite movies, but I still rate the guys for making it. Thing I don’t understand is, if you don’t like a film, just write fuck-all about it. I don’t understand the slating game. It’s just bitchy shit. There ought to be a law against slagging off who’s industrions.
Matt: it’s just jealousy, man.
Guy: Yeah. They can fuck off.
Unfortunately, Ritchie’s had to get used to that kind of thing. Indeed, the day before we met, there was, for no apparent reason, a snide reference to him in a totally unrelated article The Guardian.
“Like what?” he asks.
“Along the lines of…?”
“Wankerish?” offers Matt.
“Y’know,” says Guy, “I don’t fucking get it. I do not get why people want to slag people off. I do to my face, ‘cos I can take that. Well, I can’t… [laughs] But at least you can do something about it!”
Does that happen?
“No, but I’m endlessly getting bad press. These people begrudge anyone who’s got off their arse. I’ve got a problem with England for that.
Well, it’s not just England, actually.”
“Yeah,” says Vaughn. “England just takes it to more of an extreme than anywhere else.”
It seems to be a class thing, too. Guy’s supposed to be this closet trustafarian type…
“That’s the other thing!” he exclaims. “I’m… I’m…”—he explodes with laughter—“…THE MOCKNEY! I never know what to do about that. In this country, you have to be compartmentalized, you have to be a public schoolboy or you have to be a Cockney, and never the two shall meet. So I am, in fact, a raving toff who’s appropriated the role of a Cockney! It’s not possible that I come from a nice family that’s lived in London, so therefore have a bit of both.”
Someone said the other day that your father was a millionaire.
And suddenly, without warning, the door swings open…
Interior. The same sound stage at Shepperton.
Enter Piers, a London nightclub owner. He is visiting Guy and Matt for… er…no discernible reason. He breezes past the REPORTER and sits down.
Piers: Hello girls!
Matt: We’re talking about critics, Piers. Film critics. What do you think of ‘em?
Piers: [Thoughtfully] What do I think of critics? Critics generally or film critics? I don’t know anything about film critics but most critics are cunts. [To REPORTER] Uh, sorry… you a critic? [Everyone laughs.]
Piers: Well, generally speaking, they are!
Matt: And you can quote that!
Guy: Anyway, look, can we stop digressing?
Matt: What are you on? You got us in here!
Guy: Well you can fuck off now.
But Ritchie seems more amused by bad press than crushed. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and regards his movies as entertainment. There are certain bizarre touches in Snatch that, from another director, could be hailed as a homage to Truffaut, when it’s just Ritchie having a laugh. His London, his characters, seem to come from a dreamworld. Does he have a problem with ‘reality’ in his films?
“I don’t like it, really” he says. “You need a bit of ‘reality’ in order to be able to hook into it, but… I don’t want to see The Bill, y’know? One review of Lock, Stock complained that there never seemed to be any policemen around. Well, of course there’s no fucking policemen around! If any fucking policemen turned up it would be the end of the fucking film! You couldn’t get away with any of those things in reality, so you just have to park that up, otherwise you’re just not gonna be entertained.”
And Guy Ritchie has plenty of plans to keep you entertained. When his kid is born sometime soon, he’s going to sit down and write the next one. But he’s still torn between writing another comedy and wanting to do something more serious.
“I do love a laugh,” he smiles. “You can’t knock a man who makes you laugh. Well, people do knock a man who makes you laugh. But it’s a tad unfair, though, eh?”