Rapper Plan B (aka Ben Drew)'s film about trouble in East London, Ill Manors, out today, has got critics and audiences alike talking. It was actually begun before last year's riots kicked off, but clearly has a lot to say about how British society has, in some places at least, abandoned its young.
Here two of the film's stars, Riz Ahmed and Ed Skrein, tell us about making the film.
Tell us about your character:
My character is a young, street hussler drug-dealer type, and he’s been drifting through life at this point, grew up in care homes, doesn’t really have a role model. And unforeseen events are about to take his life in an unexpected direction. And the way he responds to it will deifne what path he’s going to take; whether he’ll descend into the seedier side of London or whether he might find some kind of redemeption and face his demons.
How does he differ from the other characters:
A lot of the character have a chance at redemption even if the chance is quite small. Even Ed (Ed Skrein). But other people turn their back on that chance. Some people are in such a dark place that they just have to focus on survival. One of the film’s taglines is that we are all a product of our environment.
What drew you to the film:
I think it was the story and the creative vision rather than trying to make a polemical campaigning video. I think the film is more complex than that. I think it’s right that Ben (Drew – aka Plan B,the director) is trying to restart this national conversation, which was sadly left unfinished after the riots. But I think the films also stands on its own two feet, like all the best art.
How was filming:
It was pretty intense, in the way that you often get in British independent films, shooting 18 hours days for five to six weeks. Physically and mentally it was demanded. My next film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was filmed over three months so that was a bit less intense.
What’s your character like in the film:
I lay my namesake, a very cold individual. He doesn’t really care about anyone around him and has become a very hateful, aggressive person sadly. He’s gone too far down the negative path to come back.
Would he be a different person in a different world:
Absolutely - in a different life he’d be me! If he’d had the right guidance, good family values and that sort of thing, he could be – and by the same token, I could have ended up being him.
Even just playing the role for a month was mentally exhausting, getting myself into that negative place. Luckily for me I was able to go home and play with my son and carry on with the rest of my life. But right now while I’m sitting here in the this posh hotel doing interviews, in Forest Gate and Stratford there’s a bunch of Eds who are there doing the exact same thing as Ed in the film.
Is there anything that you like about you character:
It would be difficult for me to say there’s anything I like about hi. He obviously cares about his friend, but I think he’s probably quite difficult to like.
You’ve been involved in a stabbing yourself in the past…
Yeah, it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me actually. It made me realise that I’m mortal. And it kind of made me realise that I’ve got a lot more to offer.
You’ve been friends with Ben (Plan B) for a long time haven’t you?
Yes, since we studied art together. This was the best introduction to film I could have had. It was a very natural working relationship. I’m really blessed it’s turned out the way it has.
Is Stratford a particularly interesting place to be focusing on at the moment:
It’s an interesting place but it would be unfair on so many other areas to focus on Forest Gate because there are so many other areas with similar problems and social dynamics. London is like a thousand cities rolled into one and Forest Gate is just one of them sadly.