A trip to Alicante to visit the set of Mr.Nice - the screen adaptation of Welsh hero Howard Marks' best selling memoirs - with the man himself to watch our mutual friend Welsh icon Rhys Ifans play him in the movie wasn’t an excursion I was about to turn down. Not in this lifetime anyway. But, before I travelled to Ifans called me up and said:
“When Chloe Sevigny [who plays Judy Marks] came to the UK, the customs opened her case and found a copy of Mr.Nice and the script. So they asked what was the name of the film she was about to act in and she said Mr. Nice. ‘Howard Marks?’ they enquired. ‘We don’t like him. No No No! We don’t like him at all.’ They then went through her belongings - enthusiastically.”
And of course they have good reason as the film follows Marks from his beginnings as a recreational drug user in Balliol College, Oxford through to his subsequent rise to become one of the world’s biggest puff merchants and onto his arrest, conviction and 7 years imprisonment in one of America’s toughest penitentiaries.
Yet curiously no one stopped us at the airport and all went swimmingly until after our set visit when discovered that Ifans had the next two days off and we were at his mercy. “Come on boys,” he declared hands in the air fag in mouth. “I’m off till Thursday and I’ve got my two of my best friends with me so let’s go and fucking HAVE IT!” Then I knew we were in trouble.
That night, after Ifans had treated a gang of 12 to dinner at Alicante’s finest restaurant, tipped hugely and was on first name terms with all of the staff and most of its patrons, it was off around the bars. Back in Ifans’ hotel room we helped him go through his lines until about 8 in the morning at which point he stood up and declared it a wrap. A few hours later my phone rang. It was 10.30am and it was Rhys. “Come on Sullivan we’re in the bar waiting for you,” he laughed. “There’s a beer with your name on it.” And so there I was, a mere three hours later, sitting in a bar overlooking the harbour conducting what some extremely generous souls might describe as an interview.
You told me earlier that the film is not a cautionary tale.
Rhys Ifans - I read the script in varying states and potency and as it’s turned out it’s not just a celebration of mischief but also a biography of a pirate.
Howard Marks - But it is a cautionary tale that says if you do lots of dope deals you have to be prepared to do a bit of time, and hope that the film will show that doing that time can be very hard. And I’m not saying it wasn’t all worth it but it is a cautionary tale.
RI - What I was saying was that it was a celebration of mischief but now with 3 days to go on the shoot I discover that it is a cautionary tale.
HM - With only 3 days to go on the shoot I thought it was a cautionary tale but now discover that it’s a celebration of mischief.
RI - Can I change everything and just say that it’s a cautionary celebration of mischief. A cautionary celebration.
HM - Of course it’s a celebration of mischief. As far as I’m concerned I hope it will give people the confidence to do whatever they like no matter what the fuck their parents think or the law says. It’s more important to do what you want inside.
RI - And let that be a lesson to you all.
“'Come on boys,’ he declared hands in the air fag in mouth. 'I’m off till Thursday and I’ve got my two of my best friends with me so let’s go and fucking HAVE IT!'”
Rhys it must’ve been a tough role to play as Howard is your old mate.
RI - No not tough at all. On paper when you’re an actor you will never want the person you are playing to be around. But this has been extraordinary because Howard is a friend and I’d never played the leading man before, you know the super hero. I haven’t really done that. So for all those reasons it has been the most complete acting experience I have ever had because it’s been constant. In my every waking moment I’ve been Howard.
Howard important was it that Rhys played you?
HM - I had no interest in any proposal unless they had Rhys playing me. I went on the record several times saying that if the movie happened he has to play me under any conditions whatsoever.
Where did you meet?
HM - 13 years ago in Pontypridd Town Hall. I had started writing it but I hadn’t finished it.
And then it went to number one on the best sellers list.
HM - Aye and I sold it for a song. I’d just come out of nick and was grabbing for whatever money I could get.
How is it seeing your old pal playing you on set.
HM - The weird thing is that it’s not weird. I feel that when someone is playing you and is younger and better looking I feel as if I’ve cheated mortality for a little bit longer.
Rhys you said that some of the scenes were quite tough to do, such as the scene when Howard is having his teeth pulled out.
RI - On paper when you’re an actor you will never want the person you are playing to be around. But what I discovered about the harrowing bits was that he actually did it and what it cost Howard and it was really, really, really intense and it wasn’t because of the subject and narrative it was coupled with the fact that I was assimilating an emotional place where my friend was before I knew him. I’m glad I'm wearing sunglasses at this moment now so you can’t see me cry.
Well you’ve answered my next question.
RI - Yes, but I don’t want to talk about all that in front of Howard as I got a paid a lot of money going to those very hard places for a very short time.
HM - I got paid a lot of money to go to those very hard places and for a very long time.
RI - It’s really special.
HM - I couldn’t go on about the hard times for too long in the book, as no one would have bought it.
RI - The hard times blind side you – they come from behind.
(Howard and yours truly burst out laughing )
"I had no interest in any proposal unless they had Rhys playing me. I went on the record several times saying that if the movie happened he has to play me under any conditions whatsoever."
RI - Aaaaah! For fuck’s sake lads. I’m trying to be serious. I’m trying to be really honest with Howard here and I might sound like a wanker but this is my experience playing this film. I will never get a role like this again. So I’m going to say it never mind you fucking pair. Playing a man like Howard who I love from the bottom of my heart is an extraordinary thing. We need our heroes, we need to preserve our heroes that have been ignored in the past and we all know who they are. So hope fully I have done Howard a huge service. All I can say we are both great in the sack.
HM - But we’ve never shagged the same person so we don’t know… well not to my knowledge.
How was it being on set and seeing someone play your mum?
HM - The bloke who played my father I was comfortable with but I wanted to shag the women who played my mother. And I don’t know anyone else who has had that experience. Sitting next to an actress who is playing your mother and wanting to shag her. But it’s not a secret. I liked her a lot.
RI - I told her you liked her after I shagged her.
HM - I’ve no problem with that mun (laughing).
RI - Aye aye...Duw Duw...I knew we should have slept last night Howard.
You said you did?
RI - Yes, nine minutes.
HM - Well it wasn’t nine but we thought it was a better number than ten. It was certainly between 5 and 15 minutes. Nine gives the impression of being accurate and a bit together.
When is the film coming out.
RI – No idea. If Bernard the director’s editing is anything like his filmmaking it will be in your local cinema Monday afternoon.
Mr Nice guy is in cinema's nationwide now.
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