Bullet Boy is already shaping up to be one of the British success stories of the year and helps to showcase the talent of actor Ashley Walters. Walters is known to many as Asher D of So Solid Crew, but he actually started his career as an actor with roles in Grange Hill and The Bill before moving into the music industry. The Crew's notoriety built up by acres of negative press coverage led to incidents that ended up with Walters spending time in Her Majesty's. This film is very much a reflection of the culture the actors grew up around and portrays a more realistic and sensitive portrayal of the impact gang and gun culture have on the communities and families around them. Designer Magazine caught up first with Ashley Walters and then director Saul Dibbs to talk about how Bullet Boy came together.
Q: Could you just give us a quick overview of Bullet
Boy and where your character Ricky fits into it all?
A: It's a real life portrait of gun crime in the UK at the moment. I think this is probably relevant to a lot of different areas, it's not specifically targeted at East London or London in general. A lot of people can relate to it whether it's in Manchester, Birmingham or across the board. Basically it's about gun crime, but more deeper than that it goes into the affects it has on the family (i.e. your mum, your girlfriend, your little brother even, your best friend) and how it affects the community.
It's more of a sympathetic view maybe than previous press headlines. The media harp on about the gun toting gangster or the Yardie or the drug dealer image, which isn't always true. First of all, there's no such gang as a Yardie gang. We refer to Yardie's as people that come fresh from Jamaica. That's how I know of Yardie's, but the press have spun it so it's a gang now.
The reality of it is that it's normal people in normal
situations and maybe they come from a good home with supportive parents
or a supportive mother, little brother and a nice family dynamic. Outside
of the house you may get into drug dealing or something you're not supposed
to be into. Bullet Boy is a fresh take and more importantly it's a real
take on it.
Q: The experiences yourself and the cast had growing
up were in similar estates to the one featured in Bullet Boy. Do you feel
this gives a more authentic view than just an actor coming in and playing
the role without any prior experience?
A: It's hard. There's not a lot of black actors out there anyway in general. With this film we've tried to keep it as real as possible. That's really what the film was about. People have tried to do this story before, but it hasn't been believable. I think if we don't believe in it, the people that are actually involved in the lifestyle that the film features, then the rest of the world won't. When you're making a film about the right dialogue, look and location it involves getting actors that have had some sort of experience or relation to their character. That added a lot to it and we improvised 90% of the piece as well so it just kept it fresh all the time. The director Saul, this is his first feature and before that it was 10 or 12 documentaries. So all those elements gave it that raw feeling when you watch it, which is exactly what you need.
Q: What you went through with your personal experience
in Her Majesty's Pleasure and then with what Ricky went through in the
film. Do you feel that at least something positive has come out of your
experience in prison being able to portray this role realistically?
A: Definitely. One of the reasons I took on the role was Ricky had the same attitude as me when I was released from jail. For me it was all about changing things around. I didn't have a chance of getting out of that cycle unless I had made changes in my environment, my friends and what I did on an every day basis. I had to re-focus and that's what Ricky was going through. He realized that "Yeah, I am doing a lot of things for this guy and this is why I am finding myself in these situations. Why am I not going to college? Or why this?". You start to realize things even though you might not have thought it before. He mirrored me in that sense. We had the very same motivation for doing what we did.
Q: One of the main theme's in the film is friendship
and those allegiances that keep you in this way of life
A: Loyalty is very big in my community. Everybody knows everybody. A lot of things you do, you are always thinking of what everyone will think of you. That's one of the problems. A lot of the time you are thinking positive stuff, but it's uncool to other people...so it's not something that you really want to get into, even though it could take you to the next level in what you want to do. We need to realize in ourselves that we owe nothing to anybody. You owe it to yourself to make a better life. You owe it to yourself to achieve what you want academically or in your career. We always look to other people for examples of leadership when we should be leaders ourselves. That's one of the big problems with this community and what it boils down to is insecurity and not believing that you can achieve. That's one of the reasons why I think it's great that I can be doing things like this. It gives people the inspiration.
Q: On the flipside you've also got the allegiance of
family as well
A: For Ricky especially, he's been pulled in a lot of different directions. He wants to do his own thing with his girlfriend and his mum wants his to stay with his family and go to college and get a good job. His friend (Wisdom) basically wants him to be on the street and keep doing basically what they were doing before he went in. But he understands that that was what got me there.
It's love at the end of the day as well. He's grown up
with this brother. This boys got no parents of his own, he lives alone
and he's got responsibilities for him. If you watch the film he gives him
a lot of advice and talks down to him because he acts like a child. He
hasn't got the vision that Ricky's got, so he's always trying to help him
out of it. But his mentality is so narrow-minded that it's not going to
happen and I think he realizes it at one point and thinks I have to leave
this guy behind. That's why I made the decision on the scene where Ricky
finds Wisdom dead that he doesn't cry. He realizes then that he's free
from that loyalty.
Q: The key point in the film is Ricky's younger brother
Curtis gets involved. That's symptomatic of real life as well
A: Yeah. I've got a younger younger brother so I've never had that same relationship with them. But from other peoples experiences I know it definitely rings true. The majority of the time the younger brother will grow up wanting to be like the older brother. I think more important Curtis is a smart boy in the sense that he's observant and when he does do a bad thing in the film your sure that he knows what he's doing is wrong.
Q: Moving over to the music for a while. Acting was
your first love, but it's music in many respects that you became known
for. How are you balancing the two at the moment?
A: It's very hard at the moment, but it hasn't really been that much of a problem cos i'm not signed right now. I'm not in a deal and having to work to deadlines. I'm doing my own independent album which I can just take as much time as I want or is possible. Going out on the road to promote the film has taken me out of the studio. And from doing the acting as well i'm meeting a lot of interesting people in this industry that are involved in the music scene as well.
Q: Is that the idea now? To make your name as an actor
and then go back to the music when your profile's raised?
A: I've always been acting and now i'm being given more respect for what I'm doing. It gives me an opportunity to open more doors
Q: What's the second solo album sounding like? Is it
similar to the first?
A: Not really. It's completely different. I think with my first album there were a lot more restraints on my creativity. I had to compromise a lot of myself to give them what they wanted. The album was released, but not how I wanted it to be. That music to me was very commercial and poppy and wasn't really what I wanted to do.
Now i'm independent it's a bit more underground and a
lot of new producers that are completely different from each other. I'm
trying to find a new sound for myself with a lot of jazz and classical
Q: Are you still part of So Solid Crew now?
A: Yeah. Definitely. There was no initiation and there's nothing you have to do to get out of it. It's a life long thing for us. We started this thing in the beginning and our aim in the beginning was to open up doors, to establish ourselves and to establish other artists and keep that door open for other artists. That's what we achieved from it, which a lot of people still don't really understand. They see So Solid as "You had 45 guys innit" and it's like no. So Solid was the guys you saw in the 21 Seconds video, but the So Solid name then went to a record label, a publishing company and a management company as well. We signed a lot of acts and people and in total we had a group of 40 people.
Right now everybody's focusing on solo work. Next year
or the year after we could start working another record. It may be never.
It's one of those things, but it's never a dead situation. We'll always
be rolling and I think what we managed to do with our time and the music
is establish ourselves to the point that the name will never die. We'll
always be compared to someone or someone will be compared to us so we're
always there. We've got enough people hitting other avenue's - Lisa's doing
modelling, Romeo's doing music, Swiss has just released another album and
i'm doing my stuff.
Q: It was So Solid that broke it through for many of
the acts like Dizzee and Kano. In many ways they've surpassed what So Solid
did in terms of sales and recognition. How do you feel about that?
A: One of the reasons that is mainly, it's down to people being anti-So Solid. I think whatever came after that would have been good because of the negativity that surrounded us at the time. Don't get me wrong, they're good artists at the same time, but I don't think doing anything that hasn't been done before to be honest. Before it used to be unusual to have a group of ten guys rapping about things you didn't hear about on TOTP's. You look to the States and the doors are already broken down and they know how to market it. Here we're a bit behind, but it's gonna take a while.
Q: What's the situation with So Solid and Megaman at
A: He's in jail. That's as far as it goes. Nobody knows the outcome. Mega was seen as the leader. He was the guy who started off the group, he gave everyone a lot the inspiration and everyone the belief that we could achieve something out of what we were doing. A lot of people thought we were doing it as a hobby, but he got us business minded in the sense that he made us believe we could go further. He took us there, he established us and gave us that opportunity. His plans were always that we could establish ourselves and do what he did himself and open the door for others. Whatever happens now is a bonus.
Q: I believe your background is in documentaries. Fill
our readers in a little about your background?
A: I've been making documentaries for the past few years and this was definitely an area you couldn't make as a documentary. Making documentary's is an end of the road. It gets to the point where you can't explore it in real life. It's not so much that a documentary would be one sided, it's like how can you film someone picking up a gun and shooting somebody.
Q: As a director at which point did you say i'm going
to start making a film?
A: It doesn't really work like that. I'd love to think it was that planned. This was just an idea that I had that seemed perfect for a feature film. I was involved in the casting from the start and the casting in this film was everything. I think Woody Allen said something like "Cast and the scripts are 70% of the work done".
It cost about £1.5 million, which is cheap by American
standards, and we've done it in widescreen. It was shot on film, but cropped
at the top so it had the same widescreen effect as a western. What we were
conscious of not doing was making it look like the typical British film,
especially not a film dealing with this subject. We shot it Summer and
the flats have got brightly covered walls. Whatever it took to make it
look brighter we used so it wasn't this film that would drag you down.
Q: The way the film was worked was that there wasn't
so much a script, but a loose idea of the direction the film should take.
Could you elaborate?
A: Yeah. We had a structure of about 50 pages maybe rather than the 90 pages normally. We had an idea of what the scene's should be doing, but I didn't want to dictate what people were saying. Especially with this kind of film where you're dealing with a very particular way of talking - we didn't want to dilute it. If i'd have ended up writing i'd have just ended up sounding really really cheesy and done it really really badly.
Q: On the Q&A / Film previews you've done so far
what audiences has Bullet Boy been attracting so far?
A: Different cinemas will attract a very varied audience. When you make a documentary you never get anybody's immediate response because it's shown anonymously to however many million people. We wanted a film that attracted both the people whose lives may be closely related to the subject matter and also a Vera Drake audience coming to it. So far so good and we've got it in art houses and multiplexes. I think we've got over 65 cinemas in the country showing it.
Q: You've got the final word on the interview. What
would you like to say?
A: We've tried to make something that is anti sensational. The film is about their own humanity and response to this tragedy.
"Bullet Boy" is in cinemas now.
For more info and a list of cinemas the film is being screened in
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