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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
As told to Rich Pelley

Shane Meadows: ‘When I worked at Alton Towers, I’d ride the Thunder Looper four times each lunch break’

‘I’ve always tried to make sure no one gets damaged’ … Meadows on making films about the dark side of human nature.
‘I’ve always tried to make sure no one gets damaged’ … Meadows on making films about the dark side of human nature. Photograph: Euan Cherry/Getty Images

I was told by an old teacher, who claimed to have been at school with you, that you turned up to non-uniform day in a dress for a laugh and everyone was too scared to take the piss. True or false? Mallycat
It’s true that I turned up in a dress. I don’t remember people being too scared. I do remember being told I had to go back and put on different clothes, truck drivers pipping at me, going: “Eh up, doll.” I wasn’t anywhere near as confident walking home to get some jeans without my friends as I was on the way in. I always pushed the boundaries. I dyed the top of my hair pink, they said it had to all be one colour, so that night I dyed the rest of it pink and they said: “No, we meant all one colour, but not frigging pink! And it all has to be one length.” So I shaved it bald. I thought: “It’s non-uniform day, I’ll wear a dress because I want to get on people’s tits.” I was just a pain in the bum to be honest.

In your dramas, there are many brilliant but haunting scenes, which lay bare the dark side of human nature. Do these dare-go-where-many-dare-not scenes provide catharsis for you and your cast, or are you all left shaken? hawthornelee79
Obviously it varies from film to film and scene to scene. With the more difficult scenes, it’s not just a case of: see you on set. For instance, This is England, knowing that Combo was going to beat up Milky, Stephen [Graham, who plays Combo], Shimmy [Andrew Shim, who plays Milky] and I all went round to Shimmy’s grandma’s house to have a meal and spend time together. When something is that close to the bone, it goes beyond acting. I’ve always tried to make sure that no one gets damaged.

The gang from This is England (2006) from left: Andrew Shim/Milky, Joseph Gilgun/Woody, Jack O’Connell/Pukey Nicholls, Kieran Hardcastle/Kes and Andrew Ellis/Gadget.
The gang from This is England (2006) from left: Andrew Shim/Milky, Joseph Gilgun/Woody, Jack O’Connell/Pukey Nicholls, Kieran Hardcastle/Kes and Andrew Ellis/Gadget. Photograph: Optimum Releasing/Allstar

Other scenes we didn’t know were going to be as hard hitting, like when Combo gets bundled into the van in This Is England 90. It’s about showing the lowest headcount of death and violence, but in the worst possible way. As the van door shuts, you can see a sack and some chains – they were going to take him out to sea. That glimpse can be way more impactful than a gory blood fest. When you’re working on low budgets, like me, you can’t afford the effects. So you have to make Jaws, but just not see the shark.

I read you were working on an exorcism horror. What happened to it? numbersix99
I’ve been trying to get the rights to the book Beware The Devil [by Robert Lee] that is based on a true story about a man who became possessed in the 60s, got exorcised and became an exorcist in Watford. So it’s quite an unusual one – The Exorcist meets EastEnders. I’ve got a number of projects that are at treatment stage where I know the story back to front. Fingers crossed, it’ll get made.

Have you been tempted by the Hollywood dollar to make a film or show in the US? My_Username_Is
I’ve got no desire in either direction. I can’t see my work working in the traditional system over there. I’d probably drive them all mental. Round about 2000, I was in Toronto, and my agent said: “Some people from Disney wondered if you’d got any ideas that might be suitable to a younger world?” Someone at Disney had seen [the 1999 teen comedy] A Room for Romeo Brass and wanted to take me out for dinner. I didn’t have a pot to wee in, so I thought I’ll have a free dinner and a pointless meeting.

Watch the trailer for Dead Man’s Shoes.

There was this massive billboard in Toronto advertising the new VW Beetle, so I thought: “Fucking hell. That’s what I’m going to say. I’ll direct the new Herbie film, but he’s really naughty Herbie, so it starts with Herbie ram-raiding in Manchester, he’s all smashed up, then these kids get hold of him, bring him back to life and it goes more like normal Herbie.” I pitched this as a joke while eating my free dinner. I got back, they rang up and said they loved it, but with one proviso: would I mind getting rid of the ram-raiding scene? A couple of years later they made it with Lindsay Lohan. It was classic Hollywood to say: we love everything you’ve said, but can we change absolutely everything?

Let me ask you about [singer-songwriter] Gavin Clark. You must miss him terribly. Rather than something heavy, can you tell me about working together at Alton Towers? What was the best ride? dylan37 and Top Tramp
I was Boo Boom the clown’s assistant, who had set up a stall painting faces at Alton Towers. The most difficult was the beach scene – two palm trees, sand, blue sky and sun. That was a tricky one. Ninja Turtles were much easier. We’d be dressed as tigers or lions, and Gavin worked in the chip section of one of the restaurants. One of the other guys from Alton Towers had a house party; I met Gavin and we became the firmest of friends.

The late Gavin Clark of Unkle at Wireless, London, 2010.
The late Gavin Clark of Unkle at Wireless, London, 2010. Photograph: C Brandon/Redferns

I was in a band [She Talks to Angels] with Paddy Considine. I remember Gavin saying: “I’ve written a few tunes. Would you mind listening to a couple of my tracks?” He played me a song and that was the day I went: “I’m not a musician.” He was unbelievable. It was the same when I met Paddy. He was improvising on a drama course. It was like watching De Niro. I thought: “I’m not going to be an actor. I’m not going to be a singer.” That’s when I started looking at directing.

What was the best ride? I was positioned right near the Thunder Looper, this massive loop that went round forwards, hung upside down, and came down backwards. I used to go on that four times at lunchtime, but I’m not as good on rides any more. I took my kids to Alton Towers last week and I nearly threw up.

Paddy Considine, left, and Toby Kebbell in Dead Man’s Shoes (Shane Meadows, 2004).
Paddy Considine, left, and Toby Kebbell in Dead Man’s Shoes (Shane Meadows, 2004). Photograph: Filmfour/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Is there an urge to return to This is England to explore where the characters are today? Arthurpoppy
I’m really happy with how it finished, but at the same time, I’d never rule out doing another. There’s something very special about those people as a group of actors. I did keep wondering about doing a millennium one. I had the idea of the opening scene ... Gadget and Harvey at Gatwick airport trying to go to Australia to see the first sunrise but not being allowed to board for having growing weed on their criminal record, and having to go to Skegness with everybody else. The millennium was ace, that whole thing: “My computer’s going to die. It thinks it’s 1971” – and then nothing happened. You can imagine what Gadget would say when he thought his nan’s microwave was going to blow up at midnight.

What would be your big dream project if money were no object? PeachyPlissken
I’d love to make a western, but from the east Midlands, because the first people that went to America weren’t American. I’d love to make a western with people from Derby, Holland, Italy and Birmingham, with the accents they came over with. Or a science fiction film about some awful germ that’s going to eat the world and they’ve got to sort it out in Chellaston, near Derby.

  • Dead Man’s Shoes is re-released in cinemas from 15 September and will be screened as part of the BFI’s Acting Hard season which runs until 2 October

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