In his latest film, The Sweeney, Nick Love proves Brits can make action movies too. Loosely based on the Flying Squad of the Metropolitan Police in the 1970s, Love sets his film in present day London where there’s no shortage of conspiracy to crack and criminals to catch. Ray Winstone, in his classic hard-heartened nature, leads a cast with Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell, and Ben Drew. I got a moment to talk with Love about how he transformed the famous television series, his passion for justice, and how film school kicked his ass into shape.
ATW: Tell me how you got started in the business. How did you pave the way to writing, directing, and producing your own material?
LOVE: I started working as a runner; I don’t know what you call it in America? I started when I was 17. I’ve never done anything else really. I spent years and years and for quite a while I didn’t care what I was doing. I was happy to be on set and make tea for people. At that age, I thought I wanted to be a producer. I never thought about writing. But then I went to a film school in England. It was there where I really started to see what it was to be creative. Oh, I’ve got stories that I want to connect with an audience! The school was really good. It was very competitive. I thrived in that atmosphere. Basically, in order to get a movie made you had to pitch an idea.
ATW: That’s amazing! Most film schools don’t do that.
Love: It was great! It was an emulation of the film business. I got up there and people laughed at me and said fuck off… it was raucous. It was a good sort of training. If you’re not confident enough about the idea you’re telling, then people will laugh at it. I have friends in film school and it’s all just academic. Ours was like we got out there and we made films. That doesn’t mean they were all good, but that’s the point of film school.
ATW: Your film Outlaw is about a posse fighting for justice in the police force and government, similarly to The Sweeney. Is this need for justice something you’re passionate about personally?
LOVE: The Sweeney was the first film I made that was about the police instead of criminals. It was 9 years ago I made Outlaw. I just felt quite passionate about the fact that the government had taken away the power of the police force. I was reading lots of reports and newspapers with people who had injustice inflicted against them. I thought, What would it be like if you were just a guy in an office and you were beaten in an inch of you’re life and you had something you can do about it? But you didn’t go to the police. [The idea] came from four or five different characters in the film that I made, and they were seeing the same thing through different eyes. It was about people standing up for themselves. That film was the idea that you can connect with your audience because the films I was making in those days were really big DVD titles. I had that sense that I had the chance to connect to a wide audience. I got ripped apart by the press, but if it’s a story you’re passionate about, you’ve got to do it.
ATW: What made you want to make The Sweeney? Did the television series or the films Sweeney and Sweeney 2 have an impact on you?
LOVE: My movie isn’t based off those. It’s not a remake of the TV shows either. I took the three protagonists and the name of the show, it’s a good brand name in England, you know you’ll connect with an audience better with a brand name. I wanted to make a police action thriller in London; no one had made a police force movie with action in it. In British films all we make is romantic comedies and period dramas and there’s something about The Sweeney that makes it more important to me. Hard ass guys running around with guns, we don’t have that tradition in England.
ATW: Ray Winstone’s character Jack is definitely a hard ass. How did you go about creating him? Did you have Ray in mind?
LOVE: In a sense, it was made easier by the TV show because there was a Regan who existed, but he was much softer. We got inspiration from French Connection. Jimmy [played by Gene Hackman] is such a bastard in that film, but he’s also vulnerable; there’s something about him that’s lost. Ray, you presume nothing will faze him. But you start to see how you could build the character. Ray and I talked about how we do live in a bureaucracy of policing. We were just talking about how [Jack’s] one of those guys who kicks in the door, beats their head in and then asks questions. [He laughs] Some of the police are seeing the film and saying, If only we could do that! It’s not any kind of format of reality. Make the character dramatized, make him cinematic. It has to be based in plausibility and also larger than life. You want Jack to feel larger than life. He’s the guy who says what’s on his mind. He has got honesty about him. What’s good about him, for me, is he’s obviously over weight, and he embraces it and makes fun of it. He’s a fucking horrible man, but then you see him beating the piss out of himself for being overweight and going on a diet. We see this tiny moment of light in the character and see they’re not so bad. We didn’t want to make this guy really likeable, though. You wouldn’t walk away from the film and love him.
ATW: Looking at your past films, you tend work with the same actors on different projects. Danny Dyer is an example. We see a lot of directors doing this. What draws you to work with the same actors again and again?
LOVE: I think that you just ultimately work with people that you’re comfortable with and that have a good way of interpreting what you say. Danny had a very good way of verbalizing what I articulate on paper. Paul Anderson is another up and coming actor. I think they’re all looking to make it easier as a job. If you know how to work with them, it makes the process easier. The motion of going into battle where you know their strengths and their weaknesses…. you can then make a script tailored just for them.
You have to admire a passionate filmmaker who also understands how to sell his work. If all artists did, perhaps some of us wouldn’t be on the streets or stuck in the cerebral prisons of our computers or our cameras. The Sweeney exemplifies Love’s fascination with creating those multi-facetted characters and also making them bloody entertaining to watch.