INTERVIEW Son of Rambo

'It was good to look back at that era and make a film about it'

The splendid British comedy Son of Rambow is arguably the best feel-good movie for many years. Set over the course of a long hot summer in the early 1980s, the story follows two youngsters and their attempts to remake the action movie First Blood. It’s a time of clunking VHS players, electronic music and sweet smelling pencil rubbers, which obviously proved hugely influential on the film's writer and director, Garth Jennings. Screenjabber's Cassam Looch managed to catch up with Jennings and his two young stars — Will Poulter and Bill Milner — to discuss the film that Sly Stallone himself says he loves.

Seeing as this is an action movie, were you comparing scratches and bruises at the end of filming every day?
Will To be honest, we were really lucky because there were some excellent stunt people involved in the film. I think Bill did a couple, though.
Bill Yeah, but it was all kind of fun things, nothing too action-packed.
Garth Well I don’t know about that, you guys did the stuff in the water tanks and the swimming in the lakes as well. They’re being modest already.

Which scenes did you find hardest to do?
Bill Probably the scene in the warehouse at the end when we were all cold and tired.
Will Yes, it was the same for me. We had been away from home for so long and everyone was exhausted. Bill had to be covered in this black goo for the scene and we had to get really emotional with each other.
Garth It was great for me because they had to be upset for the scene, so that was perfect.
Bill ... and that black goo was really nasty!
Garth Yeah, it was supposed to be thick oil but we ended up making it ourselves out of toothpaste and a safe edible liquid.

Has the film done well over in the States? I gather there has been some success at the festivals.
Garth It was tremendous for us. We made the film completely under the radar. We did all the post-production right here on these boats [the film company's studios, which are on a couple of barges on a canal near Holborn]. There was no one around and the first screening we did was at Sundance a week after we had finished the film. We were really nervous that first night, but it went really well — in fact, there was a bidding war and it got bought soon after. I thought a lot more would go over their heads in the States than actually did. There are some things that don’t travel, but the film is pretty universal.

And when did Stallone know about the film?
I think he knew about it before the screening, but I don’t think he was keeping tabs on it as we went along. We had to get him to sign a waiver actually as we used footage of him, and that was quite early on. I’ve never actually met him, I even went along to the premiere of the recent Rambo film to meet him, but you can’t meet anyone at those things. Mind you, the studio told us when he saw it, and that he liked it as well.

What about the soundtrack, did you get your first choice of tunes throughout?
I’d say it was probably 90% what we wanted all along. I think the only Kraftwerk, although those guys don’t give their music to anything: it was Tour de France, but we found something equally good to use in the end.
Bill I loved all the music, the fashion and the funny technology. It was good to look back at that era and make a film about it.
Will It’s so different to now. The cameras were like 10 times bigger and they weren’t built into your phone. If you even had mobiles phones then, they were massive. The only real connection I had to the time was my older brother and older sister.

Were all the kids French for the exchange students’ scenes, or were they local?
It was just the lead, Didier (Jules Sitruk), but he more than made up for it. He was excellent, he was kind of like that in real life.

And what has the reaction been from your friends and family?
I think they are quite positive, they’ve all been supportive. One of my friends has seen it, and the others will see it soon I hope.
Will Yeah, very supportive. It’s quite weird with the posters being out now and all over the place. I mean, for me meeting and working with Eric Sykes was amazing. I think he’s a genius.
Garth It was weird, because that character is based on my grandfather and being in the care home setting and seeing him play that role was very sweet. He knew instantly how big and small to play the scenes.

Did the success of your previous film, Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, afford you better financial clout for this one?
I thought it would have. I mean, it went to number one and I thought, great. If anything it made it harder though, it took over a year of going to see everyone in the UK and getting turned down repeatedly, it was almost impossible to get people to stop thinking about the sci-fi film and buy into this. That’s why the money came from France in the end. I’ve realised that if I make the same sort of film again it will be easy, but anything different and we’ll be starting from scratch all over again. For this film we did all the special effects here on a laptop, that was a piece of cake. But convincing the financiers early on that this was a story that everyone would get was very difficult at the script stage.

And I understand you’ve just done some work with Sir Michael Caine. What was that like, and did he give you any useful tips?
Bill Yes, that was fun. He was very helpful and it was great to work with him. The main thing he said is: ‘Don’t get too cocky’.

What are you all most proud of with this film?
There was that one scene when we were filming the kite scene, and I thought I was doing it really well and it was action-packed. But on screen it doesn’t look like that. But it really was.
Will I think the most significant thing for me was the lake scene when Bill and me become blood brothers and friends. That was really emotional.
Garth For me as well, I think that scene in particular was so powerful. I remember filming it we were losing the light for the day and I was expecting to need loads of takes to get it right. It’s a long scene and I said they wouldn’t be able to do it in one go so we might have to do it another time. Actually it was one of the most jaw-dropping things, it was done in under the time.
Bill That’s also the scene we did together at our audition.

• Son of Rambow is now showing ... and you can read our glowing review HERE

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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