In this week’s print issue of The Stage, I talk to actor, writer and director Noel Clarke (Doctor Who, Kidulthood, Adulthood) about his career and his plans for the future.
That interview won’t be available online — but Noel has such a lot to say that there wasn’t room to include everything we talked about. So here on TV Today we present a Doctor Who Confidential-style interview containing some bits that also appear in print, and lots that doesn’t.
Scott Matthewman: How long did it take for you to get Kidulthood and Adulthood made?
Noel Clarke: I wrote Kidulthood in 2002. There were a few things around at the time that I didn’t think were as authentic as they could be. It wasn’t written out of anger, but it was just, “This is the way I think it is, this is the way that I’ve seen it.”
We shot it in November, December 2004 and it came out in March 2006, so that was about three and a half years in total. Adulthood was a lot quicker. That wasn’t written until Kidulthood came out, so that was May 2006.
Did you ever think you’d go back and revisit some of the characters?
That was never my intention. In a weird way, it was kind of forced upon me. With other ideas that I’d written, people would say, “Oh, the script is brilliant, but it’s not your voice.” And that kind of stuff would annoy me. But at the same time it was them trying to say, “We’re comfortable with you writing what you’ve written, and that’s a safe bet.”
So essentially I was forced to do it in a roundabout way. No-one actually told me to do it. But it was kind of like well, I can write rom-coms and I can write thrillers, but if people tell me it’s ‘not my voice’, then I might as well stick two fingers up and write something they think is my voice — but at the same time create a bit of history by making a sequel, which doesn’t really happen, and making it a bit more commercial.
So you’d like to branch out into other genres?
Ideally, that’s what I’d like to do. I’ve made a conscious choice that I don’t want to do something which is similar, or if I do then it has to go in a different direction. It’ll have to be a different genre. I’d rather not do anything than do the same film again, and get pigeonholed.
I just want to make films and take the audience that watch my films into different directions. So I can broaden my horizons — and hopefully theirs.
You were able to branch out into sci-fi with an episode of Torchwood [Series 1’s “Combat”]. Was that very different?
Yeah, definitely. It was a different sort of work — I usually write things on spec so I do what I want. But when you write for TV you have to fit within a certain structure or a certain series arc, especially with later episodes. Everyone’s kind of, “This has to happen because our relationships or our characters are here.” It can be a more difficult discipline.
I guess I was lucky because [my episode] was in the first season, so essentially I was still creating the world. And originally my episode was supposed to be quite early on in the series. The are certain things I created in my original episode that other writers then had to follow — and even though my episode got moved later, those things are still in there.
Obviously when you’re doing the first season, it’s more creative and I guess it’s a lot easier. I’d much rather do a first season of something than the second, where the rules have kind of been set.
And obviously with [his BBC3 drama pilot] West 10 LDN, we were kind of creating it, so I was lucky in that respect. But if it had been I series and I was now on episode 15, at least I’d now understand the dynamics of how it works.
As an actor you’ve worked with scripts from some renowned scriptwriters. Have any been a source of inspiration for your own writing?
Definitely Russell [T Davies]. He does one thing that I like to do and that’s undercut violence or really traumatic moments with a bit of humour… Russell does that very well with Doctor Who. Some episodes were borderline post-watershed and quite scary and you’re thinking, this is how Doctor Who should be, but woah, seven o’clock, man, I’m not sure. But with the way the humour undercuts it all, that was brilliant and that’s what I’ve tried to do in some of my films.
Of course I’d already made Kidulthood before we did Series 1 of Doctor Who, and then the film came out. So you find with Kidulthood, but a bit more with Adulthood, there are moments, things that happen and then just undercut a little with a bit of humour to take the edge off.
And Russell’s thanked in the end credits [of Kidulthood] as well, right at the very end.
Speaking of Doctor Who, your character Mickey seemed to develop more than any other.
Yeah, I think so. I mean Rose was brave pretty much from day one, brave and moralistic and beautiful all the way through. Mickey’s character was really, you know, hated from the beginning… but I was happy with the way Russell took it. By the end of Series 4 when he appears again, he’s all like this cool guy, dressed in black, almost unrecognisable from episode 1 of Series 1. That’s good character development.
Russell met me at the end of Series 1 and said this is what we want to do for Series 2, and told me about the episode where I’d play my own twin and all that kind of stuff, and I was definitely into it. To be perfectly honest, I probably wouldn’t have left, but my character was tied into other characters. So when they went, I had to go too.
And then of course probably a year ago now, maybe longer, I don’t really remember, Russell said look, we kind of want you to come back at the end of Series 4, is that something you’d be interested in? And I said yeah, sure, where are the papers, let me sign them, I’ll definitely come back for you guys. Because I really like the team, and really enjoyed what Russell, Julie [Gardner] and the team have done for me, both with the acting and allowing me to write for Torchwood.
And now Mickey’s back on the ‘real’ Earth, there’s potential for more stories…?
Yeah, there’s an opening there, I guess, but you know, in real life it’s touch and go. There’s various things I’ve got going on as well, much like David’s off doing his thing and Piper’s off doing hers, Freema does what she does… With the help of the show, we’ve all become people that I wouldn’t say are in demand, but are people that can get work, I guess. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Have you had a chance to see David in Hamlet yet?
Not yet — I’ve been shooting a movie in the Isle of Man, so haven’t had a chance to see him yet.
So what movies can we look forward to seeing you in soon?
I’ll be in Heartless with Jim Sturgess, a Philip Ridley movie. Then I’ve got this horror comedy, Doghouse, with myself, Danny Dyer and Stephen Graham. And I’ll be playing the lead in the next Michael Winterbottom film.
You’re now making a name for yourself as an actor, as a writer and now as a director. What do you find appealing about each discipline?
Acting to me is what I’ve always wanted to do from the age of five, maybe even younger, and it’s what I’ve always loved doing. Just being in there, playing different characters, trying to convince people that that’s you — it’s something I love doing.
Directing I really love too, because it’s bringing your vision of material, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, to fruition.
Probably the thing I like least is writing. Not because I don’t like doing it — I love doing it. But you get these people in power who give you notes and stuff, and some of them… not all of them are fantastic at what they do. Sometimes that can be a bit of a problem.
Here at The Stage, we’ve had a spate of writers being frustrated or critical at the way the modern commissioning process treats them…
For me, it’s more like certain other directors make shoddy films and have money thrown at them to make more films. Whereas I’ve proved myself twice — two movies, although obviously I didn’t direct the first one — and they’ve done well, especially the second one, made three times its budget at the box office. And I still have to sometimes jump through hoops.
So that can be a little bit annoying. But it’s just the nature of the beast, isn’t it?
For more from Noel Clarke, pick up this week’s issue of The Stage. More details to be found on our In The Paper blog.