Now shooting on location in London is the Simon Rumley-directed Once Upon A Time In London, a period crime movie focussing on the story of Jack ‘Spot’ Comer, Billy Hill and their respective battles to become King of London’s Underworld. The film boasts an impressive British cast, including Leo Gregory, Terry Stone, Holly Earl, Dominic Keating, Geoff Bell, Jamie Foreman, Doug Allen, Andy Beckwith, Roland Manookian, Justin Salinger, Kate Braithwaite and Laura Carter.
We caught up with Simon for a chat about the highly anticipated film.
Q: Simon, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Can you give us a little idea about the story behind Once Upon A Time In London and what we can expect to see come the end of the year?
SIMON: It’s the true life story of two London based gangsters; Billy Hill and Jack Spot Comer. Set before and after the Second World War, Billy became Jack’s acolyte but at some point took control of Jack’s empire. It’s a tragedy of sorts but with a largely positive ending. There’s love, loss, violence, tragedy which all add up to a heady cocktail of drama and intrigue.
Q: How was the film conceived? You’ve obviously co-written the screenplay as well as directing.
SIMON: I was brought on board by producers Terry Stone and Richard Turner in October last year. I liked the script but felt I could add a lot more to it. So I rewrote it during January and we were shooting in April. All pretty quick therefore. That said, I think it’s a project Terry’s had for a long time and it’s only now, after the success of Peaky Blinders and Legend that investors felt comfortable with the idea.
Q: How much research did you have to undertake to get the script absolutely bolted down in terms of accuracy?
SIMON: Well after I first met Terry and Richard in October, I started researching and reading about both Billy Hill and Jack Comer. I made extensive notes from different sources and condensed their stories into a two hour screenplay.
Q: A London-set crime film focussing on a time before The Krays hasn’t really been tackled before, though we’ve obviously had Peaky Blinders – which has been hugely successful, but that is obviously largely set in Birmingham. Was that why you wanted to bring this to screens – because it’s a largely untouched area of the genre?
SIMON: Certainly, I like to offer new things to an audience that I haven’t offered before and I’d like to think my films are original and unique and unlike what’s generally out there. I was amazed when I started my research because much like everyone in the UK, I knew about the Krays but I’d never heard of Billy Hill and Jack Comer. In their time, they were the most famous people in the UK so it’s strange to think how history has conspired (wittingly or otherwise) to hide their story. I’d like to think when people watch the film they’ll be amazed about the lack of publicity these to characters have in modern terms…
Q: You have assembled quite the cast for this, including some stalwarts from the British film scene. How was this superb cast assembled?
SIMON: Yes indeed. In all honesty, Terry pretty much cast this film single-handedly and the majority of people in the film are people he’s worked with before or at least knows. Since I’ve been working in America more in the last few years than in UK, my knowledge of the UK acting scene isn’t that contemporary. But I was very happy to bring on board a few people I’d worked with before such as Justin Salinger (Crowhurst) and Kate Braithwaite (Little Deaths) and I’ve been a fan of people like Leo Gregory, Roland Manookian, Geoff Bell and Jamie Foreman for a long time so it was great to gather them in the same film.
Q: We also have Terry Stone who has carved himself a great career in terms of acting and producing. What is he like to work with?
SIMON: Terry’s great. He has a very positive energy which you need to be able to simultaneously produce and act. He’s also been very happy to let me take the creative lead with both the script and the visual identity of the film. I think a lot of people will be surprised by the strength of Terry’s performance in the film; this is challenging his range but he’s very much rising to the challenge and having to play opposite Leo and Geoff and Jamie all the time means he has to be on top form.
Q: You’re shooting this film in London. The place has changed considerably over the years. How are you going about recreating the look of the time period in question?
SIMON: Good question. Much of the film is interiors. If you watch the older films of the period, they’re the same. A lot of the film is either in pubs, spielers/clubs and homes. It hasn’t been easy finding all the locations but bit by bit we’ve somehow managed to find some amazing locations and there are two locations, one in Dalston and the other near Shadwell where one location has managed to double up for 5 to 6 locations. I think the film would have been easier to shoot 10 years ago and think that in another 10 years, it would be almost impossible to shoot on location…
Q: How long are you shooting for?
SIMON: 6 weeks.
Q: What challenges have come your way so far?
SIMON: Well we have a lot of short scenes in different locations so that’s a tough one, just moving the crew from location to location sometimes for an 1/8th page scene. But that’s how I seem to be writing my scripts these days which gives the film an energy, hopefully. Also, we have a lot of scenes with a lot of extras, all of whom need period clothes and hair and make-up, all of which takes a lot of time. As do the fights and occasional bouts of knife violence and blood etc.
Q: Has this switch in genre made you want to continue to move further away from the kind of films you’ve already made? Is there anything in terms of genre of film that you’d like to tackle after this?
SIMON: Well, I see most the films I’ve done in the last decade as reasonably similar in style in as much as I wrote and directed and edited most of them and so bear my ‘vision’ and stamp. There’s a dark psychology to all of them and they have the same DP and generally the same composer…
Having done Crowhurst which was a sailing film of sorts, I’m actually quite keen to do a sports film; ski-ing, boxing or motor racing would be good. Downhill Racer was a particular favourite Robert Redford film and I’d love to do something similar!
Thanks so much for your time and good luck with the film.
Once Upon A Time In London will be released later in 2017.