As Offender prepares for it's cinematic release, The Fan Carpet's Stefan Pape caught up with the films director Ron Scalpello, and the leading star Joe Cole - both celebrating what is the release of their début feature film.
Offender - out on August 8 - is a gritty thriller that follows a traditional revenge plot of youngster Tommy (Cole) who deliberately puts himself in a youth offender institute, seeking vengeance against those who attacked his girlfriend and murdered his unborn child. Cole puts in an outstanding performance as our antagonist - and Scalpello pays homage to the young actor who certainly has a bright future in British film.
Meanwhile Cole discusses the challenge posed by taking on such a role, as Scalpello discusses his own influences in film as well as confessing to feeling proud in finally presenting his début production.
Offender highlights a few issues that are scarcely reported on within youth offenders institutes, such as suicide for example, was it important to you to spread that message and inform people about things they may not have known about?
Ron Scalpello: For me that was one of the driving forces in taking this project on. I came from a commercials background and I wanted to work in a masculine genre, I keep referring to Scum making a big impression on me when I was 15. I was caught up in dodgy stuff that could have gone either way but I saw Scum and it was a real dawning moment, I'd never seen a film like that, it made me very aware of that youth justice could be and should be. So I kept saying if we take this film on I wanted to make sure the issues of youth justice - which have never gone away, and have existed in the past 20 years; high offending, re-offending, high levels of self-harm, high-levels of suicide, taking vulnerable people and putting them into institutions that systematically aren't fit for purpose, and people just don't want to engage in that. That's quite interesting for me, because in some of the more established magazines all they can see in Offender is a revenge, urban-drama and not in any way dealt with the issues that the film have put in there. And because we don't foreground them or point big things at them, they seem to have bypassed it in a way. Strange, ain't it? I mean, people who have got it have got it really well.
And Joe, as for you, how were you first approached and when you first read the script did you instantly know this was something you wanted to take on?
Joe Cole: I was doing a play at the Bush theatre that the casting director of the film saw, and she cast me in Skins as well, so she awarw of me then. I was actually tweeting a producer about another film - a friend of Ron's - and I met up with a coffee with him to talk about this other project and Ron was there. And that when we first met.
Ron Scalpello: Yeah I was doing another film with Studio Canal called Here Comes the Summer and Joe had come in for casting and it never got finished in the end, so I was aware of him and knew Joe was a talent worth watching because he blew me away in that audition then. And then this project came in when we were having a coffee...
Joe Cole: Yeah we were having a coffee and he got a phone call offering him a job called Feltham and it was based on Feltham young offenders and we got talking about it and Ron said I should come in for this, it's in my age range, and I did. And you know after several auditions he gave me the part.
It must have been quite a challenging role to take on though, because there are difficult scenes to film...
Joe Cole: Yeah, I mean from the early drafts of the script I knew it was going to be a real stretch, emotionally and in a physical sense, I had to get into shape for the film so you know it was a stretch - but it was a part that any actor would love to play at my age and I relished it and I knew it was something I had to seize with both hands and give my all.
Ron Scalpello: Joe's being quite humble about it - for me there was no one else really, I had a certain image of how I wanted that character to be played and, this may be a quote that I'm using too much, but there is no one of his ability and age-range that could have pulled that character off the way he did. I keep saying that, he's done one of the cult classic performances, up there with Ray Winstone in Scum, this is a landmark role for Joe and I think he'll go on to do bigger and better stuff and different stuff, but I have a feeling we'll always be proud of this character as he develops his acting career. It's just a phenomenal performance, his intensity, his focus every day, I can't look him in the eye cos it feels a bit too much, drives that film, his obsession, his grief... You know we could have cast someone very muscular and one-dimensional and physical, but to believe in revenge you have to believe in grief and he showed grief and he showed weakness and he showed vulnerability. You talk about American History X and Edward Norton who plays the psycho in it - you always cast good actors who can into the role, it isn't about physicality. And I think you can tell that Joe's pulled that character off. People are surprised to see Joe now and see him in the film, they can't marry it up - but that's a great actor, because you don't see the actor, you see the character.
It's been a long time I've seen anger so well portrayed in a film, it's daunting watching you, and you can see the pain in the eyes...
Joe Cole: Thank you. You know, that comes from a couple of things. I draw on my past and probably what I draw on most are the low points in my life. I'm an incredibly ambitious person and when things weren’t going well three of four years ago when I was living in a box room in my parents house, selling carpets in the daytime and coffee in the evening, my personal life had gone to pot. I draw on those things I was going through then and I try to channel that into my character and how I felt, so that's part of it. And also I'm quite technical, I will watch performances of actors that have really made an impact on me with what they've done - like Johnny Harris in This is England for example, Tom Hardy in The Take, the list goes on - performances that capture that real truth, there's no truth or mirrors. It's just there and it's real and it's honest and I try to do that as much as I can with this particular character.
With only a short time now until the release of Offender, as it's both of your début feature - what are both of your feelings in the build-up - are you excited, nervous about finally getting this project out there for people to see?
Joe Cole: I'm really excited, because I think Ron has done an incredible job with the script and has brought it together better than any of us could have expected. The script was great, the team was great but you never really know how it's going to turn out and when I watched the screening I was pleasantly surprised at how well Ron has done with this, especially it being his first film. I'm really looking forward to seeing the reaction.
Ron Scalpello: For me it's just a real sense of pride really, I'm proud that I've done justice to the performances in the film and the story tells its story and it hits an emotional punch. It's a film that I'd like to see and I still get lost in it and I'm very proud of it. Whatever happens now happens, and it's a film that I will stand by now, tomorrow and in five years time, as a very affective and emotional, hard-hitting and gripping film that audiences will relate to and enjoy and be compelled and scared and it's a great cinematic experience and without being too corny about it, I'm actually slightly surprised myself, I didn't know we could pull that off either, and I feel I've done justice to what all of the actors have put into it, and told a great story and powerfully written.
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OFFENDER IS OUT WEDNESDAY AUGUST 8