How did you get involved with iLL Manors?
Me and Ben [Plan B] have known each other for years, we met in a community studio called Tribal Tree in Camden, when we were about 16. We’ve been collaborators and friends ever since then. He kept telling me that I should act, I just took it with a pinch of salt, I used to take everything he said with a pinch of salt, but now when he says those mad things I think “ah man, he’s serious isn’t he?!” He wrote the short film called Michelle, which we made in 2008, so that gives you some indication of how long this cake has been in the oven. I’ve been involved in the process completely from the beginning. I was there at the casting for the short film, I was there at casting for the main film, I remember when we were thinking about the names and Ben text me with like six names, most of them I thought were rubbish, but I thought iLL Manors was the one straight away.
What was it like working with Ben Drew?
It was a really natural relationship on set, because we’ve worked together for so long, I don’t wanna say iLL Manors is like a baby of ours, but it has been a long time coming. It was quite intimidating having an integral role in a feature film, ‘cause I’ve never studied acting, I’d never done any acting before in my whole life, but it was a nice challenge. Because Ben believed in me and I believed that he would pull this crazy idea together, we just kinda did it. It’s been the most stressful project that either of us has ever worked on. I couldn’t say it’ll be the most stressful project we’ll ever work on, ’cause I know how life goes.
Is it true you taught him to rap?
I wouldn’t want to take that credit, he says things like that, but you know, when I met Ben, I was a spotty little 16-year-old brash rapper, he was a spotty little unconfident singer. He used to come around my flat in Angel, I used to show him all my old records and what I considered the essence of hip hop. I remember him sitting there and asking ‘how do you freestyle like that?’ I’d sit there and freestyle and he’d start to freestyle. I would never say I schooled him, but we’ve influenced each other a lot, in a lot of aspects of our life. We’ve both grown up a lot over the years.
Apart from the fact that you share the same name, are there any other similarities between yourself and Ed in iLL Manors?
Nah not at all, Ed is kinda like me in a parallel universe. I’ve been lucky to grow up with strong parents and strong direction. They supported me in the things I wanted to do in my life. My character Ed had completely the opposite, he grew up with no love, no direction and he has been beaten in to apathy and into this hatred of the world. If this was real, you should take responsibility for his actions, and be held up for them, but I definitely feel sorry for the guy, ‘cause that could have been me – and in the same token, he could have been me.
Was it quite hard for you to get into the role of Ed? He’s quite a nasty piece of work…
Even after I’ve said how different to me he is, it was still quite easy to get into the role, I don’t know what Freud would make of that. It was easy to get into the role, but it was hard to get out of the role. I could hype myself up no problem, but then to go home and wind down is the hard part, especially when you’re doing it everyday, every week for a long period of time, it was difficult.
iLL Manors is a powerful film, what message would you like the audience to come away with?
I think the most important thing that we can take from it is to stop this demonisation of the youth. Still make them responsible for their actions, they make mistakes, but when the riots happened everyone jumped out and said “ah these kids, they’re just young criminals, opportunist thieves – no care for the community”, but the truth is, what sense of community do they feel like they have? Their lift is full of piss and probably broken, the council ain’t come to fix the lights on the stairs, and even on the stairs you’ve got condoms and kids spitting all over the floor, smoking weed or smoking worse, half of the block is boarded up, they say that they’re going to knock it down, but they ain’t done it for ten years, there’s dog sh*t everywhere in the flats and then when they go to school the teachers don’t believe in them. It becomes a negative cycle. I think we need to understand where these kids get their hate from and their apathy, and then possible we can start to make things better.
“people are going to step out of their middle class bubbles”
I saw a great quote in the paper, “social care costs a lot of money, but the riots cost even more.” We spend all this money fixing up the riots, but we’re not spending money on community centres and fixing the lift, fixing the lights, giving them some grass and a playground, giving them djing, acting and painting courses, doing positive things to prevent the riots happening in the future. That’s what I’d like to see, the middle and upper classes taking a bit more responsibility for what is going on.
What reaction are you hoping this film is going to receive?
I think people are going to step out of their middle class bubbles and come and see the film and they might go home to their friend and say “oh it was amazing, but it was a bit harrowing” and then they’ll forget about it and go back to their normal life… holidays in Tuscany and Yacht in Southampton. I want this film to have a lasting impression, to be honest I don’t care if they hate this film, I feel like this film has a stronger purpose, if we can make people really start to think about it and slightly change people’s moral compasses towards the youth, then I think we’ll have achieved what we wanted to achieve.
I hope this can be a springboard, and we can keep voicing our concerns and opinions and keep trying to push change. I hate it when I see rappers getting famous and then it’s all about them, “I’m in the club popping bottles.” You’re in a position of power now, you’ve got ‘x’ amount of followers on twitter, you sell ‘x’ amount of records, people listen to you – so why are you just talking about the new Lamborghini you bought, why are you not trying to push some positive change and make a positive impact, I’m not saying you need to stop enjoying the fruits of your labour, but doesn’t mean you can’t put some time back in and do something positive with the position that you’re in.
Interview by Natalia Jorquera
iLL Manors is out in cinemas now