Interview: 2000-05: Dave Stewart: Honesty Is A Virtue

Amid the clouds of hype and seething tabloid fascination with what’s inevitably being dubbed “the All Saints movie”, Virgin Net found time in its packed social diary to attend the star-studded Honest premiere and find out how the girls themselves, poor lambs, are dealing with the pressures of brand-new thespian celebrity. Read (below) our interview with the creative force behind the film, director David A Stewart – aka Dave Stewart (or “him from the Eurythmics” to you and me.)


How did you get the idea for the film?


“Well, I’m 47 now, so I was born in 1952, came to London in 1968, and I came from Sunderland. I was born in a street like Coronation Street, you know, with the cobbled stones, very much like the East End of London, and I thought of the East End as a bit like Sunderland.


“And when they go – the three girls – to the West End, it’s like painted bright colours and there’s lots of sort of middle-class people dressed in hippie outfits, and they just think, ‘Great, we’ll rob them&!. And it’s a bit like what I felt like when I came down from Sunderland. A shock to the system – and I developed lots of characters around people I met at the time.


“I got signed by Chris Blackwell to Island Music when I was 17 and suddenly it was like a ticket into a mad world, of like East-End villains, pop stars, sons of lords, all socialising together down a club called The SpeakEasy or Island music offices and there were great people working there. You’d go in there and they’d go ‘How you doing? Want some acid?’ [laughs].


“It was a time when everything seemed to break down, sort of class structure etc, and you’d end up on a weekend in some sort of son of a Lord’s house and people are, like, out of their minds and dad’s gone away, and you know, and I tried to get this across, this feeling in the film, but at the heart of it it’s the story of two people who want to escape from the life that’s been written out before them.


“She’s meant to be an East-End girl and she’s meant to marry an East-End boy and she sees what’s happening to the woman next door, and she just wants to escape. And he’s been from America to Oxford to avoid the Draft and he’s got to go back and join his father’s law practice – that’s part of the deal – and he just sees it as, like, a tomb. So he drops out, and when the two of them meet they both find it their route to escape.”


What’s the title about? Is that, like “To live outside the law?”


“You must be honest? Kind of, yeah, it’s like I knew a girl who was a thief, and she was like the most honest person I ever met. And I s’pose it’s like the artist’s like a criminal – a social explorer. In the world of being in a band and all that, you often doing a similar lifestyle to criminals, you know, you’re eating at midnight, you are doing your work when everybody else has gone to bed to go to sleep or whatever, and you often come into contact with these sort of characters, and so I got to know a few of them.


“In a way you’re like a social outcast. You’re like a social outcast if you’re a pop musician. And that’s where the title came from.”


Was your background in music -particularly the film soundtracks you’ve done – any help in directing?


“Well, all the things I was doing in the last two years helped me – I was doing movie scores – you know, being in Mississipi alongside Robert Altman with Cookie’s Fortune, and seeing how he was with the actors and doing stills photography and all my own lighting for that and studying.


“You know, just taking loads of rolls of film on my own and changing the lights and seeing how that affected it, then making short films and little fake ads and persuading people to act in them and things like that. It was all leading towards it?


“I just didn’t want to walk in like a bumbling idiot and not understand what anybody was talking about it. And I suppose in a roundabout way I was going to college. So when the time came I said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to do this film.'”


What do you like best about the film you’ve made?


“Well, there’s certain points in the film where I kind of sit back and go ‘yeah’. And that’s kind of the marriage of a certain piece of music with certain visual imagery, and it reminds me of things that I love about other films.


“I suppose when you’re a musician you do that. You make a record and you’re always sort of comparing it to Blonde on Blonde by Dylan or some album by Beck or whatever it is, you know, you can’t help it, it’s like everybody does it, you know. If you’re a doctor or a surgeon you’d compare your work with that other surgeon over there.


“And there’s some moments when I really feel – like when they’re tripping in a big room, and there’s a lot of naked people, and he starts getting really freaked out – he doesn’t realise he’s been spiked, they go down a tunnel and suddenly Hendrix is at the end of the tunnel – I like that moment because it reminds me of an exact thing that happened to me.


“I also like the use of Dylan underneath the main character when he’s gone back to Oxford and he’s trying to get the girl out of his head, and Dylan’s singing a song called Fourth Time Around, and he’s just running, he’s supposed to be studying but he can’t concentrate. It’s got a bit of a feel of the graduate, which is one of my favourite movies.”


It’s not just another Brit gangster movie then? There seems to be one a week at the moment…


“The press kept saying ‘The All Saints in their East End gangster movie’ – and it’s nothing to do with an East End gangster movie. It’s about two different worlds, and more often than not in the other world – which is about this American boy who’s meant to be at Oxford, and his parents arrive, and it’s got a lot of humour in it, very tongue in cheek – he’s still tripping off the night before and his parents arrive and they wanna take him to the Dorchester and he’s trying to listen to what he’s dad’s saying and the waiter comes and lifts a silver plate and there’s a lobster, which is about the worst thing you want to see if you’re hallucinating, and he’s looking at the lobster and the lobster’s all wriggling around on the plate – and it’s things that happened to me in a different way, and it’s very humourous. And what’s really funny is that people get that when they see it, whether they’ve taken a drug or whatever – they just get his predicament.”


There’s this stereotype that when pop stars act in movies, the movies tend to be pretty bad. Weren’t you at all reticent about working with a bunch of singers?


“Well it didn’t enter my mind at all to get in touch with pop musicians to act in the film. When you think I’d already been casting Corin Redgrave and James Cosmore and Annette Badland, and these are all people who’ve done 50, 60 movies.


“And I’d been talking to actresses – three years before the final draft I was having conversations with Samantha Morton – she’d been round my place and talking about Mandy the character, when she was hurtling to fame, but I was trying to get three sisters together and it was proving quite awkward.


“Other people were cast and the movie was getting all geared up to go, and then luckily the three girls tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Look, we’re your sisters.’ And two of them were sisters and the other one had known one of them since they were ten.


“And they had all this chemistry, you know all this banter and feistiness and arguing with one another and all this kind of stuff. And I thought, ‘Well, I don’t have to get all that together, they’re already doing it’ and I gave them a screen test and they were really good.”


Some of the music papers and gossip columns have been comparing the film to Spiceworld, which is inevitable really. How is it different from just “the All Saints movie”?


“You see the papers were doing that because they hadn’t seen the film. They’d just heard that the All Saints were in a movie that I was directing. And whereas Spiceworld is a movie featuring the Spice Girls performing and singing and being the Spice Girls in it, the All Saints are in a movie set in 1968 being three characters that have nothing to do with the All Saints.


“There’s no All Saints music in it, and they aren’t singing in it and they’re acting characters, along with other actors. And you forget anything about the All Saints in the first three minutes. The first time you see them, the three of them burst through a door wearing these sort of scary masks threatening this night watchman with crow bars and you go, ‘Ah, I see. Not the Spiceworld thing then.'”


Sounds like you had quite a lot to deal with on the shoot, and lots of gossip generated by the production of the filmk, you know, kids taking drugs, stripping off, underrage actresses taking their clothes off..


“Well, it was all true, but I didn’t know that they were underage. They all signed forms saying they were a particular age. And that was for a pop festival scene where we were recreating 1968 pop concerts – people were smoking joints and hopping around topless and, well, how many documenatries have you seen?


“You’ve seen it, right? And so, you know, all this stuff came up in the papers: ‘My daughter is doing this?’, ‘She signed a form saying she was so old’ – and I was recreating something in 1968. So I just thought I’d keep my head down and keep making the film and not say, ‘Oh God, I’d better not do this and that&!”


Have you and your company Seven Dials got any more plans for future films?


“Yeah, we’re going to make about three or four movies in a row now. The first one’s set in India, about a man who goes to India, I’ve been writing one called Love Is The Drug, and talking to Dennis Hopper about playing a part in that, and I’m building a sort of film centre in Covent Garden bought an old hospital with a partner and it’s going to be converted into a meeting place, screening room, big café, TV studio and lecture theatre for film, to launch an online film school from there.


“It’s a hospital at the moment, but we can’t call it The Hospital because they don’t want people turning up with broken legs and us going, ‘Hi, yeah, come in for a cup of coffee” – so we haven’t got a name for it yet, but we have got a little splash page up at the moment, that isn’t designed, just saying what’s going to happen – it’s called”