THE HONEST MR. STEWART
Why did you want to make that movie ?
I actually came to London in 1968 when I was sixteen to sign to the Chris Blackwell’s Ireland Music label. I came from the North East of England which was very different than London. I had my mind blown cause it was right in the middle of the psychedelic period and the hippie thing. I felt like a fish-out-of-water but I met some really crazy and interesting characters: some were aristocrats, lords, others were Eastern thieves, rock’n roll singers… and they were all mixed up in the same world.
When I have started to write the film, I chose to tell the story of that student who came from upstate New York and didn’t quite understand what’s going on. But I wanted to make something in a tongue-in-cheek humourous way.
So the character of Daniel, it’s you ?
I’m a funny mixture between Daniel and Gerry. Because Gerry is also like a fish-out-of-water when she goes from Eastern into the hippie world. She doesn’t know what’s going on and then the guy offers her a cake with acid in it….
This happened to me. I ended up naked in a fountain at midnight like the character in the film. The only difference is that I got arrested by the policemen.
Is there a link between the film Honest and the song in the album of the same title (Stewart released in 1991 with his group the Spiritual Cowboys) ?
The song in the album is about the same girl: Gerry. “Jerry was no architect – But she sure knew how to put out all the lights”. I used to live with this girl who was a thief but the most honest person I’ve ever met.
What does the word “honest” mean to you ?
Bob Dylan says it best actually. In one of his songs, he says that “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” All the corporations and shops like McDonald’s, Nike, Gap… are all dishonest cause they’re all using child labor, easy dirty money… But despite that, they’re all presented like the moral highground of the traditional society. In order to live outside of it, you have to almost become an outlaw like Gerry in the film.
The boy in the film is very naïve. He dropped that from Oxford and thinks that it will be much more honest to work in the underground magazine, being politically activist. But it’s just another way for the editor of the magazine to sell drugs and make money.
To you, the real honest people are the thieves ?
In a way, yes. The criminal, like the artist, is just a social explorer. People like musicians or artists have very similar lives to criminals. They don’t go to work in normal jobs, are often awake late at night. When they get something to eat at two in the morning, they go to the only places that are open, places frequented by criminals, pop musicians. Night people.
And you could have become a thief yourself ?
I think most artists could have obviously become criminals and most criminals could easily have become artists. There’s just a little gene in the brain that made the difference. To be a good criminal or a good artist, you have to be very gifted. But it’s a quite complicated life.
In the movie, we feel that you have sympathy for the “arty people” and by another way you critic them. The sculptress, for example.
Certain artists aren’t really artist. They’re just kind of. Not pretending to be artist, but jumping on to the back of what’s happening.
The artist in the movie is a really bad copy of Niki de Saint-Phalle. She’s an Australian who has decided to come over and make money in the art scene in Britain. She’s very kind of obnoxious.
A lot of people in the film is trying to make that.
The boy who’s running the underground magazine really wants to make money because he spent all of his daddy’s one. These are the real characters I met. But some were real artists, like in the film where I had Bootsy Collins play the Hendrix character.
How do you recognize a real artist from a fake one ?
You can just tell. That’s why I’ve put that song by Marvin Gay at the end of the film (he sings) “There’s nothing like the real thing, baby” and, all the way through the film, I use that song a little bit in the score.
It’s very subjective.
Yes. To me, the film is a romantic comedy about “l’amour fou”. It’s like when you meet somebody and you don’t know why but something drives you towards him/her even though you couldn’t have two persons from more different backgrounds.
It’s the same thing with art and with love.
Why the All Saints ?
I was trying to get this movie made and we had all sort of people interested. I’ve just got financed and, by the time Iwas casting girls, I was standing in a place in Soho in London and somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and saw the three girls. They said : “Hey, we’re the sisters in Honest”. I said : “Sorry?”. They said : “No, no. We are the sisters.” They had the script by their agent William Morris and I said : “Well, I’m not sure right now but come for a screen test”.
I’ve met a lot of actresses individually, but they were they only ones to have that sisters thing. You know, two of them are sisters, Nicole and Natalie, so.
And why only three of them ? They are four in the band
Because the movie was about three sisters and not about the All Saints. And, you know, three white sisters and one black sister…
Do you like their music ?
I love their single Never Ever. I like some of their music. But it’s not my favorite kind of music. My favorite music is in the film: Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye…
Your movie is very much inspired by the mix of culture. There is Bob Dylan and the Motown.
Exactly, because it was all happening at the same time. Where I come from in the North East of England, everybody was listening to the Motown. There used to be a big dance hall called the Mecca Ballroom where there was always the Motown. And when I came to London, everybody was listening to Bob Dylan, the Pink Floyd …
I’m influenced by all that. That’s why the music of Eurythmics was so eclectic.
There’s also Jacques Dutronc and the song J’aime les filles that I’ve put in the movie. And, of course, Serge Gainsbourg that was a great influence. You know there was a lot of things going on at the same time.
But, in the movie, I chose to put only the two extremes. The girls come from the Eastern and are listening to Motown. The boy comes from America and listens to Bob Dylan. So Bob Dylan is the internal voice of the boy.
In the same way, as a director, we feel you hesitate between Richard Lester and Ken Loach.
Yes, it’s true, but that was what it was like. A film like Nil by Mouth (Gary Oldman, 1995) is about a particular family in a particular apartement during a particular period in a particular street in London.
My film is about a crazy mixture. Soho is only three miles from the East End. The East End was Ken Loach and Soho was psychedelic and debutant. I wanted to be in the cross of that.
You came from the North of England ?
Twelve miles from Newcastle in a place called Sunderland. Serge Gainsbourg actually mentioned it in a song.
Was it more Ken Loach or more psychedelic ?
Much more Ken Loach. Ladybird kind of territory.
What is your main influence as a director ?
My kind of favorite films are the ones where two people are so completely different but feel strong together and it becomes “Them against the world”. Midnight Cowboy, Harold and Maud. A bit like Annie (Lennox) and me in Eurythmics. The Graduate was also a great influence when I was younger.
There are many references in your movie. I think of Blow Up and The Dolce Vita.
Those were the movies we were watching when I was young in 68: Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini… My brother and I were both obsessed with movies. As he worked for the British Film Institute, we could go and see a lot of screenings.
In which way does it work on your music ?
I’m enjoying music visually. In the beginning of Eurythmics, I was directing videos like Sweet Dreams which were based on Bunuel or Salvador Dali. Very experimental. At this time, people were making videos where the band would be miming a song, just normal playing. But our videos was like little films. That’s why, in America for instance, we suddenly became very successful.
If you had to choose one song or one album that you love much than anything else, what would it be ?
I’m crazy about a lot of soul recordings of the late sixties by Marvin Gaye and people like that. I was so crazy about Stop, In the Name of Love at that period that I’ve went to Motown and beg them for three years to let me have the master tapes so I could mix and play the orchestra on top. In my lab now, I’ve got the most incredible things I can remake like Marvin Gaye stuff. I’ve got the original one here in front of me.
It’s part of my obsessive nature going to every tiny little detail and that was the great fun of the film. People might not notice but what you actually hear in the film are the original Motown masters.
How did you get to work with Bootsy Collins (bassist of James Brown in the 70’s, key member of the groups Parliament and Funkadelic with George Clinton) ?
He was the bass player on my last solo album called Greetings from the Gutter and we remain friends. I asked him to do this part in the film and he said “Yes”. He is the sweetest man in the world.
(Check this it’s Marvin Gaye) It’s the master without the music. Amazing singing.
It’s just around one microphone, can you imagine. The all performance is one take, it’s amazing.
How was the experience of Cannes ?
Well, the film had really good reviews from Variety… But it was a bit weird because, during the party, some crazy gangs tried to crash into by shooting guns. The newspapers said they were gangs from Nice. It was a bit out of control.
At the end of the day, we just left the place and went somewhere else. It was a strange experience, crazy and chaotic. But we had lots of fun: we played a gig with Bootsy and some friends…
Another movie ?
Yeah. I’m writing one with an Indian man at the moment about a hitman that goes to India to do a killing. There, he has a accident and reevaluates his all consciousness and karma. He sees hallucinations of Indian kind, images of Christ. It’s very psychedelic again.
You don’t know yet about the casting ?
No, all the casting will be Indian people except the hitman. I’d like to have Nicolas Cage for the part.
It’s always about a mix of culture ?
Yes. Because I’m mad.
About music. Another album ?
I’m working on a World Music with a bunch of artists like Amina. An unusual mixture again.
And the Spiritual Cowboys, it’s over ?
Oh, yeah. I did it with a bunch of friends for two or three years. We just wanted to play live a lot and record together. But after three years, everybody decided to go and do their own things.
What is the most exciting between making a film and making music ?
Well, music can be much more spontanious. It’s very difficult to create that with a film with all the people and the time you need. We had to make Honest in thirty two days wich was very difficult with so many features, locations and sets. No sleep, you know.
A song, you can make it in half an hour around a cup of tea and remake it the next day.
About the character in the movie who plays the mexican drug dealer, I thought one moment that it was you. Did you want him to look like you or is it a coincidence ?
It’s an actor called Sean Gilder who is actually acting in the Scorsese movie in Italy. I wanted him to look like a spiritual cowboy (laughs).
Were you close to drugs at this period ?
Oh, yes. I was taking LSD everyday.
Now it’s over ?
Yeah, I’m too old.