TORONTO — With his short-sleeved shirt revealing a set of serious biceps, Guy Ritchie certainly looks buff enough to be Mr. Madonna. Or as the tabloids were hinting when his latest slick British gangster movie, RocknRolla, premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, the soon-to-be ex–Mr. Madonna.
Ritchie (Revolver, Snatch), who wrote and directed his latest offering, met with about a dozen international reporters in a hotel meeting room to discuss the film. Although no one was brave enough to ask about his wife, one reporter did ask him to define rocknrolla (which would translate in non-British slang as rock ’n’ roller). In his movie, the rocknrolla, Johnny Quid, is a wild, heroin-addicted musical genius and train wreck played by Toby Kebbell (Dead Man’s Shoes).
“It’s not really based on anyone specific,” Ritchie said. “I suppose I just became aware that there’s a phrase that’s generated if someone said someone’s ”˜a rocknrolla’. It seems to inspire a certain picture. And I suppose that picture is someone that lives life very large and is also very volatile. But it’s usually about someone that’s creative and has a large desire for life. But the trouble is there’s consequences to that desire, and often they end up with their finger in the socket.”
If he was talking about Madonna, nobody had the guts to ask.
But people were curious about his other obsession: gangsters. The rocknrolla is the title character in his movie, but it’s not a movie about rock ’n’ roll. Quid is the adopted son of a British mobster, played by Tom Wilkinson. The movie is about culture clashes and a series of double, triple, and quadruple crosses between British mobsters (including Gerard Butler), more British mobsters, and the Russian mob, caused by a gorgeous and ambitious accountant played by Thandie Newton. Thanks to Quid, a few rock ’n’ roll types (played by Ludacris and Jeremy Piven) get caught in the crossfire.
So far, Ritchie’s oeuvre has been built around bad boys, and he makes no apologies for his obsession. “I’m drawn to the dark side because it’s an interesting world for stories,” Ritchie said. “We like bad guys, and”¦what’s that tiny little movie that just came out that’s done rather well? Dark Knight. Everyone liked the Joker, right? The Joker’s the bad guy. So we’re drawn to the bad guy, and I’m not unique in that respect. The trouble is, I fancy bad guys.”
Ritchie fancies them enough that he’s already working on a sequel for RocknRolla—or, as the credits announce at the end of this film, “Part 2”. “When I was writing this one, the film would have gone on for three hours. And I think the film, with the pace that it goes at, after three hours you might feel rather exhausted. So we decided to make a Part 2. And it was Joel’s idea to put it on the end,” Ritchie said. Joel would be Ritchie’s blockbuster-spinning producer, Joel Silver (The Matrix).
Ritchie’s also fascinated by the dramatic potential of London at the start of the 21st century. “London, to me, has so much creative expression taking place. It’s perfect to make movies. I suppose that’s another reason that we’d like to make another movie after this one, because there’s so many of these nefarious tales that take place and these salubrious characters with nefarious tales,” Ritchie said with a laugh. “I’m trying to see if I can get any more adjectives in there. It’s just ripe for storytelling, for filmmaking.”
One of Ritchie’s other obsessions is comic books, and RocknRolla plays with comic-style panel art in the opening and closing sequences and has a graphic-novel vibe throughout. But even though he’s currently writing his own graphic novel, The Gamekeeper, and adapting DC Comics’ iconic war hero, Sgt. Rock, for the big screen, Ritchie said his true passion isn’t graphic novels: it’s seeing graphic novels and their aesthetic translated to film.
“What I really have a passion for is the genre in film because I’m rather retarded when it comes to reading. I like it to be thrown up on film. So I was extremely excited when the likes of Sin City or 300 came into the equation, because to a degree my movies, I like to see them as cartoon-driven. And with the advent of technology, we can now manifest this in a form that I think is more efficient to what it is I’m creatively interested in. So the reason I was interested in doing Sgt. Rock with Joel is because it can be that thing, right? So I will end up in that genre.”