Episode Two: Casting About
And so it came to pass that, just before 2pm on the the 26th of June
1995, I arrived in the Haworth for our first proper script conference. The
main news for the rest of the country that day was developments in the
unexpected Tory leadership election (this would itself soon be sidelined by
revelations concerning Hugh Grant's extra-curricular activities in LA), but
for me, the film was the only thing going on of any interest whatsoever.
Already there in the pub were Matt, Erica, Ralph and Leann, together with
a couple of strangers: a slim and lovely dark-haired girl called Caitlin and
a stocky lad in his late teens whose name was Dave. He was a local boy, but
Caitlin came from the north-east.
I pulled up a stool and joined them. The Haworth was neutral territory in
pub terms, serving both town and gown, but the decor was distinctly
old-fashioned (a misguided makeover with garish 'fun pub' overtones the
following year would be both disastrous and short-lived). The bit we were in
was quiet, which was probably just as well. Matt bought me a drink and a bag
of crisps and handed me a script (though Matt couldn't afford to pay us
wages, his willingness to stump up for all the food and drink was a godsend
to someone who'd had to visit the bank en route to extend his
The film was currently trading under the title 'All Our Tomorrows' which
was, if nothing else, an improvement on the original 'Bricks and Bouquets'. It
was a slice-of-life romantic-comedy-drama, not that Matt was hedging his
bets or anything. There was a small list of speaking parts and all the main
ones were apparently filled: Erica and Caitlin were playing the two female
leads, while Ralph - who was, it turned out, by night a roadie on Hull's
vibrant indie scene - knew a couple of musicians, Graeme and Chris, who were
interested in playing their male counterparts.
The plot went a little something like this (pay attention, I'm not going
through it again): Student and musician Chris (I don't remember most of the
actual character names - it was nearly seven years ago, okay? Gimme a break)
is evicted from his lodgings at about the same time that his best friend
Graeme meets but fails to get off with lovely young artist Erica (who's just
chucked her awful boyfriend).
By a credulity-strainingly enormous coincidence, Chris moves in with
Erica and her housemates Caitlin and Leann. Graeme and Chris' relationship
is strained when Chris and Erica get it on, but friendship and common-sense
Chris and Erica worry that their respective best friends, Graeme and
Caitlin, don't like each other. But when left alone together in the garden
for a few minutes, what should Graeme and Caitlin be doing when Chris and
Erica return? Yes, that's right - snogging! How charming and
The blissful lives of the two couples are threatened when Graeme's psycho
housemate gives Caitlin and him a hard time for no apparent reason. The
foursome discuss how to deal with this, but don't actually do anything.
Climactically, Chris goes out late one night to buy some fags and gets
beaten up by a total stranger. The End.
So, not exactly Dr Zhivago, I think you'll agree. Written out as a
full script it didn't sound quite as bad as that synopsis probably does. My
main misgivings at the time were that it lacked focus, that the ending
seemed a bit 'so what', and that a lot of the dialogue was rubbish. The one
line that still sticks in my memory (like an icepick) is Graeme's, after
coming on too strong with Erica after their first meeting. 'I had to go
and offer her my tongue,' he laments, 'when a handshake would have
been more than sufficient'. Real people don't talk that way - good
grief, even characters in Kevin Smith movies don't talk that way.
I mentioned this to Matt - I think my exact words were 'the dialogue
could use a tiny bit of a polish' - and he proclaimed that that was fine
by him as long as it was done by the start of the read-through on Thursday
morning. He'd booked rooms in one of the polytechnic buildings up the road
for Thursday and Friday that week for this purpose. For the polish, it was
announced, I would receive a co-writer's credit - and would I like to be
Director of Photography as well? Well, Matt, if you absolutely
When I'd stopped grinning inanely I found Leann sitting next to me.
'You're going to be redoing the script?' she asked. I said I was.
'What do you think of my character?' Leann said. 'I think she could
appear in a few more scenes, just to flesh the character out a bit
Obviously in the English dialect, as opposed to egomaniac-speak, this
means 'I want a bigger part in this film' but I was drunk with power
and rather captivated by her already substantially fleshed-out cleavage.
'What did you have in mind,' I said.
'Well, how about a scene where she meets the psycho housemate and kicks
his a**e,' she suggested. I told her I'd get on it that very evening.
When she got up to powder her nose I asked Dave what his role was in the
great undertaking. Dave grinned. 'I'm playing the psycho housemate,' he
'That's interesting,' I said, thinking he looked a bit too young and soft
around the edges for it. My misgivings must must been obvious.
'No, really, watch this,' Dave said, taking his glasses off. 'This is my
psycho stare.' He furrowed his brow and squinted at the group with all the
menace he could muster. The effect was that of Porky Pig with constipation.
Dave's face slackened back to normal and he grinned again. 'See?'
'Uh, yeah. Wow,' I said, called upon for a spot of award-winning acting
myself. 'How on Earth do you manage it?'
He shrugged. 'I dunno, it just comes naturally. You've either got this
kind of character inside you or you haven't.'
A few minutes later his mobile phone rang. After taking the call Dave
made his apologies and got up to go. 'Me mam's just put me tea on,' he
After Hull's answer to Christopher Walken had trotted off home there was
an awkward silence in the pub, eventually broken by Caitlin. 'You know,
Matt, I don't think he's quite right for the part,' she said.
A strained-sounding grunt from our director indicated he was having
second thoughts too. 'But we start shooting next week and even if we could
find a replacement, there's still the awful ex-boyfriend to cast,' Erica
I heroically volunteered for the one-line role of Erica's awful
ex-boyfriend (the one line in question: 'You two look cosy'),
thinking if nothing else it would be easy enough to Method-act. And, I
added, I knew someone who might be good as the psycho housemate. 'Erica, you
remember Joe Twohy off our course?'
'Oh! Yes!' Her face lit up.
'I'll ask Joe,' I said.
Every now and then one of the tabloids runs a fluffy-animals story (the
subtext is always 'Aaaah!') about a little orphaned kitten that gets
adopted, improbably enough, by an enormous savage-looking rottweiler. That
was pretty much the way my relationship with my housemate Joe Twohy worked,
in that I was a straight-out-of-sixth-form upper-middle-class shlub who
didn't have a clue about virtually everything (still don't, but thanks for
asking), while Joe was a working-class feller from Liverpool without much of
an academic background but nearly forty years of clearly hard-won experience
behind him. He'd been a face on the Merseyside punk scene in the late 70s
and had at one time counted the likes of Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope
amongst his drinking buddies. He was rail-thin, shaven-headed, and taciturn
(think of an even more dead-eyed version of Robert Carlyle's character in
The World Is Not Enough; the resemblence is startling), with a
thousand-yard-stare of startling intensity: Joe could've won a staring
contest with a mirror. I should add that I nearly always found him
mild-mannered and placid of temperament, but the aura he gave off could be
I got home that night carrying a copy of the script and Matt's copy of
The Beginner's Guide to Cinematography. Joe was in the lounge-kitchen
watching The Naked Lunch on the TV.
'All right,' Joe said, not taking his eyes off the screen.
'All right. Joe, you know I'm doing this film?'
'Er - do you want to be in it?'
He looked at me. 'What, acting an' that?'
'Yeah. The bloke playing the bad guy's turned out to be cr*p. Erica and I
thought you might be better at it.'
Joe blinked. 'Yeah, okay,' he said, returning his attention to the film.
All in all, an easier sell than I'd expected.
I met up with Matt and Erica in the pub the next afternoon to start the
polish on the script. (Leann's requested scene was still on my desk at home,
half-written; the change in casting had made it a bit trickier to write as
the only way I could conceive of her kicking Joe's a**e was if she ran him
over in her car first.) We were aware that the read-through was less than
two days away and, more importantly, Neighbours was on in a couple of hours
and no way were we missing that.
Matt was delighted to hear that Joe was on board, and lo, the casting was
complete. Dave was relegated to the rank of extra (and behind-the-scenes
dogsbody). We settled down to do the rewrite. It soon emerged that Matt and
Erica were, in fact, married - news to me. I'd've figured it out eventually,
I expect, if only from the way the rewrite went.
The classic example came while we were working on the scene where Graeme
and Caitlin come back from Graeme's house having been threatened by Joe
(like most of the more interesting events of the story, this happened
off-screen). Caitlin is understandably distraught and in the original script
Erica had the line, 'Calm down, you're acting really extremely.' I
thought this was a fairly hopeless line and said as much, proposing
'You're being hysterical,' as a replacement. It was concise and
relevant and it sounded right. But...
'No,' said Erica. 'I'm not saying that.'
'Why not?' I asked.
'I don't like the word hysterical, it's an insult to the womb. Back in
the middle ages any time a woman breached the role defined for her by the
patriarchy they'd say she was acting hysterically and oppress her for it.
That's what it mean: overly influenced by the womb.'
'Oh,' I said. I had no idea that this was going to be such a politically
sophisticated film. 'But we're not using it to mean that, are we? I mean, it
fits, it's right for the scene... Matt, what do you think?'
Matt looked back and forth between me and Erica. It was obvious that this
decision would have major repercussions for the project, not the least of
which being that whomever he decided against, he would clearly not have the
option of doin' the jiggy with for some considerable time. Expressed in
those terms the sensible response was self-evident.
'I think Erica's right,' he said.
I never managed to break Erica's hold over Matt, but I could understand
his reasons. The rest of the rewrite went well enough, and Matt even went so
far as to say that after this film was finished he wanted me to help write
his first feature project (I assumed I'd still be subject to the rules of
Commissar Erica). So I was delighted all over again, by now fully sucked
into Matt's film-making fantasy world. They had non-film stuff to do the
next day, but the day after that was the start of the read-through.
I went home. On my face was a big dumb smile and in my head was a list of
new scenes to be written. Who knew what the future might hold? Well... only
someone with an even more significantly warped imagination than mine.
Next episode: a Steve Coogan impression gets a mixed response, and
your correspondent commits one of the gravest sins imaginable.