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Nick Moran: “I look back with fondness at the fact I was sort of ‘prince of my era’. I rang the nuts out of it and couldn’t have had more fun.”

| Cinema | 31/03/2017

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Nick Moran was once one of the leading lights of the British film industry.  After nailing the lead role in Guy Ritchie’s cult classic Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1997, he had the world – and its myriad pleasures – at his feet.  In the following years, his work was a mixed bag, with solid turns in the likes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows being offset by sloppier movements in Soccer Dog: European Cup.

But Moran’s now making impressive strides as a film director and returns to the big screen today in Caradog James’ new horror-thriller Don’t Knock Twice.  Ahead of the film’s release, Moran spoke to Ian Cater about filmmaking, the ‘un-bankable’ Casey Affleck and partying with Hugh Hefner.

Don’t Knock Twice, released today, is a promising supernatural thriller from the team behind acclaimed sci-fi drama The Machine.  It tells the story of a mother (Katee Sackhoff) trying to rebuild a relationship with her estranged daughter (Lucy Boynton), who awoke the spirit of a demonic witch.  Amidst familial tension and terrifying goings on, Nick Moran makes a welcome appearance as Detective Boardman, investigating the daughter’s disappearance.  But if Moran is forced to play second fiddle in the film, his ardour for its final form comes through loud and clear.

3“People are really enthusiastic about the film,” he says in his trademark Estuary English, “and I’m proud to have it in my little catalogue.  It definitely goes to the thick end of decent films I’ve been in.  There are two fantastic performances from Katee and Lucy.”

Moran’s an engaging conversationalist, warmly sprinkling his sentences with a fistful of phrases betraying the fact he’s nearly 50.  But you quickly sense he has little time for bullshit, and isn’t just talking up the film for the sake of positive PR.

“I saw Caradog’s first film, The Machine, and know he had ‘two and six’ to make it with.  It was phenomenal though, so I jumped at the chance to get involved in this one.  I knew it’d be good, but when you do a horror film you don’t get to see it.  It’s a bit of green screen behind you.  And I’ve got a very straight part, so I’m not aware of all the supernatural stuff until I end up going to see it in the cinema.  But it’s so well executed.  I think it’s just as good as The Ring or any of those American counterpoint horror movies it’ll be compared to – both structurally and in execution.”

Hammer horror

It represents Moran’s first serious foray into horror, a genre he’s only recently warmed to.  “I’ve not done much horror as it’s not been my thing,” he admits.  “There were a couple.  I had fun in Morocco shooting a mummy movie, called Prisoners of the Sun, that never saw the light of day.  And I did a zombie flick called 13 Eerie, which I thought was great.  But zombie fans are very bunch and they didn’t like it one bit.  I had a good time though: I turned into a zombie, attacked people and then got shot in the head.  What’s not to like?”

2“I don’t want to bash horror.  There’s some I love, like The Exorcist, Alien or Jaws, which are fantastic pieces of filmmaking.  When great directors turn their hand to horror, they’re just as credible movies as any other.  But I think intelligent thrillers are more disturbing than watching blood and snot fly everywhere in a slasher movie.”

So what’s the key to scaring people?  “With sensible horror, you can really have a hit if you make people believe it’s real.  It sounds obvious, but give people a realistic enough plot they can relate to – for example, where a kid’s gone missing – then you can scare the shit out of them.  You have to make people believe in the Devil and it’s quite easy to do that if you keep a straight face.  That’s how religion works.

“Even though I’m probably not the biggest fan of horror films, I’m the biggest fan of horror fans.  They’re the best of the film lover cliques – just the most supportive, giving bunch.  I think they’ll like this film and I’ve got another thriller – Crow – coming out later in the year that should do well.”

New direction

Moran has plenty in the pipeline after a few years in which his acting roles were largely restricted to TV dramas such as DCI Banks and Mr Selfridge.  That was partly his choice, reflecting a new focus on directing which led Moran to turn down a part in Game of Thrones.  In 2008, he co-wrote and directed Telstar: The Joe Meek Story, a biopic about a flamboyant, self-taught ’60s songwriter.  Two years later, he took on The Kid, telling the story of a young man (played by Homeland‘s Rupert Friend) striving to succeed after a childhood of abuse and foster care.  Moran did much of the filming at the rundown South Oxhey council estate where he grew up near Watford.  He describes directing as “the best job in the world” and says he would dedicate all his time to it if he could.

“The third movie’s the big thing,” he says, “because that’s the one when you get more money and exposure.”  He mentions his friend and fellow Lock, Stock star, Dexter Fletcher, who directed his third film – Eddie the Eagle – last year.  “Dexter’s beaten me to the punch!  I’ve spent four years in limbo, trying to get the third film off the ground.  I had it all lined up, had a big star onboard – which would’ve bankrolled it – and then it all went away.”

Moran’s talking about The Apologist, a dark story about a man with cancer who tries to apologise to a girl he humiliated at school.  “Oh, God!  The stories behind that film!” he says through gritted teeth.  “First they said: ‘It’s a good script, but it’s too dark.’  Then we had Casey Affleck attached and they said: ‘Sorry, Casey’s not bankable.’  So there was more delay.  Then I was told later that: ‘We can’t get Casey now, as he’s about to win an Oscar.’  He went from un-bankable to un-getable overnight.”  The frustration drains away and Moran returns to a knowing chuckle.  “Oh, I can’t keep up with it.  It’s a world of nonsense.”

He’s now attached to a couple of projects in a directing capacity.  “The Apologist might happen, now Manchester By The Sea has shown you can do a fairly successful movie about cancer,” he grins.  “I’ve also been working with Irvine Welsh on the Alan McGee autobiography, which might be up next.  Hopefully I’ll be back in the saddle this year, but it’s a slow old process.  Look at Scorsese: he’s been trying to make a Sinatra film for 20 years!”

This moves us onto Moran’s other great passion: music.  “I love Sinatra.  Me and Jamie Cullum – before he got signed – had this band called Syndicate, and we used to do ‘Frank sings the best of the Sex Pistols’ at Café de Paris.  I haven’t done it in years but it was brilliant fun.”  Moran hasn’t let his musical talents wither.  “All the guitar music in The Kid is me.  So listen out for the anarchic guitar solo in the main fight scene.”

Lock down

We soon get to Lock, Stock – a film with a superbly eclectic soundtrack, ranging from James Brown and Dusty Springfield, to The Stooges and Junior Murvin.  I ask Moran if he picked up any musical tips from his father in that film: a certain Gordon Sumner, aka Sting.  He creases up with laughter.

“Me and him were sharing a tiny little trailer and I walked in one day as he was strumming on my guitar.  I went: ‘Oh, ‘ello, mate.  Didn’t know you played?’  Sting says: ‘Aye, I play a bit.  Do you?’  So I grabbed it off him and started playing the difficult riff in Message in a Bottle until he told me to fuck off.  He was great – really down to earth and funny.  We used to have lots of obscure music chats.”

e3fa60d0d73308a5d696a9f5cb42070bAlthough that was nearly 20 years ago, Moran loves to be reminded of his most well-known work to date.  “It’s wonderful that the film hasn’t gone away,” he beams.  “It was great to be involved in something that’s stood the test of time … and then some.  That and Trainspotting really sum up that period.  I still catch up with Dexter and [Jason] Flemyng quite a bit.  And Guy’s my next-door neighbour, so I see him all the time with a baby over his shoulder while I’m carrying the bins.  He’s got a much bigger house, but it’s the same postcode!”

Whichever celebrity Moran spots across Fitzroy Square, it’s unlikely to top a day in 1999 that he still counts among his most memorable.  “I went to this Tibetan Peace Gala that Trudi Styler had organized at the Imperial War Museum.  We got ushered past all these monks and got to meet the Dalai Lama, which of course was a huge honour.

“Later on, I flew to Cannes and got a stack of invites to parties, one of which was on Hugh Hefner’s boat.  I said: ‘I’ll ‘ave a bit of that!’  I got talking to the Hef and he said he was speaking with people about a biopic.  So I said: ‘Please can I play you, mate?  Please?!  I could neck Viagra and stroll around in me pajamas all day – I’d be brilliant.’  I’m sure he went to have a word with his security after that.  Yeah, that was an interesting day: bowing to the Dalai Lama at midday and necking a cocktail with Hugh Hefner at midnight.  Those vectors rarely cross but they did that day.”

He pauses and laughs, with no hint of regret or envy for his younger self.  “I look back with fondness at the fact I was sort of ‘prince of my era’.  It may have only been for 18 months, but I rang the nuts out of it and couldn’t have had more fun.  And that’s all you’re left with at the end, isn’t it?”

Don’t Knock Twice is available in UK cinemas and on demand from 31st March 2017.  Check local listings for further details.  To see the trailer, head here.

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