Interview: Andrew Dominik (film director)
Date: August 2000
Location: 2 Floors Bar, Soho, London
Words / interview: Des Berry
2010: Setting the scene :
Wow! Time flies. Is it really 10 years ago since I was doing this writing malarky. As well as doing the music stuff for Breakin’ Point I had now started doing a few film reviews under the name ‘George Arthur’. As a result I got the opportunity to go see a few films upfront in the preview rooms around Soho and even attend a premiere of a ropey British flick.
However there was one highlight and that was seeing an upfront screening of ‘Chopper’ and then getting the opportunity to interview the director a few weeks later. We met downstairs in a bar off Regent Street and Andrew was really chatty and friendly. The only trouble was he was a bit deaf. Back to 2000…
Not since Alf got really moody on ‘Home & Away’ or Max Rockatansky whipped the Toecutter’s ass in ‘Mad Max’ have we seen this level of violence from down under. Then again there was ‘Rompa Stompa’ and ‘Chopper’ comes close to beating that in the ultra violence stakes.
Based on the true story of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Chopper is Australia’s answer to gangsters like Capone and the Krays. A failed criminal serving a sentence in the maximum security prisons of Melbourne. Chopper deals in the only currency he knows. Violence.
Fearing for their lives after Chopper kills a prison rival, his cell mates turn on him which in turn leads to his eventual release from the H Division. On the outside life is pretty similar and Chopper takes pleasure in his belief that the police have given him a green light to exterminate the ‘scum’. As a one man arsenal and fearing a contract out on his life he visits his old associates to seek havoc and revenge.
We hooked up recently with Andrew Dominik, the director of ‘Chopper’ and asked him more about the life of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read and how he went about making this controversial film.
“Chopper was never a serious criminal like the Krays. He was, and still is, a big mouth. The Krays ran the east end of London, Chopper is more a loose cannon. Crazy, a clown and prince of crime. He certainly never had anything organised”.
Choppers life in prison started due his fumbling attempt at a kidnapping. After and during spells in prison he has written a book about his life. It is an over exaggerated account of his career in crime. Its subsequent success and backed with his reputation, Chopper has become something of folk hero.
“Well he’s not really a folk hero in the sense of Ned Kelly or Robin Hood. Theres nothing brave about him, but he’s very charming. Thats why he is famous. Not for the crimes, but how entertaining he is talking about them. He’s made himself a notorious character.”
Chopper was approached initially about the film and how he might be portrayed but he declined to co-operate. Later he changed his mind and together with producer Michele Bennett, they met with Chopper in prison.
“I wrote him a letter and he was not interested on collaborating. Which was a surprise as he’s always after self promotion. And I thought he’d want some control over his public image. But he said he was not interested in how he saw himself rather how other people did. Therefore he did not want to meet.”
Michelle and I researched his life, but then after three years he wanted to meet us. It was a huge thing. From doing the research I was writing a character that was very different from that in the books. In real life he’s a lot more insecure, a lot more pathological, more hypocritical, but in the books he’s more like a Charles Bronson. The lesser of two warring evils.”
“On meeting him you feel like you are on the end of a very interesting monologue. He spent most of the first time I met him trying to work out what I wanted him to be and therefore trying to become that for me.”
“Gradually he revealed more about himself. Things that he was uncomfortable with. He was curious to know what a normal person feels about a person like him.”
“He lied. He lies continuously. He’s the least reliable source of information.”
The film is great in detailing Choppers life and time in prison how was the information obtained?
“Mainly police and other criminals. These are well documented crimes. We just looked at trials, handout briefs, statements. There was a wealth of information.”
And after all that has Chopper seen the film?
“Yeah. His reaction to the film has been good. We were terrified of how he would see himself. He refused to read the script. I was more worried that he would feel betrayed or humiliated then the actual threat of violence. Although there were times, when he would get anxious.”
Michelle the producer was the one who dealt with him the most on a daily basis, meeting him more times then Andrew. Apparently she would get phone calls from friends of Choppers at 6am in the morning and there where many moments of fear.
“On the whole he was quite moved by the film. It was not the film he was expecting. He felt the portrayal of him was pretty fair. He felt he came across as pretty crazy. And thats the way he must have been. We don’t know how much of it is him been honest or how much of it is him re-writing his myth to fit the film.
The lead role played by Australian comedian Eric Bana. Eric is a household name and is probably the equivalent of say Shane Ritchie. How did Eric get chosen for the part?
“We’d tested everyone. And we couldn’t find anyone we liked. Then Chopper wrote us a letter and suggested Eric. Its hard for you guys to appreciate who Eric is as you have no idea about him. In Australia he does TV variety shows. He’s very pleasant. He’s even nice to hecklers!”
“But he is just like Chopper. Mark ‘Chopper’ Read’s father, who is not too sane was convinced it was his son! He actually thought it was Mark. Like somehow we’d got this footage from ’86 and cut it in with the film. He could not tell the difference.”
Chopper is full of style, humour and most obviously violence. It has received some controversy back home in Australia.
“We had a week when we had some very nasty press and I had to do talk back radio with shock jocks, but they could not get any of their callers to agree with them. Which was funny. thats what I’d expected but the articles have all touch on the violence element. Its not really the portrayal of Chopper the individual, but rather the portrayal of violence on the screen that causes trouble.”
An edited version of this interview appeared in Breakin’ Point Nov / Dec 2000 Vol 2 issue 4
Originally published in Breakin’ Point 04.02 Nov / Dec 01