Blackball: Movie Feature & Interviews

Posted in Interviews on August, 23 2003 9:51 PM


A British Film directed by Mel Smith


Blackball 1Some people may remember, a couple of years ago, a bizarre story doing the rounds in the media.  A story set in the glamorous, other-world that is Crown Green Bowls.  Bowler Griff Sanders was believed by some in the sport to be one of the best in the country, and well on his way to making it into the England International Team. 


However, he had a few handicaps over the other players at his club.  He didn't drive a  Volvo, wear V-Neck jumpers, or share coffee mornings with an antique dealers.  Griff was a little more 'rough around the edges'.  His appearance did not fit with the stereotypical middle-class Blackball 2 elderly crown-green bowls player.  Not only this but his 'yobbish' conduct on the green caused more friction than a friction-engine being dragged across friction-paper in a special capsule of some sort (possibly in a science lab) that magnifies the effects of friction (for unknown scientific purposes).  So that's a fair amount of friction.  In particular, this friction came to a head with the United Kingdom Bowls Committee, whom after complaint about his conduct issued a ban, preventing Sanders from Bowling for 10 years.


This amusing story caught the attention and imaginations of top British comedy writers Mel Smith and Tim Firth, who thought that they could write a good comedy film about the incident.  And they were right!  Blackball tells this story, with Paul Kaye (best known as BBC2's nightmare celebrity interviewer Dennis Pennis) who plays the unconventional bowler.  Kaye stars alongside top stand-up comic Johnny Vegas. caught up with the cast and director to get their views on the forthcoming film.  Interviews can be found below by clicking your mouse-pointer-type-thing in a downwardly scrolling direction.






Blackball Interviews


Paul Kaye (Playing Cliff Starkey)


What were the challenges of the role?


Paul:  On the opening page when I make my appearance it says the character strolls up looking like a cross between Liam Gallagher and Jesus Christ, and I thought that was a challenge because I prefer Blur and I'm Jewish.


What did you think about the genre?


Paul:  We think about it as a sort of cowboy movie, you get your 'Spaghetti Westerns', well this is a 'Fish'n'Chips Western'…. Set in Torquay.


What attracted you to do this film?


Paul:  Well, I always wanted to do a film before I was 38, and managed to squeeze this one in with about 3 days to spare!  But really, working with Mel and working with this cast is just incredible;  and all the people coming in for cameos are amazing.  It's got such a great cast list that working with all these people is a great experience for me having never done a film.



Johnny Vegas (Playing Trevor)


Have you ever bowled yourself?


Johnny:  Yes I've bowled.  In fact I'm the only person who I think has actually bowled for pleasure and probably could have turned pro, or at least I kid myself sometimes, when I drink gin.  I have actually done crown green bowling, I don't bowl in this, but I have long been associated with it.


Really?  Where did you bowl?


Johnny: I bowled at a slightly down-market, less exclusive club, which was more of a "Please, for god sake just keep your underwear on"-type place.  I think I'm moving up in the world, I want to try croquet next, and archery,  I'll set up a club for gentlemanly persuits.  But our bowling team, it was more about alcoholics standing round a green shouting verbal abuse at each other.


What do you think will appeal to the audience?


Johnny: It's got sex, it's got violence, it's got rock and roll, all combined with bowls… combined with this stand-up who for some bizarre reason thought he could act.



Mel Smith (Director)


Is it true that this film is based on a true story?

Mel: Yes, it is based on a true story, and it's a story that the writer Tim Firth and myself happened to read on the same day, in the Daily Telegraph I believe.  He said "I've just read this incredible story about a young bloke who…"  - and I interrupted him and said "I know exactly what you're going to say, it's the bowls story isn't it."  It just amused both of us enormously, because it was and still is something that remains one of those bizarre sports stories, just the idea that a man can be banned from playing bowls for 10 years.  As one of the characters in the film says: "Eric Cantona only got banned for eight weeks, and he kicked someone in the head!"




The History Behind BlackBall


Blackball 3Just over two years ago, British screenwriter and playwright Tim Firth had a chance encounter with a newspaper in his bathroom that sparked a series of events leading to the birth of BLACKBALL, a comedy feature set in the heady world of lawn bowls. 

Cheshire-based Firth takes up the story, "I was about to throw away some old newspapers that were in my toilet at home and I happened to fold a copy of The Independent to the left instead of to the right in order to fit it in the bin.  This revealed a photo of a nutter in mid-air with a bowl in his hand and an inner page story that I would otherwise never have seen.  The nutter was Griff Sanders".


Director Mel Smith and his producing partner in Midfield Films, James Gay-Rees had been looking to collaborate with Firth for some time after giving Firth some script notes on the screen version of his play Neville's Island, which Firth found very helpful.  They invited him in to their Soho offices to discuss another possible project.  When he arrived, Firth slapped the Griff Sanders cutting on the table, "By coincidence Mel recalled seeing a story on the guy some weeks before in the Telegraph and got the vibe immediately.  It was all about chance, a folded newspaper and good timing" concludes Firth.

The whole Griff Sanders story had amused and intrigued director Mel Smith just as much as Firth. Smith takes up the story "The idea that a young man can be banned from playing bowls for ten years, when Eric Cantona only got eight weeks for kicking someone in the head, makes it one of the most bizarre sports stories ever.  Griff was a thorn in the side of this particular bowls club and there were daggers drawn between he and the guy who ran it.  He was an outstanding player and still is, but he was very rebellious and funny and would march onto the green with a can of beer in hand, pretending to be drunk, pick up the bowl with his feet and do all sorts of tricks.  The crowds loved him, but of course the people who took the sport too seriously hated him and found a way of getting rid of him".

Keen to gain first-hand experience of the social world that Sanders had come up against, Firth took a trip to Torquay to meet the man and soak up the bowls environment.   "I went down full of preconceptions about the staid, reactionary mindset of the south coast but thought it couldn't really be that bad and that I should be more liberal about it.  I checked into my hotel and asked the girl on reception if she could recommend some good restaurants, she said No.  I replied with a Pardon?   She shrugged apologetically and informed me that the manager had told her she was only allowed to tell people about the hotel restaurant!"


Two years of research, preparation, casting and funding passed before cameras finally rolled in the autumn of 2002, "I can even remember travelling back from a family holiday at Eurodisney to watch a bloody bowls match for my research" recalls Firth.



BlackBall is due to be released to Cinemas in the UK on the 5th September.


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