Exclusive Interview with Tony director Gerard Johnson

Recent British release Tony was made on an incredibly small budget of £40 000 and we got hold of the films director Gerard Johnson for an exclusive interview.

The film  was released with the tagline ‘London Serial Killer’. Do you think this spoils the film for viewers slightly?

It was not my idea, the films title is just Tony, the London serial killer bit is just a tagline. However.. I’m not in Jam Jarmusch’s position so I can understand that it’s going to be marketed as a serial killer film.  The good thing was when we showed it at Film Festivals and in the United States, nobody knew this so there was the sudden element of surprise there.

Was the Dennis Nilson case influential? (Nilson was an infamous 1980’s British serial killer)

The Nilson case I remember as a child. The thought of him chatting to dead bodies in his flat stayed with me for years and I remembered that from my childhood, it gave me nightmares. I wanted to touch on a guy who under first appearances is not what he seems. You come across him and then you find out he keeps little friends in his cupboards locked up and tucked in bed with him.

Tony has been compared to the social realist films of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach – are you a fan of social realism?

I’ve seen a lot of them. Bronco Bullfrog was a big influence and a lot of the kitchen sink films,  Alan Clarke’s films were more of an influence than Mike Leigh’s though. Tony is trying to mix my two loves; the social realism and the serial killer genre. I wanted to make a film about someone who’s a lonely guy who just happens to kill people.

Tony goes to gay bars but also attempts to use a prostitute – what’s the deal with his sexuality?

He’s very confused. He does feel attracted to men but not in a capacity where he wants to have sex with them: he wants a cuddle. At the same time he’s attracted to women but he wouldn’t have the guts to do anything. He’s not quite sure because he was abused as a child, and never had any guidelines on how to behave. He gets them all from films.

The film is produced by Paul Abbot of Shameless and State Of Play fame – how did you get together with him?

I’ve known Paul for a few years. We met through a mutual friend and he was a big fan of the shorts I did. When I did the Tony short I invited him along to the screening and the next day he invited me to his office and asked if I’d like to turn it into a feature. That was in 2006. We had to go off and develop it, get the funding, shoot it, edit it. It’s taken a long long time.

With such a small budget shooting on real film must have taken up a lot of the money?

When we started we were worrying about the stock. But because we had a six month rehearsal period we all knew pretty much what we were going to do so as soon as we got on set. As the first couple of days got out of the way we started to relax more and we had enough stock. Our DOP David Higgs had just come from Rocknrolla where he used Fuji and Technicolor so we managed to use them off the back of that, but it probably wouldn’t have been possible to shoot it on film without that. When it became a possibility I was overjoyed to shoot it on film. Its different working with film, there’s no comparison.

One of the things that impressed me was the quality of the acting – how did you cast the film?

I cast it all myself. I used non-actors and actors, and a lot of the people had never acted before. A lot of the actors are really close to the characters they play: if you’re using real people it’s better to cast them very close to their own personality.  I was offered a couple of bigger names, not too big, but recognisable faces. But it wasn’t right for this. I wanted it to be completely authentic, almost like a fly on the wall documentary.

The film is only 74 minutes did you ever considering stretching it to 90 minutes?

I always wanted to make it about 80 minutes. I wanted it as a character study and to be quite episodic so shorter is better, its punchier and it gets the point across. Nothing much happens and that’s real life.

Tony has been compared to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Taxi Driver – were these films influential to you when making the film?

Taxi Driver is probably my favourite film of all time so there’s definitely an influence there. Henry was a big influence as well. I wanted to do a social realist take on the subject though. Henry was always a favourite –  I loved the atmosphere and the mood.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a London based film about a bent cop and Peter Ferdinando [who played Tony] will be in it again.

Tony is available now on DVD

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