To a generation he’ll always be the smart-ass American kid, Spike, on the British youth drama, Press Gang. These days, though, acting veteran Dexter Fletcher can also be found behind the camera, having now directed two well-received films, including the new cinematic release, Sunshine On Leith.
Fletcher’s move to the director’s chair was motivated by some less-than-thrilling experiences on a few less-than-great films. As he explains, “I’ve been acting for a long time, for the best part of 40 years, and I done a coupla films a few years ago that just weren’t the greatest films. There were some guys who raised the money who didn’t know anything about making films and I thought, well, if these guys can do it, surely I can do it, and I think I know a bit more about making films. So I decided to act upon that notion – I thought, if I really genuinely believe that, then I should do something about it. So I did; I got together a script and took it round to producers and Wild Bill came about.”
The tough but tender story of a recent parolee trying to bond with his two young sons, Wild Bill stood out from the usual crowd fo British crime flicks and struck a chord with both audiences and critics. “People said it was really good and I thought, ‘Oh well, that’s nice.’ And then they asked me if I’d make another film. The great thing about a career is that it sort of takes different avenues, doesn’t it? It doesn’t stay on the same track. So I thought, if I’ve been presented with an opportunity that I’ve created, I should take it seriously. So that’s really where it kind of came about.”
Thus we have Sunshine On Leith, an Edinburgh-set jukebox musical built around, of all things, the music of the Scottish folk-pop duo, The Proclaimers. It seems like an odd move after Wild Bill‘s grim ‘n’ gritty London underworld shenanigans, but Fletcher disagrees.
“It was the material,” he insists. “I read a lot of scripts after Wild Bill. People offered me a lot of different kind of stuff and invariably it was all about drugs or gangsters or hooligans. I tried to make Wild Bill as an antidote to all these British films that are just about thugs. I actually wanted to show that a film like that could have heart and could be about real things and actually be responsible and not irresponsible – that was really what Wild Bill was about. And when Leith came along it was much more interesting to me because it was about a family again trying to find their way through really tough times and it was about young men returning from a war and trying to find a way to fit back into their life even though they’ve been so dramatically changed. These for me were interesting subjects; these were things about real people and real human conditions rather than ‘Oh, can we get the bag of drugs from one side of town to another’ – stuff that we’ve all seen before.”
Having practically grown up on set, Fletcher can cite some impressive influences on his directorial style. “Well, I think probably Alan Parker would be one of the first people I would say, because one of the first films I did was (truly weird child musical) Bugsy Malone back 40 years ago. And Alan was someone who put a lot energy, creativity, enthusiasm and excitement into a set. And I kind of bumped into him over the years from time to time when I was acting, but then when he saw Wild Bill our relationship kind of developed again from that. With Sunshine On Leith being a musical, and him having done quite a few musicals, he was someone that I listed to very closely. And I think that Sir Alan is somebody who’s helped me out a lot.
“But also I worked with David Lynch when I was 14 (on The Elephant Man). I was lucky enough to be on set with him and, there again, there was someone who brought huge intelligence and enthusiasm to the set and would do things very ‘in the moment,’ which I like to do as well – it’s about taking what’s happening around on the set and using those moments to be part of the creative process. I think, especially as a kid, you just sort of glean and soak stuff up as it goes along. I’ve worked with a lot of great people; I’ve been very lucky.”
Read our review of Sunshine On Leith here.