The British gangster movie Once Upon a Time in London is released today. The star, co-producer and co-writer is Terry Stone.
Once upon a time, in the 1990s, he used to organise raves under the name Terry Turbo.
How did that career change happen?
Last week, I asked him.
JOHN: Your first appearance as an actor was in ‘celebrity gangster’ Dave Courtney’s 2003 movie Hell To Pay (released in 2005). That must have been an interesting experience…
TERRY: I turned up on set. There was no script and I was told “You stand there” and I said “Well, what am I going to be doing?” and they said “Just stand there” and I said “Well, I’m not going to be in the fucking film, then. I’m not going to stand there and be an extra. You said: Do you wanna be in the film? I wanna be in the film.”
So the director gave me some lines.
Basically, the whole film was improvised with no script which, at the time, I thought was cool. But then, afterwards, I realised it was insane.
I said to the other actors: “I’ve really enjoyed being on this film. It’s been a lark. How do you go about getting into the business?”
They told me: “Do a showreel off this work, get some pictures done, send ‘em out and see if you can get an agent.”
I thought: Sounds really simple.
So I did that, got an agent, did a bit of EastEnders, The Bill, some theatre, My Family, the usual stuff that jobbing actors do. But, after a year… Well, anybody who’s a professional actor will tell you it’s a fucking hard life. There’s no money; there’s no work; any work you get is peanuts. You have to sweep floors, wait on tables, drive taxis – anything to just keep the lights on.
I thought: Y’know what? I’ve made a mistake here.
Because, before I got into acting, I used to run clubs all round the world.
A few of my friends who I’d told “I’ve sold my business; I’m gonna to become an actor” all asked me “How’s the acting going?”
I said to ‘em: “Not bad, but not great. I’m not earning enough money.”
At the time, I had a mortgage, a wife, a child.
I thought: I’ve made a massive mistake here.
A friend said: “What do you really wanna do?”
I said: “I actually wanna be in films.”
He said: You used to put on big events for 20,000, 30,000 people. How hard can it be to make a film?”
So I said: ”You got me thinking now. If I get a script, would you put some money in it?”
And he went: “I’ll put some money in.”
So I went round to all my mates and told ‘em: “Let’s all put some money in and make a film. It’ll be a laugh.”
That’s how I raised the money for my first film One Man and His Dog – and it was a dog, that film. But it was my film school. It was released and it went out in Holland, Germany. We got it out, which was an achievement, and we got 25% of our money back on it, which I thought was a disaster but, considering we didn’t know what we were doing, it was an achievement.
JOHN: How much did it cost?
Then a friend of mine in the club scene contacted me and said: “Have you ever thought about doing a movie on the black-on-black gun crime in London?” It was a kinda Boyz n the Hood kinda film: Rollin’ with the Nines.
It won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival in 2005 and the director Julian Gilbey was nominated for the Carl Foreman Award at the BAFTAs. We made that for £250,000.
And that gave us a stepping stone to do Rise of the Footsoldier, which was a £1.3 million budget.
JOHN: Based on Carlton Leach’s book.
TERRY: Yes, which I hadn’t read when he suggested to me it would make a good movie. I knew Carlton from club days and I thought: Who’s gonna wanna watch a film about a doorman? At the time, I didn’t know about his involvement in the Inter City Firm or The Essex Boys.
I read his book and thought: Fucking hell! It’s really interesting! And I thought: If I was to pitch the idea, it’s The Football Factorymeets Goodfellas.
So I paid someone to write the script and I developed and created the Rise of The Footsoldier franchise. I got the money together, made it and, since then, there’s been four of them. They’re just making the fourth one now; almost finished. It comes out in October.
After that, I did a film called Doghouse but what Rise of The Footsoldier did was allow me to be an actor AND a producer and the reason I’m glad I made that decision was because, when you’re not developing something, you’re raising money. When you’re not raising money, you’re making something. When you’re not making something, you’re acting in something. There’s always something to do.
At the moment, I’m still a jobbing actor. If a role comes along and I like it and it’s well-paid, I’ll do it. You need to pay the bills.
I suppose because I’ve got a low boredom threshold, I need to be entertained… constantly.
So what I’ve done is create a load of work for myself. But I enjoy it and now it’s my 17th year in the business. I’m an old boy now. (LAUGHS LOUDLY)
JOHN: When you were doing the raves, you blew up a police car on stage at Wembley.
TERRY: It was all about doing something different and making it fun. Let’s do some mad shit. Blowing up a police car on stage at Wembley was funny. Having Prince William and Prince Charles and the Queen lookalikes coming to the raves was funny.
JOHN: Once Upon a Time in London is about the pre-Krays era in crime – about Jack Spot and Billy Hill who most people have not heard of…
TERRY: I think the thing about the Krays was they were ‘celebrity gangsters’. They wanted people to know who they were which, obviously, was their downfall. Whereas, if you spoke to any other criminals, they’d always be like: No publicity; no pictures. We don’t want anybody to know what we’re doing.
JOHN: What’s interesting is that, in the 1920s, they were making films about Billy The Kid and Jesse James who were active in the 1870s and 1880s – which was 40 to 50 years before. Today, the Krays’ era was around 50 years ago. There comes a point where villains become acceptable anti-heroes or even heroes.
TERRY: All the films I’ve made have been based on true crime, but they don’t glamorise it. I’m not interested in doing pretend-gangster films about a load of wallies that don’t exist. I have always had an interest in true crime. I thought about making a film about Jack Spot and Billy Hill in 2010. But, back then, nobody was doing period crime films.
JOHN: The Kray era is period crime…
TERRY: But that was the 1960s. The Jack Spot story is 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Back in 2010, there was no Peaky Blinders, there was no Boardwalk Empire and I thought it was a bit of a risk. But then I heard Ray Winstone was gonna play both of the Krays in Legend (it was eventually made with Tom Hardy) and Peaky Blinders came on and I thought: Now’s the time to get this going…
It took a couple of years to get the money together and stuff but what fascinates me is that Once Upon a Time in London is about the birth of organised crime here. There’s always been crime in this country since probably the Stone Age. But actual organised crime where people have protection rackets, prostitutes working for them, they had bookmakers, they had spielers, they had restaurants, they had clubs. And you had the backdrop of the Second World War – rationing stamps, people didn’t have any money, people had lost their homes – we were fucked – So these criminals thought: There’s an opportunity here, boys! Let’s make some money!
JOHN: I don’t remember any other British gangster film focusing on the Jewish angle. Once Upon a Time in London starts with Oswald Mosley’s plans to march his blackshirts through the East End in 1936, which resulted in the Battle of Cable Street…
TERRY: I think Once Upon a Time in London is the first British Jewish gangster film.
JOHN: Now there a marketing opportunity.
TERRY: I was on page 3 of the Jewish Chronicle… (LAUGHS) fully-clothed!.. The woman who interviewed me asked: “Why are you making a film to glamorize Jewish gangsters? It’s something that, really, we want to forget about.”
I said: “Listen, there’s nothing glamorous about what happened to Jack Spot…”
… CONTINUED HERE…