WHAT RIZ AHMED HAS TO SAY ABOUT “ill Manors”
The character I play in iLL Manors is called Aaron. He’s a young guy who doesn’t have much family and doesn’t have that much direction in life. He’s a small time drug dealer who works under his best friend, who is also kind of his boss Ed, who is played by Ed Skrein.
During the course of the film what we see are kind of small events that kind of add up to throw his life completely off track from where it was headed. It’s really down to him to decide whether that new direction is something he wants to embrace or not. I don’t want to give too much away because the journey of this character and also a lot of the characters in iLL Manors is really unexpected. None of its cliché, it’s kind of hard hitting and surprising stuff. Hopefully that’s a journey that the audience will go on with the characters.
From my character’s point of view he starts off the day selling drugs as normal until him and his friend Ed gets stopped by the police. They have to run away and Ed gets arrested. Aaron has to hold down the fort for one night and things really spiral out of control when he loses Ed’s phone because that phone is really important, it’s what the drug addicts phone, it’s the number they know if they want to get some drugs. So he loses that phone and then they have to go on a crazy mission to get the phone back, which involves this drug addicted prostitution played by Anouska Mond called Michelle.
Just when he thinks that’s sorted out, he gets left with an abandon baby. He then tries to take care of the baby and reunite the baby with it’s mother, whose an east European sex traffic prostitute called Katya played by Natalie Press. The decision he has to face, is whether he’s going to fight for this child and fight the corner of this mother who abandon her child. We learn later on in the film that Aaron is actually someone who was abandon as a child who grew up in foster care, without a family and experienced the worse elements of a loveless upbringing. So really this child’s predicament is his own in a way. If he decides to support that mother and fight her corner, in a way it will be a step towards his own kind of closure.
A lot of the material in iLL Manors is really hard hitting and eye opening, but it’s based on reality. Ben’s kind of drawn on his own experiences but also experiences that he has grown up around and the neighbourhood he’s from. I think it’s important that people see these sometimes disturbing scenes particularly if they’re not being glorified or shown as bleak and as gritty as the reality is. Personally I think it’s more disturbing if we’re showing violence for example on the screens and it’s completely sanitized.
Violence has consequences. You punch someone in the face and it’s really messy. I think there’s social responsibility for filmmakers to show that mess and I think that’s all that Ben has done here. He’s kind of shown us that mess we live around and sometimes it gets swept under the carpet. I’ve known Ben for a few years.
DNR films kind of put us in touch. They’re a small production outfit that have worked on a lot of my videos and a lot of Ben’s stuff. They were one of the central planks in the whole iLL Manors project from script to rehearsals to post production. They were shooting my music video for ‘Soar Times’ and they asked Ben if he wanted to be in it. Ben knew the track and said yes and since then we collaborated on this track called ‘Shifty’ for a film I was in. We then did iLL Manors. Ben since then done a track with me called ‘All Of You’ and obviously been his music video. He’s someone I’ve collaborated with a few times and I really respect what he does. I was really glad to know that he has appreciated my work as well, so he just reached out to me. I thought it was a really ambitious intricate film, just the structure of it more than anything for the way it hits you.
The way it kinds of pursues so many different characters and all their lives interlink, that something I really loved when I first saw ‘Pulp Fiction’ for example. I really love films like ‘City of God’ and in lots of ways, iLL Manors reminds me of those films and reminds me of multi-generational crime dynasty and the rough side of life like ‘City of God’. It reminds me of that crazy things that are happening when characters live on the wrong side of the law. It happens in ‘Pulp Fiction’, so that was really exciting. I also remember when I first spoke to Ben on the phone. He didn’t say ‘Listen Riz please, I really want you to do this role’. About this film, the first time he phoned me up he said “Riz, I don’t know if you can do this. You’re not this enough, you’re not that enough” and I think as an actor, it makes you go hang on a minute, I think I can do this. I dunno if this was reverse sociology, or if he really just didn’t have any faith in me, but it worked.
The character was someone who I felt like I hadn’t played before because he’s someone who lives in a really kind of tough environment, but who is really vulnerable. He’s a lot softer than he’s forced to make out, so I thought that was a really interesting combination. I think hopefully we can all relate to the character and to characters in this film in general, even if our lives aren’t as messy or troubled as theirs. For me it was in terms of getting into the character, hopefully it’s the same journey that the audience will go on, which is that it’s not necessarily the same as my life at all, but the writing and the characterization of the story kind of draws you into it until you invest enough and you feel like that person is fighting your battle. So that’s the kind of journey I went on acting in and hopefully that’s something the audience will go on as well. This was a really rehearsal intensive process.
The script change a lot in iLL Manors all the way from rehearsals, during shooting into the edit. There where a lot of re-shoots. Ben’s really a perfectionist and he didn’t stop tinkering at this project and I don’t blame him. He’s really ambitious and it’s very intricate story-wise. The rehearsals were really a big part of my preparation for this role. We spent a couple of weeks with Ben and Ed just working through a lot of different scenes, talking through lots of different aspects of the character and their back story. It’s always a luxury if you’re able to do that on a film – to have a lot of rehearsals.
I’m really familiar with Ben’s work. I loved his first album and ever since we linked up and started collaborating together on music, videos and tracks, we kind of struck up a friendship and we keep in touch as much as his insane schedule allows. So I’m really familiar with his work and I remember actually once when I went to his house and he was telling me about iLL Manors for the first time. He played me some of the ‘Strickland Banks’ album in his car and I remember thinking mate, “Are you ready for this?” and I just remember thinking this is going to be huge. So I have been following him for a while. He’s great to work with because he has got a really clear idea of what he wants and I think that’s a reassuring element in a director if they have a really clear idea of what they want, but at the same time if they’re too prescriptive it can be a bit suffocating.
So Ben had a really nice mix between being very clear of what he wants but was also very relaxed about how you gave it to him in terms of the lines you said or what the blocking was. There was no kind of ‘you got to hit the mark’, so there was a good balance of a lot of freedom and a lot of the director’s vision holding it together. I came to meet Ben through DNR films, who have worked on my music videos and who have worked with Ben a lot in the past. They were the central thread towards the iLL Manors project. They edited it, they were there during rehearsals, SFX, post production and supervision. It was really through Thorough where I meet Ben and also that was another kind of link into the film for me, where I felt like this is a film of friends and family and I felt like this is a film I want to be involved in. It’s quite likely me and Ben will probably work together, but I’m not sure when and I’m not sure what on.