One of the best films at Sitges 2014 was not, in fact, a fantasy or horror story, but rather a brutal and fun-as-hell action adventure called Montana, which screened towards the end of the first weekend of the festival. It was a high-octane escape from the genre fare, and unapologetically awesome from the first shot to the last. Borrowing from classic action cinema, with many stylistic additions to amp up the experience, director Mo Ali’s second feature film left quite an impression.
The film, set in the grittiest streets of East London, focuses on a teenager named Montana, expertly played by McKell David, who’s grown up amidst criminals and gangsters. After a drug delivery goes awry, the mobsters who’ve become Montana’s surrogate family are ordered to disappear him. The boy is saved from a tragic demise, however, by an ex-assassin who’s sworn revenge on the East London mob boss who, years earlier, tortured him and killed his family during war in Serbia. Lars Mikkelsen, as thoroughly calm and badass as usual, plays the assassin Dimitrije, a broken but still lethal killer.
Dimitrije and Montana, realizing they now share a vendetta, team up to take down the crime syndicate. Their relationship story is like The Karate Kid (the new one) with balls, and is actually pretty touching, seeing as their father/son thing results in a body count that would make most high budget action flicks take notice. So many people get offed in this film, but somehow it manages to maintain some soul. Think a grittier and more honest Kick-Ass or Super.
After getting to see the film, an awesome event not only cause the film was enjoyable but also because the crowd got super into it and cheered when villains got taken down, I got to briefly speak with Brad Moore, who portrayed the pristinely unlikable Detective Phelps. It was almost surprising to meet the charming actor who, just moments before, was conniving, corrupt, and snorting cocaine at the precinct on the big screen. Just the kind of mental collapse I’d grown to love at Sitges 2014.
Sitting in the lovely patio at the Retiro theater while being encircled by a photographer, Moore and I discussed his career in film, his role in Montana, how he felt about the film’s outlook on violence, and his future in the industry. It was an illuminating little discussion, and appears all edited and nice for you readers. Warning: a few spoilers ahead.
What is your history in the entertainment and film world, and how’d you get to the point of being in feature length movies?
My history is really, really strange. I started acting at 40, five years ago, so I’ve only been acting for five years and only seriously acting for three. I was in just in a normal business, finance, and I loved films all my life, like a lot of people do, and when I was around ten I lived next door to a reasonably famous actress, who’s famous in London now, we used to play acting games together. But I didn’t do anything from ten to 40, so I had 30 years where I did nothing. I don’t come from an artistic background or anything like that. I started telling stories to my son, in bed, and started doing the characters and doing voices, and started enjoying the performance of it, and I thought I love this so much and I’ve loved film and comedy all my life, so I have to do it. It’s sort of a mid-life crisis, really. Some people go out and buy a Harley Davidson, but I went into acting.
That’s probably safer than buying a Harley.
Definitely. I keep getting killed in films, though.
I wanted to ask about the violence in the film. It’s a really dangerous film, but it’s made beautifully, with a lot of attention to the characters. How do you feel about that dynamic?
What’s weird about the violence in the film is that when you make the film, you don’t feel the violence the way the audience does, because you’re there when they’re putting the blood on. When you’re acting in it, you feel it because you have to feel it to give a performance, but when you sit back and watch it, it’s not as frightening to you as it would be to other people. I don’t feel the violence as much as the audience would, but I know it’s violent. It’s an action film, it’s heightened reality, we call it, you know, it’s fantastical. You’ve got a little 14 year-old boy dressed as a ninja shooting people. We hope that it’s not too graphic, or that it doesn’t influence anyone in a bad way, but it’s a movie. It’s a fun movie, there’s fun and comedy in it as well. It’s emotional, there’s a father/son story at the heart of the film. So we hope that it’s not just graphic violence. We hope there’s enough of a drama core to the film that the violence works well. If you just shoot people no one cares about, then it doesn’t matter in the film. You have to care about the characters.
Throughout the whole film, I was scared the girlfriend character was going to get killed. The film handled the tension really well. I had no idea that your character death was coming.
What I remember about my death scene is lying on the floor for three hours, in London’s freezing cold. It was February when we shot the film, and it was one of the coldest Februarys we’d had in like ten years, and we shot a lot of scenes outside. One of my biggest memories was about trying to keep warm. They give you coats and blankets and things to warm your hands, but once the cold gets you, the cold gets you. We say cold to the bone, then some bastard shouts action, and you’ve got to shake it all off and do your thing.
You say you got into acting late. How’d you go about getting into it? Did you have connections in the industry?
Well, a couple of things. I did stand-up comedy first, because I didn’t go to drama school, so I thought I need to really test myself and stretch myself, so I did stand-up comedy for two years, which was a really challenging thing to do, and that gave me confidence in performance terms, and then I did 20 short films in two years, and I them all for nothing, so I did it for no money. And what happened was that if you’re quite good in something–in London there’s a short film community–and they know you’re cheap, they cast you in something else. So you have this six degrees of separation, and the referral thing keeps happening. So I did 20 short films, and that with the stand-up comedy was my stage time. That was my drama school, because I didn’t have time to go to drama school. I was 40 when I started. I thought, shit, if I go to drama school, I’m going to be 43-44 when I leave. So I just wanted to get stuck straight in, and that’s how I went about doing it. Then I also set up a film production company, which helps, because you can make contacts. I’m an executive producer of this film, so I helped find the money and bring actors to the project.
How did you find the film?
Mo rang me. He’d seen me in a short film. He phoned me and we met in the place where we shot the film, a place called Poplars. And he hit me with a story, and I’d already read the script. I started improvising the character on the street for him. So we basically did some improvisation on the street and it clicked. We had a great time and decided to champion the film together.
How do you feel about the morality of the film? In the states, we have this fantasy of violence, and I wonder about it being there versus here.
You know, Mo set out to shoot a film that had a flavor of Kick-Ass, and a flavor of Léon: The Professional, and all of those kinds of films that he’s loved. He’s a big superhero fan, you know, Batman and all that kind of thing, so he wanted to make it visually exciting. I think it came out a touch more violent than he had in mind, and because of the London backdrop I think it made it lent it a little more of a violent, gritty realism than he would have wanted. Of course, to make a Kick-Ass or a Léon or a Batman, you need a hundred million pounds, so you could color it beautifully. So, it sort of came out somewhere between what would be a British gangster film or an urban film, and a fantasy, like graphic novel, kind of film. It kind of splices there. I don’t think it fits perfectly in a genre really. I’d call it an urban action film.
Is there anything special you did to bring your character to life?
A few things, really. I spent time in character, on the street where we were shooting. Some of the things that happen in the film happened around us during rehearsal. We were offered drugs, on the street, there was a guy who robbed a butcher’s, and ran past Mo and I when we were rehearsing, and he got taken down by undercover policemen, and that happened in front of us. If you remember back to the start of the film, it’s in the film. So we watched it, and thought it had to go in the film. My character, as you know, is a really cynical character, he’s negative, kind of hates everyone, drinking a bit too much, gambling debts, so he kind of just sneers at life, and uses humor to put people on the back foot. He turns up to a business deal, and the first thing he’ll do is take the piss quickly in order to wrong-foot you. [Moore comes closer and fiddles with my shirt collar, a snide, confident grin on his face] He’ll say, “what’re you doing with this, what’s going on with your etc.,” just to put you off. So you’re thinking about that, and he’s taken over the meeting. I practiced that a lot with my friends, and things like that. Just really tried to look through a nasty lens at life. Like, somebody would be serving me at a shop and I’d be like, “fuck you pal, hurry up man.”
Do you have any acting plans for the future?
I just started a film called Long Time Coming. It’s my first lead role. It’s a British gangster film, same sort of thing, about two families that fight. North of England and South of England families fight each other. That’s with an actor called Steven Berkoff, you’ll know from Beverly Hills Cop, and Bernard Hill from Lord of the Rings, so its like an older crowd, and I was the young kid in that one, so it felt good. And when I get back to London on Monday, I go straight from the airport to an island in England–yes, we do have them, they’re small and cold–to shoot a horror film. It’s called Writer’s Retreat; it’s about eight people who go away to learn how to write, and one of them is a killer, and starts killing everyone off, and he kills everyone off to survive the massacre and write the story about it. It’s quite cool.
How’s Sitges been to you so far? What’s your reaction to the festival?
To me this like a smaller Cannes, but friendlier, more honest, more open, more supportive of everything, and the audiences are kind of fanatical. They cheer and get into the movie, and support the movie. This is so refreshing for us. We’ve been welcomed so much, I’d come back here with any film, any time. It’s an amazing festival.
Find Brad Moore on Twitter: Find Brad Moore on Twitter: @BradMooreActor