Filed: Tuesday, 30th August 2005
Lexi Alexander is the director of Green Street, the new film about a fictional West Ham firm.
KUMB.com gave her a call and introduced ourselves. “I think I’ve been on KUMB,” says Lexi. “I’ve got quite a bit of abuse on there, or at least the film has.” Not the best start, but it gets much better…
KUMB: What drew you to West Ham in the first place?
Lexi Alexander: Well, West Ham is very similar to the club that I follow back home in Germany, which is SV Waldhof Mannheim… not VFR Mannheim like they reported in the Evening Standard – that’s a big mistake to make. The club is in bad shape right now down in the fourth league or something. They’re literally playing on farm fields. But when I was following them they were switching between the Bundesliga and the second division, so very like West Ham. The fan base was very loyal and we even had a song that was similar in subject matter to Bubbles, which was about “always dreaming”. My brother and I once travelled to England to check out some football and he said, “I think I really like Chelsea.” I was like, “Chelsea! That’s like supporting Bayern Munich! What are you talking about?” I found West Ham fairly early and was always obsessed with them, checking on how they were doing and all that. When it came to make this film I immediately though, “Wow, this would be amazing because they’re the most similar to my team back home.”
KUMB: How was it dealing with the club?
LA: They were great. There are all these urban legends about how I got to shoot there. The truth is that they were extremely friendly and at the time we were speaking to three big clubs and all three of them agreed that we could shoot at their grounds. They understood that it was a big commercial. Elijah Wood gets $250,000 to make a ten-minute appearance at anything like a convention for example. So, when he showed up at half time, kicked a few balls around and even wore the West Ham kit, he did all of that for free in exchange for them letting us use the club. Also, we did pay them a fee.
I pitched the like this: “All the kids in America know one English football club and that’s Manchester United. They don’t know anyone else. If you go into a sports store there and ask for a football kit, all you can buy is Man Utd. Wouldn’t you love the kids to be introduced to a different shirt?” They totally understood that, but they were very suspect and really grilled me. I had to have three meetings, show them the story and the script. What they were most concerned about was what the end message was going to be. Do you walk out of the film thinking, ‘This is great, let’s all be football hooligans’ or do you walk out thinking, ‘This is something that should be stopped’? Once they realised that I was for real and everything I was telling them was the truth, they let me shoot there during a game – which was great. They were so wonderful and sweet to me.
KUMB: Who did you speak to at the club?
LA: Peter Stewart [West Ham’s press officer].
KUMB: It seems now that they’re trying to distance themselves from the film…
LA: I don’t really think they are. Here’s what really happened? They were completely supportive as we were shooting and I did call the film Hooligans in the beginning but completely innocently. Neither in Germany or America does this word have as big an impact as it does in the UK. But I switched the working title (which is a common thing to do in the film industry) to The Yank way before I met West Ham. Immediately when I arrived somebody said, “Look, you don’t want to do that. That’s like making a film in Germany and calling it Skinheads – you just open the door for rejection and problems.” I agreed, so I changed it.
During the shoot the club were really supportive, but then what happened was that because of Elijah Wood the paparazzi were following us everywhere. Because they have to sell the paper, they only put the pictures in that showed Elijah with blood on his face or where he was punching somebody. That wasn’t the whole story, but I think West Ham got really nervous during that time because they thought, “Oh my God, what did we say yes to?” Then they came and saw the finished product and they’ve never looked back. If you ask them officially now they don’t regret at all that they let us shoot the film. Have you seen the film?
LA: So, you know you don’t walk out thinking, “It must be cool to be a hooligan”.
KUMB: No, but because Elijah Wood’s character [Matt Buckner] is drawn in so quickly, it makes the whole world seem quite sexy. That might send out a message that it’s a manly thing to do and something good to be associated with…
LA: Right, right. Unfortunately, in a film you only have 90 minutes so you don’t get a chance to make a three-hour epic as a contemporary movie, but the truth is, and you know it, that it is a sexy environment. The truth is that even Elijah Wood both as an actor and a person said, “My God, you can get completely addicted to going to the game, singing songs and going to the pub before.” It’s not even that far fetched that somebody would get into it that quickly.
KUMB: Where did you hang out around Upton Park to get a feel for the place?
LA: We went to the Boleyn quite a bit and we all tried to be as low key as possible. We certainly didn’t take Elijah because that would have been a mistake. I went there for weeks. We went to a couple of other places because Cass Pennant, who was my consultant, took me to several other pubs around Upton Park.
KUMB: How did you get on with Cass?
LA: I love Cass. I’m actually producing his life story. Cass’s picture will not be directed by me but I’m getting it financed and done. He and I are great friends and he was essential to the result of the film.
KUMB: What does he think of it?
LA: He loves it. Cass actually plays a copper and I think that’s quite funny. He went to the premiere of Green Street and he wore his West Ham suit. He is a diehard West Ham fan.
KUMB:Why not use the ICF rather than create the GSE?
LA: In film you have to deal with a lot of life rights. We just didn’t want someone coming out of the woodwork saying, “Oh yeah, that character is totally based on me”. When you use an existing crew, you have to be really careful. Contractually and insurance-wise you’re almost not allowed to do that.
KUMB: How did Elijah Wood become involved in the project originally?
LA: I was in Los Angeles and the script came out… basically what happens is that all the big agencies read it and then they pitch their clients. His agent was the first one who called me up, literally from an airplane and said, “You must see Elijah Wood for this.” I was thinking, ‘Elijah Wood? That’s a bit far fetched’. Also, people think I hired him because he was in Lord Of The Rings but it’s quite the opposite. That was my one hesitation because I didn’t want people to be thinking, “Oh there’s Frodo” in a film about football hooligans. Then when you meet him and you understand how mature he is then it really becomes one of those choices: do I hire an actor who wants to be flashy and complains about not having enough lines or do I go with somebody whose worked since he was eight years old and doesn’t mind letting the world around him shine? This film is so much more about the English lads than it is about the observer, the American. He was just supposed to be a complete fish out of water, and Elijah is perfect for that because he doesn’t mind being a fish out of water.
KUMB: Presumably it was useful to you to have him on board with regard to getting money for the film…
LA: Yeah but a) we had all that sorted before he was on board, which a lot of people don’t know and b) there were many other actors of equal status that wanted this part.
KUMB: Anyone you can reveal?
LA: I can’t because that basically means that I’m saying in the press that I preferred Elijah over them, but trust me. If I can say: same age, same blockbuster sequel standing… there’s only a few of them and they would have brought the same level of recognition to the film as Elijah did.
KUMB: Is Elijah Wood a West Ham fan then?
LA: Yeah he is. He told me that he was a Man Utd fan because that was the only club he knew and Dominic Monaghan [currently starring in Lost] – you know, the other hobbit – took him to a Man Utd game because that’s who he supports. So Elijah thought, “I may as well support Man Utd”. Then he went to the West Ham games for Green Street and he said, “F*cking hell, that’s so much better.”
KUMB: One of the things that has been criticised on kumb.com and elsewhere is Charlie Hunnam’s accent. I was wondering what kind of preparation he went through for the part?
LA: Usually on a film you have three months of voice coaching and then you have a voice coach on set who says, “His accent wasn’t right” and then you’re supposed to do another take. Now, unfortunately Charlie Hunnam is getting completely screwed here because we only had money to give him two weeks of voice coaching and every time the coach said, “We need another take,” I’d have to apologise and tell them we had to move on. Basically, he’s getting all these bad reviews for his accent when really, had he had the professional accent coaching, he would have done great. This is just an independent film, right. He’s not a Londoner he’s from Newcastle, which are totally different accents. It’s certainly not a Dick Van Dyke thing, it’s just that we didn’t even give him the chance to get it right. He’s taking the heat for it.
Also, this is where I think people in England can be very narrow-minded. People have to understand that England is very small in terms of the international audience. I wanted to British people to like this film but, as a filmmaker, do I please the English and cast someone who gets the Cockney right – something that is irrelevant to international audiences – or do I get the right actor for it? He clearly was the right actor for it because everyone’s been praising his performance. He’s been getting offers left and right because of Green Street. He literally has become the next Brad Pitt. He is so much in demand. The Americans can’t recognise that his accent is off at all, most other countries like Japan and Italy all have it synchronised, so the only people who hear it are the British. I know it must suck to come from here and say, “This guy doesn’t sound anything like us” but you have to look at it and realise it’s a story and we here in England are not the only people in the world.
KUMB: Do you have a favourite section of the movie?
LA: Being a true Hammers fan, I do love the scene in the stadium. It was amazing. I think I’m the first person ever allowed to film in a live game, so that always gives me a total thrill. I remember when Zamora jumped up and celebrated I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I’ve got this in my film!” When you’ve actually followed this club for years and you’re able to put this in your first feature film, it’s amazing. I actually just started a production company with someone I worked with in Los Angeles who is originally from London. He’s also a diehard West Ham fan, so we just opened our own production company called Irons Productions.
KUMB: Are there any bits you wish you’d cut out now?
LA: No, I’m really pleased with the film, you know. I’m really happy with it. I think in America, the ending where Elijah walks off into the streets of Boston and sings Bubbles is considered to be promoting hooliganism. It’s not what I meant at all. They just can’t figure out what the song means and how long people have been singing it. For me it means he’ll never see those guys again, but the spirit of them will be forever with him, along with everything he learnt and experienced on the journey. I didn’t see it as he was going off forever in America to sing football songs on the street. That’s not what it was about.
KUMB: Did your experience with kick-boxing and karate help you with the fight scenes?
LA: It taught me what I absolutely didn’t want. I was a stuntwoman for years and whenever you do any kind of stunts in Hollywood they always look completely unrealistic and perfect. I brought on this fight choreographer Pat Johnson that I’ve known for years and he’s done films like Mortal Kombat and Batman & Robin – stuff where one guy beats up five people and defies gravity. I said, “Look Pat, everything that we do in Hollywood we have to do the opposite on this film,” and he understood. It was my experience with knowing how not to do it that made it look realistic.
KUMB: You were part of a firm in Germany…
LA: Well, I wasn’t really part of the firm, but I was tolerated like the kid sister. I got to know them really well. That was the reason to tell the story, because they seemed so much more complex than the general public knew about them.
KUMB: Are there any incidents that you experienced which made it into the film?
LA: All the characters jobs are based on people I know. We did something similar to the Trojan horse scene in the film too. We drove through a big mob of people and we passed everybody got out and came from the back. It wasn’t as glamorous as in the film but it was similar.
KUMB: Do you live in the States?
LA:Yes, I’ve been living in Los Angeles for the past 11 years. I just happen to be shooting another film right now in London.
KUMB: But you’re German by birth?
LA: Yes, that’s right.
KUMB: What’s your opinion of West Ham fans now you’ve spent some time round them?
LA: I love them. You won’t believe it but I was just in a cab this evening, which had this big West Ham sticker in the window. I got so excited and the driver and I spent half-an-hour talking about how we’re doing, who we’re buying, how important it was to get a point at Newcastle. I just love West Ham fans.
KUMB: When you shot the film we were in the Championship but we’re now in the Premiership. Were you around for the Play Off Final?
LA: You know where I watched the game? Santa Monica, California at six in the morning. There’s on English pub, which shows the games and me and my producing partner went at 6am… that’s how dedicated we are to West Ham.
KUMB: Did you enjoy it?
LA: I loved it, loved it.
KUMB: Will you be coming to any more games this season?
LA: Yes, yes. Hopefully all the home games.
KUMB: Those are all our questions, Lexi, is there anything else you’d like to add?
LA: Just tell the boys on the messageboards to give me some peace and go and see the movie on September 9. The one thing I would like to say to everyone is, that as a true Hammers’ fan you’ve got to love the fact that our colours are all over this movie that’s going to play across the entire world. You couldn’t have a bigger commercial for West Ham if you tried to buy it.
‘Green Street’ is out September 9. Check out the film’s official site at www.greenstreethooligans.com.