Noel Clarke interview: King Of Ads, 4321, Kevin Smith and his unmade movies

Noel Clarke chats to us about his new movie, 4321, directing Kevin Smith, and the new King Of Ads campaign that he’s fronting for Doritos…

Noel Clarke is one of the judges for Doritos’ brand new King Of Ads campaign, which could win someone out there a cool £200,000 prize. He’s also one of Britain’s most exciting young film directors, and is currently putting the finishing touches to his second film behind the camera,

His CV features starring in Doctor Who, writing for Torchwood, a BAFTA, an Olivier award and a role in Neil Marshall’s upcoming Centurion. And he spared us a little bit of time for the following chat…

So then. How can I win £200,000?

You can win £200,000 by doing the Doritos: King Of Ads competition!

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Excellent. We’ve ticked the box there.

There you go! Basically, you can create a 29 second ad, which involves the product, and it can be aired during the World Cup and it can win up to £200,000 if we judge yours to be the best one.

You see, my cunning plan is to cut a deal with you. You could be in our ad, and we’ll do a 50/50 split? So that’s £100,000 for you for a day’s work? That’s better than union rate?

I don’t know, man!

If you could convince the rest of the judging panel for us…?

I could do… [grins]

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I’ll take that as a maybe!

I find competitions like this quite interesting. I was born in the mid-70s, and I think you’re the same. And when I was growing up, I had an interest in film, but there seemed no way into the British film industry. There were only the likes of Ken Loach films – and I like Ken Loach – and I remember when something like Backbeat came along, it got championed as the return of the British film industry. The world has changed, though, and British film is stronger. Do you find it gratifying now, given what you’ve had to battle through, that the entry points are a bit more obvious?

I think so, yes. I think it’s better. We need a new injection of young, fresh talent. We need the new Loaches and Leighs, but we also need our Ridley Scotts and our Christopher Nolans, not just to make films abroad, but to make films here. I think that there are so many of these young people who sit there undiscovered, and maybe haven’t had an opportunity. And competitions like this provide opportunities.

You’ve said in the past yourself that you’ve written a lot of scripts, even before Kidulthood was made.

I did, yeah.

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Where did you send them?

Everywhere. They went everywhere. The scripts went everywhere you could go with scripts to go and get them made. Sometimes you’d get a meeting, and when the people met me they were, even though they liked the script until they met me, they were,”I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about.” But then I wrote Kidulthood and they were, “Oh, he must know what he’s talking about!” And it got made.

Even after that, I tried to do other things and kind of wasn’t allowed to. I had to write Adulthood. If I hadn’t have done that, I don’t know what would have happened.

You’re still getting that now, even with your new film, People seem very keen to pigeon hole you straight back into that bracket.

Yeah, people are keen to do that. And I think with, they know what they’re expecting. I think that’s going to be the main thing when this film comes out. The people who think they know what they’re expecting will be surprised.

You’re playing on that, presumably?

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Yeah, I’m definitely playing on that. We’ve even put out teasers that are directly meant to make people think what they want to think.

So, when you wrote all those scripts all that time ago, would you say looking back now that Kidulthood was the best one?

No, Kidulthood wasn’t the best one. There was definitely at least one better. But you know, it was like a romcom or a drama, that one was a drama. I guess what people would call an awards movie. Not that it ever would have won, but it was that kind of thing. But people were like, “Who is this guy to think he can do this sort of stuff? He can write about being on a council estate, and being involved in things. He must know! Look at him! He wears a hood!”

And the irony now is that you’ve got a BAFTA!

Yeah, I know!

Where do you keep it?

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On the shelf next to the Olivier!

Aren’t you supposed to keep it in the bog? Isn’t that the law?!

Nah. I like mine too much! There’s a few others in there, though!

You said you were trying to get a romcom moving. Would you say the reason that was rejected was down to you, or what people thought you’d bring. Or was it just not what Britain was doing when you pitched it?

Britain was definitely doing that kind of stuff. I think it was down to people saying, “Okay, this is an interesting script in terms of romcom”, and drama and then meeting me and saying, “It’s interesting, but not interesting enough.” And, “I don’t think he knows that world” But, like I said, I wrote Kidulthood and they assume that I know that world. And it’s only now that people are willing to read whatever I write. Which is the whole idea: if you’re a black guy, you don’t just want to be known as a black filmmaker. You just want to be a filmmaker. If you’re gay, you don’t want to be known as a gay filmmaker. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a woman, or black, or gay, or whatever.

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This year at the Oscars, we’ve got Lee Daniels and Kathryn Bigelow. I’ve seen Precious, it’s a great film. And I’ve seen The Hurt Locker too, which is a great film. My thing is are we happy that it’s the first time a black director and a female director have been nominated, or do we look at it and say this is a fucking disgrace? How is it the first time that this could happen? If Lee Daniels wins, he’s the first black director, or if Kathryn Bigelow wins, she’s the first female director. How does this happen? It’s ridiculous.

In the early 90s when a lot of American films and filmmakers were pigeon-holed as The Black Pack, and John Singleton came through and got his Oscar nomination, even then it felt like it was treated as a novelty, that it was age and colour? Extraordinary film, too, Boyz N The Hood.

Great film.

But that’s only 15 or 16 years ago.

Yeah. And films like that were the films that were inspiring me. I could relate to that more than I could some of the films that I was seeing here.

It was Merchant Ivory here at the time…

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Yeah! [laughs]

I’ve been following your next film,, quite a lot. You seem to be having a lot of fun just trying to get the teaser trailer out there at the moment?

Yeah, we’ve got the official one that had Universal logo at the front, and that’s fine, that’s everywhere. And then we had the unofficial one that was put on and geared towards the audience of the previous films. And YouTube banned it. Considering the amount of nonsense they have on there, you’d be surprised that they banned the teaser to a movie. But they decided to ban it, so that’s been interesting.

It sounds like a bit of politics?

Well, it is a bit of politics, but essentially they do us a favour, because more people want to see it now. It’s around.

You shot part of this one in New York as well, I understand?

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How was that?

It was great. It was a load of fun. To film in America and direct in America was an experience I always wondered if I’d ever get. And to do that was a lot of fun. We have a lot of nice cameos in the film as well – Kevin Smith’s in there…

We’re coming to him in a minute!

We had a lot of fun doing that. Trying to take the films I’ve done and take the audience I’ve done and broaden their horizons so we can take them into the international arena. Because the films I do are relatable worldwide. But people in positions of power only sell them where they think they should be sold. is here to try and change that.

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Is it finished?

Yeah, we’re in post now, so just mixing and stuff like that.

And have you got a release date for it?

I think it’ll be June 4th.

You mentioned the cameo with Kevin Smith. I’ve read before you’ve been inspired by his films…

I have, yeah.

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And then I saw he’d posted a picture of himself next to you on Twitter when he was shooting the cameo. Just sat in the back of the car, as happy as Larry…

We did them at the same time! There’s one of mine too!

I’ve been a member of his boards for a few years. I don’t really post a lot. I just lurk, and read stuff, and laugh. And he’s aware of me because other people are like, you know this guy makes films? Then I met him at Comic-Con a couple of years ago when I was there for Doctor Who and Torchwood, when I wrote Torchwood. He was there doing Reaper. So I met him there briefly. And I said to him, “They want me to direct my film, Adulthood. Do you have any advice?” He said, “Dude, just do it, go for it.” And then occasionally he’d be aware of me around and stuff like that.

Then when the film came up and we were doing it, I realised he was going to be in London on his book tour. And there was a part in there that I’d always written with the dream that I’d want Kevin Smith to do that part. It was written that my ideal person for it would be Kevin Smith, but you’d never get him. Who would my ideal person be after that? That fat guy from Jurassic Park or whatever…

Wayne Knight? He’s lost weight!

He has lost weight! It doesn’t work anymore!

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People always say that, though. You’ve read the interviews before, where people say that they’ve written a part specifically for one person.

Yeah, I did! Straight down the line, genuinely did! I love his films: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II, Jersey Girl, Zack & Miri. I’ve got them all, I like them all. And then, of course, it came up, I heard he was going to be in London, so I got my agent to contact his agent, and say, “Look, he’s in London anyway,” and ask him if he wants to do this.

So we waited and we waited and we waited, and then eventually an e-mail popped into my inbox and he was like, “I heard from my agent that someone in England wanted to cast me, and I immediately knew it was you! Who else would want to cast me? Subject to reading it, as long as you don’t have me topless or bottomless, I’m in!” And he flew over on his book tour, and to do his show at O2. And one of the days, he had a day off and he came and shot the movie.

Who was your back-up plan? There wasn’t someone in wardrobe who thought they were about to get their big break?

No-one. No-one. It was Kevin Smith or nothing.

And he turned up! He’s great. He’s got three scenes, the day was used really well.

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You can do that in Britain, and outside of the mainstream system, though, can’t you? You can turn things round so much quicker?

Definitely, definitely. But we had to, because he only had that amount of time. So we scheduled it, made sure it was done correctly, and yeah.

Did you try and bag your way into Cop Out?

No, it was too late. He’d already shot that.

Are you going for the next one?

I’d love that man! That would be great!

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You must have asked him?

No. I didn’t ask. You can’t ask! I wouldn’t say, “Dude, can I be in your next film!” If he’s making it, and he remembers…

You want us to ask for you?

It’s up to you, man! He knows I’m a fan, and he knows we do the same sort of job. Although he’s done it a lot more than me, and he’s better at it!

The news came out last week that your next project could be a Rocky-esque Olympics film? Is that correct?

They say Rocky-esque….

… I’ve got visions of Ivan Drago here!

[Laughs] It’s a sort of inspirational story, kind of Rocky meets Any Given Sunday with girls racing and running. It’s kind of being an Olympics movie to come out in the summer of 2012. Have a real commercial movie about the Olympics, it’s definitely an idea that’s been worked on at the moment.

When you talk Any Given Sunday, you’re referring to the in your face shooting style?

Yeah. Being in there, being on the track, when their fingers touch the rubber, hearing the muscles…

Are you going to have the eyeball coming out?!


In terms of how you go about directing, I’m curious how it’s evolved. In Doctor Who, you’ve seen people who make quite a lot out of a small budget. You’ve done Centurion with Neil Marshall, and that again looks like an extraordinary expensive movie when it actually isn’t. Are these the kind of guys who are the best school for you?

Yeah, it’s about watching and learning. Learning how to stretch budgets. Arguably all of those things have had bigger budgets than the stuff I’ve worked on, so, for me, it’s working on stuff like Kidulthood and Adulthood where you really have a low budget. And learning to do things, so that when you get a bigger budget – and has a slightly bigger budget – you can stretch it a lot further, because you haven’t been spoilt by being given £10m. So when your line producer on your bigger budget movie says, “We can’t do this because we need a quad bike to race up the street,” you’re like, “Shut up, put them in a shopping trolley, and we’ll push them up the road!”

You’re at the point now where it’s just after a year after the BAFTA. Has it opened doors, or is it the commercial performance of Adulthood that’s helped do that?

I think it’s a combination of both, really. Without the commercial performance of Adulthood, the BAFTA probably wouldn’t have happened. Because, generally, the films I do get ignored, they really do. Kidulthood basically got nothing, Adulthood basically got nothing, but it got box office, and brought it to people’s attention. That culminated in the BAFTA, and then I think that’s helped. To be more of a household name out there, especially with the TV I’ve done as well. It’s helped me to get jobs like Centurion, which I got the day before the BAFTA was announced.

That’s not a bad week!

It was alright!

I have to ask: you were apparently in a couple of episodes of Casualty many years ago.

I was, yeah!

Did you get a dramatic death or anything like that? Because Casualty at its best was the precursor to the Final Destination movies…

I’m trying to think… I did die in Casualty! I was in three episodes.

You took a long time to die?

Yeah, because it happens in episode one, and I have a stomach problem and they’re not sure what it is. And then I don’t die until the end of episode two, and I’m on the slab in episode three. It was a start of a season so it was a big train falling off a bridge type thing, back when they used to do Casualty’s back! It was a kind of seizure in the end from a wound in my stomach or something!

I’ve been following some of your Twitter Q&As, and the questions seem to break down about 30% seem to be offers of sex or something related to that, another 30-40% seem to be about Doctor Who or matters relating to it, and the remaining are about the rest of your work. You seem to get a real kick out of those?

Yeah, I love questions. I think interacting with people is important. The thing about me is I’m not afraid to answer anything. So, if I say I’m going to answer 20, I will answer those 20 that come in. If these people are supporting me and following me and want to ask me something, then I should tell them. I can’t have a job that puts me in the public eye, and then ignore the very people who support you.

Lots of people do that, though.

Course they do, but fuck ‘em, it’s their loss. The people who support you, the people who buy your films, watch your films, watch you on TV, if it wasn’t for them, you arguably wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.

Does that interaction ever help shape your work?

Sometimes, yeah.

Because it’s not just film fans in the past never had this interaction, it’s the people making the films too who never had it?

Yeah. Not so much when I’m filming. But I did ask the other day whether I should do standard credits or picture credits, and people were like, “Do picture credits!” Consequently, I’m going to do picture credits on!

And with that, we were out of time! Noel Clarke, thank you very much!

Noel is encouraging budding directors to enter the Doritos: King of Ads competition, upload their ad entry to and be in with a chance of winning up to £200,000 and have their ad aired on national TV. is out in June.