Stuart Urban and Kevin Bishop are the writer/director and star of May I Kill U? - a very British black comedy cross between0 Maniac Cop and Bad Lieutenant. Urban (nothing to do with the new Dredd) is responsible for such cult favourites as Preaching to the Perverted and Revelation. Bishop, a comedy actor, brought us Brits The Kevin Bishop Show and Star Stories. Honestly, his Elton John episode of Star Stories is one of the single funniest things I've ever seen on TV. He was also in Muppet Treasure Island, if you're into that kind of thing. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with them both about May I Kill U?
JOEL HARLEY: What, can you tell us, is May I Kill U? about?
STUART URBAN: It's about a killer who has deranged himself into the view that he can ask permission of people if he can kill them. He goes around in this delusion, believing that they do agree, whereas the audience is onto the fact that they certainly wouldn't if they had a say in the matter.
KEVIN BISHOP: He has a bump on the head after the London riots, and decides to become judge and jury, and kill petty criminals.
JH: How did the idea come about?
SU: I'd been interested for a while in doing a black comedy. Some people would describe Preaching to the Perverted as a black comedy – and maybe it was darkly funny, I suppose – (but) I thought why not try to do a full-on black comedy. People really don't try often in Britain.
JH: Kevin, how did you come to be involved in the film?
KB: I got a call from my agent, that Stuart Urban was in town, and he wanted to meet actors. He was looking for serious actors, and he wasn't aware of my comedy stuff at all. I think he liked the twist that I gave it. I was very fortunate in the sense that he liked that. He found himself laughing at bits he didn't realise could be so funny.
JH: So Stuart, you didn't have a comedic actor in mind for the role?
SU: Not initially. I just thought, 'we want someone who can convince and carry the role'. So much relied on this one man in the film. That was the way to go.
JH: It's set against the backdrop of what looks a lot like the London riots. What were your own experiences of the riots?
SU: I was working on a screenplay, with the same story and everything else, but the cop really got involved trying to stop a gang. This gang were doing what gangs do in the city – he did have a ruck with them. But there were no riots. I was looking for a unifying factor which could explain why a policeman could go off the handle – and then the riots happened. We already had the money to make the film. So we thought, let's get people to go out, in the riots, and they went out for several days and put a call out on Shooting People – which is a filmmakers' site, not encouraging people to shoot rioters – some real brave people went out and shot stuff, or else had footage that was already there. We were able to interact with the filmmakers on the ground, who relayed what we were looking for, and they got it.
KB: I was in a campsite in Devon. None of that stuff was going on there. I did do some looting, but I just stole some organic yoghurt. I missed it all actually. That was the same time as there was a tiger or lion loose – that was another time, that was the Essex lion – but when the London riots were on, I was pegging campsites.
JH: Baz is a complex character. How would you like the audience to react to him and his actions? Do you want us to sympathise with him? Or hope he gets caught?
SU: In no way do I endorse what he does. At the same time, I don't think the film would be interesting if you just said “I disapprove of this man. He's a deranged nutter.” I was trying to show how people could get into such an unfortunate complete delusion. In that sense it's satire. I don't condone anything he does at all, apart from his kind actions in the film.
KB: On paper, Baz is a lunatic nutcase. You don't really feel any kind of empathy for him at all. The hard bit is to make the character somehow likeable. Even though you know that what he's doing is wrong, to somehow make him funny or likeable, in a way... I've read a lot of literature on psychopaths. If you read psycho biogs, it's weird. The writing on the page - it sometimes comes out hilariously funny. They're so matter-of-fact, and that's what really attracted me to the character in the first place, that there's this really dark comedy available there.
JH: Vigilante films are a very popular subgenre. Who is your favourite TV or movie vigilante?
SU: Travis Bickle. I don't want to give away the ending to our film, but that whole irony aspect at the end of the film... What's so fascinating about the film is that it can be read on two levels. Did you approve of him, or did you not approve of him. We had an ambiguity in those films. It was really fascinating.
KB: Taxi Driver. I think it's mine. There's such an enormous sense of relief, that it's all not real. I also like American Psycho. That was a great movie. I know he's not a vigilante, just an out-and-out nutcase. But I'm a big fan of Taxi Driver. Because it just felt so raw. The pill wasn't sweetened in any way.
JH: Did you draw on any of that, playing Baz?
KB: No, I didn't actually. People would probably think that you would do that, but I very rarely take inspiration from someone else. Maybe I should, but I very rarely do that.
JH: What were your influences?
SU: Older films, like Peeping Tom – there's a tribute shot to Peeping Tom in there, after he kills the first rioter. Taxi Driver, very much. Man Bites Dog definitely was an influence – a really great black comedy type film.
JH: I was myself reminded of a British Bad Lieutenant.
SU: Bad Lieutenant was definitely a model as well. The cop off the rails type. Robocop, funnily enough. It does deal with the same type of idea – the man as machine, and in the film, Baz is wired into social media, digitally. He views himself as a kind of killing machine. That was another film I really admired. And maybe some of the more obscure foreign black comedies.
JH: You directed a few episodes of The Bill in the nineties. Did you draw on any of that, making May I Kill U?
SU: I did actually. They put out directors and writers to go with the police, in training on the series. Whereas most people had really dull expeditions, we got caught up in some real East End violence. I was with a really big police woman, who was just like Val (Hayley-Marie Axe's character in May I Kill U?) in many of the things she did, probably tougher. This woman was formidable. I actually saw her with another police (officer) beating a suspect – who did deserve it, but on the other hand, didn't have any proof of what they did. I had picked up some stuff there. They were in a kind of war, people dropping fridges off tower blocks onto them, things like that. I can understand why they'd go nuts.
JH: I thought Baz's relationship with his mother was very powerful. How was it, working with Frances Barber?
SU: She was great. She was really, really professional. She knew the inside out of a film set and what every lens did. She did her own continuity; how long was a cigarette, how many sips of the glass she had taken in a take. Also a lovely person to work with. Some actors can be a bit grand, but not her – on our budget, she didn't have a trailer or anything like that. She was out in the garden, under the gazebo. That was our green room.
KB: I thought she was amazing. She's so professional. Without Frances in that film, it just wouldn't have strung together, without that credible performance. Her performance was so evil as the mother. And she came in and they were putting make up on her, and she was saying “no, no! I don't want any makeup! I want to wear this!” And she was wearing this awful robe. She really, really dressed down. For a very glamorous, very beautiful woman, she really just wanted to be this character. I was quite impressed. She also helped the audience gain some sympathy for Baz.
JH: The social media aspect is very interesting. What's your opinion of such sites as Twitter and YouTube?
SU: We are now in a different age of communication. When I wrote the film, I wasn't aware that anybody had ever used social media who was a mass murderer. They had, by the time we had bloody finished the film, three killers who had operated that way. That was Anders Brevik in Norway – went up on Facebook, the day he did it. Mohammed Mirah, who was the nutter in France who went around with a go-pro camera filming his killings of soldiers and Jewish children. And Luka Magnotta, who carved up a guy live on webcam, before being found in an Internet cafe in Germany, making more posts about himself. That was all on The Internet, and that was all in one year. Art was not imitating life, but the other way around... not that they knew anything about this film, of course.
KB: I got Twitter this year. I do like it. My wife would probably say I like it too much. I am on it quite a lot. And YouTube is great. I wish YouTube was a little bit more monitored, because there's so much rubbish on there. It'd be nice if you could just find the good stuff.
JH: The role of Baz seems more serious than anything we've seen you in before. Is there an ambition there, to break into more serious acting?
KB: I have sought different roles the past couple of years, because, as much as I love the telly stuff, and it's a great buzz for me, I just really missed the film work. I used to do a lot of film, before I got to TV comedy. I was worried that if I carried on doing TV characters, I wouldn't get a look-in again for doing films; drama and more serious stuff. That would be awful for me. I did make a conscious effort to take on more film work.
JH: Outside of May I Kill U? what are you up to next?
KB: On Monday I fly to LA, to shoot a pilot for Warner Brothers with Rebel Wilson, who was in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect. I'm the male lead in that. It's very funny. She's very funny.
SU: I'm looking at a whole variety of films. I've got one about drones, which is a thriller about not those which fly about in Afghanistan but are home made. I've got that film in development, I've got a sequel to Preaching to the Perverted developed, because the whole EL James phenomenon has made that scene suddenly commercial. We might do that. We've a plan underway to do the legend of the Golem. It's never been made into a film. That's a bigger budget film but definitely in the horror genre.
JH: Kevin, any chance of another series of The Kevin Bishop Show or Star Stories?
KB: I don't think there's much chance of doing a Kevin Bishop Show, purely because I don't want to do it. It's just such a heavy workload. I really enjoyed doing it. But 50 sketches an episode – 350 a series, and a lot of those I had to write. It's very time consuming and very energy draining. I'd happily do another Star Stories. They were so much fun. They were very well written and I really enjoyed doing them.
JH: Which horror films do you like?
SU: I'm a big fan of Hammer – Wicker Man and a lot of those those classics. Cannibal Holocaust. A lot of those Italian Giallo ones. Early Dario Argento ones. And a lot of classic foreign ones I really like. I tend to like those.
KB: All Freddy Krueger films. I love Freddy films. Candyman. That used to scare the shit out of me. To the point where I still can't say Candyman too many times, because I think “he will turn up.”
JH: Would you like to make a horror film yourself?
KB: As long as it was a comedy horror. Horror on its own is risky. Comedy horror all day. I talked to a very good friend of mine this morning, Andy Nyman – we're both big horror fans - and we were talking about writing a comedy horror. Maybe we'll do that. Who knows.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us!
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