Kevin Allen is the director of the irreverent comedy thriller TWIN TOWN (1997), the Hollywood satire THE BIG TEASE (1999), the action comedy AGENT CODY BANKS 2: DESTINATION LONDON (2004), and the drama UNDER MILK WOOD (2015), based on the Dylan Thomas play. Allen has also directed episodes of the acclaimed TV series Benidorm and TV documentaries that uncovered corruption in sports and in the Glasgow Crime Squad, as well as being an actor on TV in shows such as The Thin Blue Line and The Comic Strip. Allen also acted on stage in Ben Elton's Silly Cow opposite Dawn French, and opposite Diana Rigg in Howard Brenton's Berlin Bertie, directed by Danny Boyle. With TWIN TOWN celebrating its twentieth anniversary and a sequel soon to enter production, I spoke to Allen about the making of the film.
TWIN TOWN was inspired by your TV documentary about the Glasgow ice cream wars and the corruption of the Glasgow police department. What made you decide to make a comedy out of the material? 
I had also made documentaries about the corruption behind sports, so I knew the kind of things that were going on, but it was scary learning how bent and out of control the Glasgow Crime Squad was. A lot of the time, you couldn't tell who was a cop and who was a villain. It was a real eye-opener for me. It felt like a good landscape to have a crack at a feature film, but I didn't want to do a Ken Loach film, and telling a story like that as a comedy would be more accessible and wider reaching. When we released the film we did a global junket and it was the post-Communist Eastern Bloc countries whose journalists saw the politics in the film more than any other country. They were used to having to shroud serious issues in comedies through the medium of film. That was an interesting realisation. I never want to just make comedies that don't have anything in them. It's quite a dark film really. It's got a fairly unorthodox structure and is a film of two halves. I wanted to lull the audience in with a comedy and then hit them on the head with a baseball bat with the nihilism of the second half.

Was the decision to set it in Swansea an early decision? 
I seriously considered Bristol at one point, and Southampton and Portsmouth. I was brought up a lot in Swansea so it just felt right to set the film there. When people think TWIN TOWN is a film about Swansea, they couldn't be more wrong. It could be any city in the UK. Having said that, the film does have an authentic Swansea feel.

In the process of writing it and making it did you come to any conclusions about your relationship with Swansea? 
I kind of knew Swansea really well, although I had been away for a bit in London. The Bryn Cartwright character, for example, was an amalgam of about five villains I knew quite well as a teenager through my parents, who were in the restaurant game and came across such people. They were just old school fucking bent idiots, who were in the city council and ran nightclubs and casinos.

What elements did Paul Durden, the co-writer, bring? 
Sleep, a lot of sleep! He likes to doze. He was terrific when you could keep him awake! Paul was the great cynical man about town. He was a great sounding board. He had lived in Swansea his whole life and he was great for anecdotal references. He had great little stories that came ideas.

The villains in TWIN TOWN are pretty dangerous and corrupt but they're also funny because they're really not that smart. 
I think the film is more Bryn's film than the twins' film to be honest. He is the idiot villain that you kind of love! He's such an idiot and funny with it. These sorts of villains, though, have obviously become more dangerous nowadays. It's a whole new thing now. The likes of Bryn couldn't survive in the environment we currently have.

Do you still feel the film is an 'acid love letter to Swansea' as you said at the time? 
Absolutely! In the same way that UNDER MILK WOOD has an acerbic, love/ hate relationship with its roots. Swansea isn't perfect, but that is what I like about it. I fucking hate the place sometimes, but then other times I really love it. It's like anybody's hometown, I guess. It would be shit living in paradise, wouldn't it? You don't get punk music on the Maltese Coast, do you?

Would you agree with Dylan Thomas that Swansea is an 'ugly, lovely town'? 
Yeah, and as we say in the film 'a pretty, shitty city'. We're actually going to use those taglines in our bid for Swansea to become a City of Culture in 2021.

Was Hot Dog the proposed title for the film for a long period? 
No, not for long at all. Pretty Shitty City was the favorite before we decided on TWIN TOWN. It would have been a great title but the distributors wouldn't have it.

Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle was an executive producer on TWIN TOWN with Andrew Macdonald. You first met Boyle when you worked with him in the theatre. What was your experience like? 
He was an excellent theatre director, very good technically. As a person he can be a little remote and cold. We did a Howard Brenton play called Berlin Bertie at the Royal Court, with Diana Rigg. Brenton was one of the last bastions of left-wing writing. He worked with David Hare. I loathed the Royal Court, to be honest. I had just done a play at the Haymarket with Dawn French. That play was for people who had never been to the theatre before and would sit there watching with a box of Maltesers. I loved it. The Royal Court was just bourgeouis bullshit, and the play we did was rubbish. Funnily enough, the right-wing press loved the play and the left-wing press hated it!

How did Boyle and Macdonald get involved? 
I knew Andrew Macdonald, and he really liked the script. He was partners with Danny obviously, and Andrew got me the deal with Polygram, with whom they had a strong relationship. Danny and Andrew were making A LIFE LESS ORDINARY in America at the time.

You had a small role in TRAINSPOTTING. Do you have any strong memories of working on the film? 
It was just a lark, going up to Edinburgh. It was like any other movie set, any other little indie film where you worked for a day. ''Just stand over there. '' Nobody had any conception of what TRAINSPOTTING was going to be. We were all mates, so they didn't have to pay me!

Did Danny Boyle give you any directing advice? 
He told me ''Everything cuts, and don't let anyone tell you any different. '' Also, ''Don't watch any TV when you're prepping a movie. Watch classic movies. '' I always give this advice to other filmmakers. TV is really poisonous film language. And he also said ''Always try to think on a big, fluid scale. '' I've always tried to do that.

How was adapting to directing a feature film after directing documentaries? 
We were incredibly well prepped, which is everything, and because I had already made quite a few documentaries, everything wasn't that new to me. As a theatre actor I had been in front of 3, 000 people for seven months so I knew how to perform in front of an audience. Directing is a bit like that. You're performing in a way. I had a passion to direct films, and I really thrive on it. I love the collaboration element of directing, the challenge of needing to have good communication skills. I learned a lot on TWIN TOWN. Bloody hell. I always thought I was more of a performance-based director, but I actually think I am more of a visual director now.

What was the shoot like? Was it a happy set? 
Unbelievably happy, yeah. There was amazing energy, and it is reflected in the film. Everybody worked hard and played hard, just at the right level. The energy has to come from the front, and generally, crews will do anything for you if you're nice about it, and I'm not a shouter. It was a really fun shoot.

What films or filmmakers had an influence on the film? 
Not many really, although there are references to Kubrick, Coppola, De Palma, Lynch, and British gangster films. I suppose there's a Spaghetti Western feel to it, because there's definitely a Morricone pastiche going on there with the music.

Did you enjoy creating the imaginative deaths for the villains? 
All I remember is wondering how far I could push everything in terms of their nihilistic flourishes. The film wasn't for everyone. The best review was from Alexander Walker at The Evening Standard. I really should have framed it and put it in my toilet. His review was a classic. It was so deeply scathing that it had a brilliance about it. He finished the review with something like ''If this is the future of British film, I'd rather see it die. ''I found out many years later that he actually lived in a flat below one of my best mates in Maida Vale. I always fancied putting a turd through his letterbox with some reference to TWIN TOWN that would have made him think ''Who the hell did this?''

They should have put that quote on the poster! 
I know! If Polygram had had the guts to do that it would have been amazing. As it was, they only went half way with their campaign. If they had pushed this idea of the film putting two fingers up to Hollywood to the limit, it would have pre-empted a lot of bullshit. Danny and Andrew were due for a backlash anyway, and Polygram's campaign copying TRAINSPOTTING just made it worse, and turned journalists against us even more. The posters made me want to puke. TWIN TOWN was never a film you could market on a platform release. That was insane. They could have done it so much more cleverly.

With the unique tone you were aiming to achieve, did the editing and the fine tuning of the soundtrack take time? 
No, it was eight weeks, with no hitches. We finished it in time for Sundance. I used the composer Mark Thomas, who was fantastic and really pushed the boat out. I have used him on everything I have done since. He's from Swansea and we have a very close working relationship. He had to call in a lot of favors to get the Royal Philharmonic to do the nice, big orchestrations. I have tried to maintain that standard on all the things I do. I never skimp on music and sound production.

Was it hard to find actors to play the twins? 
Yes, it was. It was quite a hunt as you can imagine. I remember the Evans brothers (Rhys and Llyr) coming to see me in Notting Hill a second time and they had been to a charity shop and bought identical shirts, which was a nice touch. They were great.

Was there much improvising from them in the film? 
No, I never allow any improvising or paraphrasing. The language is like music to me. If something isn't quite working in rehearsals, I might allow improvising and write it into the script.

Was Dougray Scott at all influenced by Liam Gallagher in his performance? 
I've never realised that there is a sort of Liam thing going on there, but I really don't know if he was influenced or not. I auditioned the likes of Tom Hollander, Michael Sheen, and Richard Harrington, who were all trying to break at the time, and have since broken. Hollander was good but I didn't think the London accent was a good fit. And then Dougray came in and I thought there was something about having a Glaswegian in Wales, a Jock in Taffland.

How did your brother Keith Allen's cameo come about? 
He came in for a day, and he got to Swansea from Manchester by the skin of his teeth. When I look back, his part was the least prepared and to me it sticks out a little bit out of pattern. It's a little over the top. But we had no time to rehearse, and we had limited time.

How did you feel about the Welsh BAFTA for Best Original Music? 
Oh, don't get me going! I couldn't care less about the Welsh BAFTAs. It's all politics. It used to be just a piss-up years ago but now it takes itself really seriously. We should have gotten more nominations, but the Welsh establishment and the Welsh Nationalists didn't know what to think of the film. I would get into fist fights with people over it. They would accuse me of taking the piss out of Welsh culture.

After twenty years, how do you feel about the legacy of TWIN TOWN? 
It's lived on. People always want to talk to me about it. It's weird how some people know every single line. It took a while for it to get accepted here in Swansea but now I come across the straightest people who like it. I'm surprised how it spans across the generations and classes.

What can you say about the sequel you are working on, TIN TOWN? 
It's more of a companion piece than a sequel. The twins come back. Bryn (William Thomas) is back from his hanging. It's more political than the first one. Strangely, it's more uplifting and not nihilistic. It's sort of a surreal Ealing comedy, but still dark. It's very funny and more commercial. I think we have managed to come up with something that will satisfy fans of the original and appeal to an older, straighter audience as well. We aim to start shooting next month. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

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