Essex Boys - 'It annoys me when gangsters become heroes'

Last Update: 16 July 2000

15 July 2000

Source: The Daily Express

'It annoys me when gangsters become heroes'

Charlie Creed-Miles talks to Ryan Gilbey about the morality of Essex boys

I meet the actor Charlie Creed-Miles for lunch in North London. He gets there early and goes on a shopping spree in Reckless Records: Run DMC, Jungle Brothers, various electro albums, all on vinyl.
Last week he saw the film of High Fidelity, about a music obsessive, and thought: "That's my life, that is." Today he's distracted by another movie: Essex Boys, a British thriller in which he stars as a mini-cab driver drawn into the crummy world of vulgar gangsters around the M25.

"Have you seen the papers?" he chuckles, bright and breezy in his tangerine shirt. "We got slated."

He peruses the various reviews that have come in, pausing to shake his head or voice an objection.

"Nah," he says, reading one diatribe against the movie. "It says here that we glamorise violence. That ain't fair." And while Essex Boys is unquestionably several rewrites and recastings away from being a fine film, he's right on this score: it isn't fair. The irritating thing for Creed-Miles is that he has consciously avoided becoming implicated in the post-Lock, Stock British gangster phenomenon.

"Here's the thing," he announces. "Essex Boys is suffering, I believe, for the sins of all these films that I've been turning down recently. Love, Honour And Obey, Rancid Aluminium - I could've been in all those, that's a fact, but if you instantly dislike the script, it's a bad sign. I was only able to do Essex Boys because I believed in the material, and believed that it wasn't glorifying violence. I'm very proud that we haven't got celebrity gangsters in our film - it really annoys me when these horrible people get turned into folk heroes."

It's heartening to find that Creed-Miles filters his choice of roles through this moral imperative, because, after all, a man's got to work - especially if he has recently become a father (he has a five-month-old daughter, Esme, with the actress Samantha Morton, who was Oscar-nominated for Woody Allen's Sweet And Lowdown). "It's hard," he shrugs. "It's not my fault that people are writing gangster scripts 10 to the dozen. But I refuse to deploy my talents willy-nilly."

His CV is proof of that. It is littered with parts in odd movies that strayed pleasingly far from the beaten track (The Young Poisoner's Handbook from 1995; Let Him Have It, the 1991 film of the infamous Derek Bentley case) and crowned by his riveting portrayal of a gormless smack addict in Gary Oldman's disturbing Nil By Mouth. It's hard to think about that film without flinching, and Creed-Miles had one of the toughest scenes in a tough movie: shooting up with intense concentration as his helpless mother, who has chauffeured him to his dealer, looks on.

"The most beautiful moments in being an actor come when you forget that there's a camera running. When you hit that peak, you're living and breathing as an actor. Nil By Mouth was like that.

I was immersed in it; it was so draining." He didn't bother reading his reviews back then. "I don't suppose I cared what anyone thought about it 'cos I knew how good it was. But I do remember something Ian Hislop wrote. He said he walked out of Nil By Mouth halfway through because he thought it was just working-class propaganda. He said that people didn't really live like that - as if he'd know. I thought to myself: that's exactly the kind of ignorance that the film is fighting."

I ask him if it was hard working on other movies after being involved in something as rewarding as Nil By Mouth. "I can't lie," he says with refreshing candour. "Yes. It was a little bit. But not every film you do can be exactly suited to the way you like to work." There's a sadness in that, and he hears it, and pulls himself up short. "But you can get something from working with everyone, I truly believe that."

If Creed-Miles knows how to exploit his physical characteristics on screen - that brilliant blank face which could feasibly be an unblinking witness to any number of horrors - then he is happily distinguishable from the doomed, naive chancers that he has played. He has vowed not to discuss his personal life, for instance. Although he will admit to living in North London, he won't specify which area he grew up in.

"It's not that I think my life's gossipworthy or anything," he says. "I'd just rather not be too specific." But when he gets excited about having had his face splashed across a magazine cover recently, I ask if he has much family around to share such moments and he says quietly: "No, not really."

Hitting a front cover made his month. "He was like a child," says his friend and Nil By Mouth co-star Steve Sweeney, who has joined us at a restaurant where they make you pay the bill straight after ordering ("Maybe they've seen Essex Boys," suggests Creed-Miles). Another friend from that film, Ray Winstone, has promised to get the cover framed for him. Creed-Miles finds it hilarious. "I've arrived!" he bellows, tongue wedged in his cheek. "I'm not just an actor, I'm a superstar!" In truth, he's rather humble. When he was cast as a bashful monk alongside Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element, he played the role down as "just a few lines".

"Though I think if you rewatch the video," he says now, puffing out his chest, "you'll find that I save the world in that film. With a little help from Bruce, of course."

Essex Boys is at cinemas now


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