Essex Boys - The Times

Last Update: 03 July 2000

01 July 2000

Source: The Times


Principled Boy

Pauline McLeod

Hugely proud of Nil By Mouth, Charlie Creed-Miles has been picky about his next big role. He tells Pauline McLeod why it's gangster flick Essex Boys

The cream-top of his Guinness is still untouched, but Charlie Creed-Miles is already giving it large. It's midday in a Camden hostelry in North London and thank God the place is empty because he's taking up a lot of floor space. The 28-year-old actor has just treated me to an animated re-enactment of a dinner with Elton John at the maestro's Riviera villa during the Cannes Film Festival.

He has strolled along the Croisette and now he's walking-the-walk, talking-the-talk and tweaking an imaginary bow-tie as he demonstrates how to look cool while ascending the red carpet of the Palais des Festivals - as taught his Nil By Mouth co-stars Kathy Burke and Ray Winstone. Ten exhausting minutes and a dozen quickfire topics later, Creed-Miles is still on overdrive. Though his beer has barely been touched, he leaps up announcing he'll be back in a mo'. As he disappears into the Gents, his publicist assures me that Charlie is not actually on charlie.

In fact, rarely has an actor been less in need of artificial stimulation; if Creed-Miles could bottle his own natural adrenalin he'd make a fortune. It doesn't take long to figure out why his mum packed her hyperactive son off to the Anna Scher Theatre in North London once a week when he was 15. If nothing else, it gave her some rest.

Within a year, Creed-Miles had won a role in the children's series The Gemini Factor. Although he claims to have found the experience "thoroughly embarrassing", it whetted his appetite for acting and during the next decade he ventured into theatre work while continuing to crop up in television series such as Casualty and The Bill.

It was Creed-Miles's outstanding portrayal of Billy, the smackhead in Nil By Mouth (1997), Gary Oldman's unflinching, but often achingly funny, look at a dysfunctional southeast London family, which first tipped off audiences to this exceptional talent. The actor, then only 24, was frighteningly realistic as a junkie caught up in a selfish, self-destructive quest for the next narcotic hit.

Next week, Creed-Miles is back on the big screen as another Billy in Essex Boys, another addition to the current genre du jour: the British gangster flick. Director Terry Winsor's film is inspired by the true events surrounding a gangland "hit" in Essex when three men were found shot dead in a Range Rover off a quiet country road. Billy is a bit of a wide-boy, but also the panic-stricken heart and conscience in a movie packed with appallingly unsavoury characters, in particular a very nasty Sean Bean and a scheming Alex Kingston.

Creed-Miles isn't above a bit of laddish behaviour himself at times, yet he has a responsible take on the current trend for on-screen thuggery. "At least Essex Boys is honest," he declares. "It may be about an underworld which is nasty and horrible, but it does have a moral base to it. Though, of course, I've heard other people make these same claims about their gangster films. But I hate the glamorisation of this world, I hate it with a passion."

He warms to his theme. "I think it's worrying that we have this culture in Britain whereby it's all right to be a bit of a thug. It's reflected in our football. But what I'm concerned about are the impressionable young kids who after seeing Lock, Stock . . . think, 'that's what I want to be: a bit of a clever-boy gangster.' When you have an ad for the TV spin-off with a caption that reads: 'fun-loving criminals', that's worrying. 'Ain't it a laugh being a gangster? Have you got street cred? Are you working-class enough? Have you been-there-done-it?'"

Then there's Gangster No 1, Love Honour & Obey and Final Cut. Suffice to say, he finds them all equally reprehensible. Then, as quickly as he hopped on to his soapbox, he's off it again, all smiles and back to being Charming Charlie.

Compared to Nil By Mouth, when Creed-Miles soaked himself in his character by observing Narcotics Anonymous meetings, making Essex Boys was a breeze. He even has a love scene with Alex Kingston, though it can hardly be described as swooningly romantic.

So, was this his first on-screen romp? "No, no, no! I'm an old hand at it," he grins. "The first time was when I was 19 in The Punk and the Princess, which had ten minutes of pornography slap-bang in the middle of it. I remember drinking a can of Special Brew - and I wasn't a drinker then - to help me get through the scene. I saw it for the first time in front of thousands of people at Glastonbury, including my girlfriend of the time, and I wanted to die."

Creed-Miles's present love life is somewhat complicated. He's the proud father of Samantha Morton's four-month-old daughter, Esme (he and the Oscar-nominated actress met while filming The Last Yellow at Pinewood Studios in the summer of 1998), but they're not currently living together.

He's staying at his mother's in Islington, North London, while the star of Sweet and Lowdown lives with their child in another part of North London. "Don't get me started," he pleads. "I don't want to go down that road. I don't have to tell anyone how I feel. It's between her and me."

Looking at him, it's clear that his feelings run deep. But then Creed-Miles is the kind of chap who acts on gut instinct. "I haven't been the most prolific actor since Nil By Mouth, but if you have the blessing to be in something like that, which you're really proud of, then I think it makes you picky," he explains.

But then, instinct can sometimes be wrong. "I did this film called Woundings, a futuristic thriller that had a cracking script, but it turned out to be terrible," he recalls, wincing at the memory. "It didn't even get a cinema release. It didn't even go 'straight to video'. I think it went straight in the bin!"

And pickiness can be a two-way street. "After Nil, the director Mike Leigh wanted to see me," confides Creed-Miles. "He grilled me about my parents, my personal history - as if my history as an actor wasn't enough - and then dismissed me. (Creed-Miles is unsure which film he was trying out for, but thinks it must have been Topsy Turvy.) Not getting the job I can take, but the fact that he completely blanked me the next time I saw him, I found insulting. I felt a mug for having given him the time of day."

Still, his actor's instinct seems to have been back on form when he signed up for a spot of prime-time iniquity with Pete Postlethwaite, Geraldine James and Frank Finlay in a BBC1 drama serial called The Sins. Scripted by William Ivory (Common as Muck), the sevenparter is scheduled for transmission this autumn.

Talking, of course, is thirsty work and at the rate Creed-Miles has been going, those vocal chords need lubricating. "Funny," he says, finally lifting and downing that pint of the black stuff. "I don't normally talk this much."

Essex Boys is released on July 14 nationwide.

metro cv Charlie Creed-Miles

AGE 28.

BORN Nottingham.

LIVES Islington, North London.

BIG BREAK When Luc Besson cast him as David in The Fifth Element.

HIGH POINT His incredible performance as Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke's wayward junkie son in Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth (1997).

CHILDREN A four-month-old daughter called Esme from his relationship with actress Samantha Morton.

DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS Doe-eyed lad-next-door good looks. Sports a scar above his left-eyebrow.



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