Set in the waterfront club land of Newcastle, "STORMY MONDAY" is a taut and stylish romantic thriller starring three of the screen's most acclaimed and popular performers: Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones and rock superstar/actor Sting. Newcomer Sean Bean also stars.
Blending together this remarkable mix of British and American talent are writer/director Mike Figgis and producer Nigel Stafford-Clark. They have previously collaborated on the successful British television film, "The House," and were eager to work together on another project.
"I had great respect for Mike as the writer/director of 'Redheugh, 'Slow Fade,' 'Animals of the City' and, of course, 'The House,' and I wanted to do another film with him," explains Stafford-Clark. "I wished to make something in the style of films I admired such as 'Chinatown' and 'Body Heat,' films which have great texture and an eye for detail.
"As British films tend to develop from the worlds of theatre and television, I thought it would be difficult to find a writer for this sort of material in the U.K. But when Mike described his idea of a 'Newcastle thriller,' I realized that we could achieve it."
A street in the dockside district of Newcastle called The Side was the spark which ignited Figgis's imagination and led him to develop the story. " I used to play in a jazz club on that street," remembers Figgis. "It was a case of the physical location suggesting a theme and idea."
Figgis devised a thriller comprising several elements: "STORMY MONDAY" is an intriguing story of love threatened by violent strife; it is also a drama about ethnic and cultural exchange represented by a Polish jazz band who visit Newcastle to perform and subsequently become entangled in the feud between Cosmo and Finney.
With the script in place, Figgis and Stafford-Clark received financing from England's Film 4, along with Atlantic Entertainment Group in partnership with British Screen. "STORMY MONDAY" marked the first American/British co-production linked with Atlantic, which has since become involved with such English productions as "WISH YOU WERE HERE" and "A WORLD APART."
Even before the deal with Atlantic was set, Stafford-Clark and Figgis went to the U.S. to cast the key American roles of Kate and Cosmo. After seeing several actresses, the filmmakers decided that Melanie Griffith would be perfect for the part of the troubled mistress of a ruthless businessman. Griffith, who had recently completed "Something Wild," expressed strong interest, but was committed to Robert Redford's "The Milagro Beanfield War." The "STORMY MONDAY" start date was pushed back, and Griffith was signed to portray Kate.
Both producer and director were immediately impressed with Griffith's talents. "She has great energy and is very instinctive in her thoughts about the character," says Stafford-Clark. Figgis also found that Griffith brought a special quality to the role. "Her performance as a romantic lead and her understanding of film compare with the great American comediennes like Monroe," he explains.
The role of Cosmo was especially difficult to cast because, as Stafford-Clark explains, "it was the most shadowy and underwritten part in the script: Cosmo must be frightening but attractive enough for Kate to find it hard to break away from him."
Fortunately, the filmmakers were able to get their first choice, Tommy Lee Jones, who has made indelible impressions on audiences for his performances in such films as "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "The Executioner's Song."
"Tommy Lee brought his own special charisma to the part," remembers Stafford-Clark. "He flew into Newcastle airport to start shooting, mirroring the film's introduction to the character. He emerged through the airport doors and there was Cosmo."
A native of Newcastle who also worked there as a musician, Mike Figgis sees several parallels between his own career and that of rock superstar-turned-actor Sting. "Like Sting, I was a member of several jazz and rock groups before I left Newcastle to pursue a musical career in London," remembers the director. Because of this local connection, Figgis was eager to cast Sting as Finney, the ex-musician and tough club owner, and even flew to Los Angeles to pursuade him to take the part.
"Sting is the biggest revelation in the film," says Figgis. "Originally we had been thinking of a much older actor, but after admiring his low-key performance in 'Plenty,' I realized that he would be perfect, and a younger, more contemporary Finney suddenly suggested itself." Sting was very receptive to the idea of doing a film set in Newcastle, in his own accent, and immediately recognized many of the local and musical references in the script.
Sean Bean was the last of the four principals to be cast. Melanie Griffith was involved in the casting and even flew to England for few days to read with several of the actors testing for the role of Brendan.
Finally, the filmmakers selected Bean, who had previously made his mark for his portrayal of "Romeo" opposite Niamh Cusack's "Juliet" in the highly acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production at Stratford. Bean had also co-starred in Derek Jarman's film, "Caravaggio."
"Sean seemed just right with Melanie," says Stafford-Clark. "He's very comfortable with the film medium and the camera likes him." Figgis adds: "The role of Brendan is pivotal because his adulation for all things American and his confrontation with a less glamorous reality is a crucial element of the story."
"STORMY MONDAY" was shot entirely on location in Newcastle, and the city is very much at the heart of the film. For Mike Figgis, of course, it has special qualities: "Maybe I have a rather over-romanticized affection for Newcastle, but I find it a cinematically stunning city. It proved the ideal location for "STORMY MONDAY" since the film takes place during America Week and Newcastle has a strong American industrial feel to it. I felt anything American would sit very well on Newcastle and elements of American style in the film could be easily introduced rather than grafted on. It also has a great musical tradition that has produced rock stars such a Bryan Ferry, The Animals and, of course, Sting."
All of this contributed to Figgis's idea of writing a story based in Newcastle and filmed against backdrops he already knew existed, instead of having to search for matching locations. As in the film, Newcastle is currently undergoing extensive redevelopment. This enabled the production to use vast dockland areas of the city for filming and to construct sets that are now in the process of being rebuilt and modernized. "It was a unique opportunity," says Figgis,"which provided possibilities that would be unthinkable in a city like London."
The people of Newcastle proved to be unusually cooperative with the filmmakers, taking up the call for large numbers of extras and fully entering into the spirit of the production. Even though the city was subjected to an avalanche of publicity due to Sting's participation in the film, there was never a feeling that the production had taken over the town. According to Stafford-Clark, *'Newcastle didn't become over-awed by the fact that a film was shooting there; a city that has such an enormous shipbuilding industry wasn't going to be impressed by a bunch of filmmakers. But they enjoyed themselves and let us get on with it."
Director of photography Roger Deakins and production designer Andrew McAlpine gave "STORMY MONDAY" a unique look, one that they were able to immediately visualize upon reading Figgis's script. "Mike is such a visual writer that he had come up with a blueprint for the general look of the film," says McAlpine. "He made full use of the classic grandeur of the huge old buildings and the towering Tyne Bridge dominating the scene."
McAlpine's first and lasting impression on reading the "STORMY MONDAY" script was what he termed "bruised" colors - bruised purples, blues and greys. These constant tones complemented the film's jazz scenes. To capture the festive spirit of Newcastle during America Week, McAlpine used patriotic American symbols displayed prominently on the parade route: a sea of red, white and blue bunting, larger than life, and waving everywhere.
For the film's musical soundtrack, Figgis and Stafford-Clark were able to secure the services of B.B. King, their ideal choice to perform the title song. Although he knew the song well, King had never recorded it before because it had been recorded earlier by his idol, T. Bone Walker. The "STORMY MONDAY" soundtrack also features Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and an integral scene in which Sting (as Finney) improvises on the double bass in the Key Club.
Atlantic Entertainment Group in association with British Screen and Film Four International presents Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting and Sean Bean in "STORMY MONDAY." The Moving Picture Company production was produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark, and was written and directed by Mike Figgis.
Return to Stormy Monday
Return to Films & TV
Return to The Compleat Sean Bean Main Page