It’s a question which has fascinated and baffled science fiction fanatics for many years hence: What exactly would happen in the event of an alien invasion? They might conclude that the answer depends on the exact location of our extra-terrestrial visitors. Well, whilst alien combat is by no means an original cinematic subject matter, Attack the Block is the first film to host the action on a South London estate.
Our unlikely heroes are a group of typical London youths and are initially far from sympathetic, conforming to the unfortunate ‘hoodie’ stereotype. In fact, at the beginning of the film, the group mug an unsuspecting nurse as she travels home from work. As the action develops, however, we see that these characters have hidden depths. So, what makes Attack the Block really interesting is the representation of London youth. I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to interview five members of the young cast and get their take on the film
John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Simon Howard, Leeon Jones and Franz Drameh lounge with a distinct air of nonchalance, legs swinging back and forth as they perch on the back of a sofa in a private members club in Mayfair. They are immediately likeable. There is none of the stiff, starched, media-ready façade of your more seasoned movie stars, in fact I almost feel as if I have stumbled by mistake into their living room. It’s clear they have formed a firm bond over the months of filming – there is frequent laughter, interruption of one another and repeating of ‘in jokes’.
John appears to be the group’s natural leader, and answers my questions with maturity and forethought, whilst the others regale me with tales of on-set practical jokes and dressing room based malarkey. They are keen to inform me that the film will be exported to the USA, which makes the portrayal of young British people all the more poignant. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to depart from the prevailing foppish Hugh Grant-esque charicature so familiar and no doubt tedious to our American cousins.
Are they happy with their characters? “Yes, definitely” says Franz “”the characters are meant to start off stereotypical and the audience aren’t meant to like us” he says but “there is a lot of character development especially through Moses” (who is played by John). “We’re just normal kids” throws in Leeon “not some superhuman monsters”.
The film is directed by Joe Cornish and stars Nick Frost, who were both also involved with box office hit and comedy/horror Shaun of the Dead. Is this film in a similar format? “NO!” they all chorus (in a way which suggests they have probably been asked this question before) “It’s more genuinely scary” confirms John “the comedy is a release from the horror”. “Sci-fi urban films could be a new start for British film” says Simon “we’ve definitely stepped it up a few notches”.
As they playfully punch each other and throw back their heads in great gaffawing laughs, it occurs to me to ask whether battling imaginary aliens fulfilled some kind of childhood fantasy for them? “Definitely!” says Alex “it all goes back to when you’re a kid playing make believe in your bedroom”. I wonder if it was bizarre for them, in a film which involves a lot of CGI, having to act with characters which might not physically have been present during filming. They seem vaguely affronted by this “we are actors!” they tell me. I decide not to pursue this topic further.
With such seasoned pros behind the film, there is little doubt it represents a huge career opportunity for these emerging starlets. Their success obviously hasn’t gone to their heads, however. When I ask them what advice they would give to aspiring actors, they emphasise the importance of “being humble” and “growing a thick skin” to cope with all the inevitable rejection their chosen profession unfortunately entails.
“It’s also important to keep good people around you” says John, with a trademark raise of his perfectly groomed eyebrow. It immediately occurs to me that John is quite sexy, and that perhaps a career as a new British heart-throb might be in the pipeline. I later discover he is to star in ‘Junkhearts’ alongside Eddie Marsan and Romala Garai later this year and plays guest lead in an emotionally driven episode of ‘Law & Order: UK’ , due for for transmission this Summer.
Finally, I ask whether they believe in aliens in real life? “Damn straight!” I am told. I dissolve into giggles as Leeon tells me “there are a lot of planets out there, you know” (I do know) and Simon says solemnly “all rumours start somewhere”. Although, John says “all the meteors that pass over my house in London seem to be heading in the direction of America”.
And that is, coincidentally, exactly where Attack the Block is heading. As I leave them re-enacting a fantasy battle between Tarzan and another superhero I’ve never heard of, I feel sure that these five lads will never lose their high energy enthusiasm for life and that they’ll do Britain proud, stateside.
Words by Natasha Devon