A married couple, apart for one night, faces temptation as the husband takes a business trip with an attractive colleague and the wife encounters a former lover.
Bill Milner and Will Poulter are rare among child actors. Rare, because their parents never, ever intended on either one becoming an actor. Which would explain why they’re not obnoxious little runts when I met up with them in London earlier this week. And rare because, well, with their very first ever movie, ‘Son Of Rambow’, these two kids have managed to deliver perhaps the finest and funniest feelgood movie out of the UK since ‘The Full Monty’. “Yeah, everyone keeps telling us how lucky we’ve been,” smiles 13-year old London lad Will. “It’s not like we can compare it to other movies we’ve made, because this is the very first thing we’ve ever done, but it did feel special, every second of every day for the whole forty days that we were shooting. Even when we were freezing cold, standing in a lake, waiting for the right light, the sound, and all that, we were still having a great time,” adds 12-year old Bill. “The fact that everyone loves the film is just like this extra-added bonus really.”
A movie that might best be described as a sunny ‘This Is England’ crossed with the very fine and very under-appreciated 2004 Irish comedy ‘Mickybo & Me’ – with just a dash of ‘Be Kind Rewind’ thrown in – ‘Son Of Rambow’ has taken nearly a decade to make it to the big screen. When its writer/director Garth Jennings saw his feature film debut – 2005’s big-budget adaptation of Douglas Adams’ cult favourite ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ – hit the no.1 spot in both the US and his native UK, the notoriously happy-go-lucky filmmaker reckoned it would be a piece of cake getting the finances together for his dream project. He was wrong. Very wrong.Inspired by his own childhood adventures, it was in 1982 that the then-11-year-old Garth and his mates developed an obsession with Rambo’s arrival at their local cinema. This was also the year that the humble video camera became available to the common man – Mr. Jennings amongst them – and soon, Garth and his friends were shooting their own man-of-the-jungle action adventure, Aron: Part 1. It’s a memory that’s at the centre of ‘Son Of Rambow’, a big hit at Sundance last year, and finally being released in cinemas after a summer spent sorting out copyright problems. That no British studio was interested in Jennings’ sunny labour of love baffles even its young stars, Bill Milner, who plays the sheepish, Bible-bashed Will, happily offering himself up as a seemingly fearless stuntman for the school’s wily troublemaker, Lee Carter, played by Will Poulter. They’re Oliver and The Artful Dodger crossed with Del Boy and Rodney as kids.”I was laughing all the time when I read this script,” says Will, “so, you know, I kept thinking, how could someone say no to this?” I think the way the movie is being talked about now, that just proves that Garth was right,” offers Bill, “and all these people who said no to him, well, they were wrong, weren’t they?”
The film was eventually financed solely by a wealthy, and wise, French woman who immediately recognised the love, sweat and fake blood that went into this charming story, the 40-day, $7.5million shoot deep in the Berkhamsted woods (standing in for Jenning’s childhood Epping Forest) finally going ahead. Where Bill and Will pretty much offered themselves up as Garth Jennings’ fearless stuntmen, throwing themselves off trees, jumping into that ice-cold lake, and getting covered in tar. “Yeah, we were pretty much his stuntmen,” laughs Will. “It was tough at times, when the light would be fading, and we’d have to, as Bill said, stand in this freezing cold water and wait and wait and wait… It was something of a baptism of fire, yeah,” nods Bill. “But a really warm, thrilling and fun fire.”
It was towards the end of his search – and his nerves – that Jennings found his two leading men, having spoken to hundreds of boys up and down the UK. For both Bill and Will, the idea of becoming an actor hadn’t even crossed their minds. “It was just one of those things that you never imagined would happen to you,” says Will. “It’s not like I grew up thinking, oh, I want to be an actor. So, this was an entirely new experience for us. I think Garth liked the fact that we hadn’t acted before,” reckons Bill. “It meant that we hadn’t developed any bad habits, I guess. We could kind of relate to our characters in the film too, as they were stepping into the world of filmmaking without any experience either.”
Jennings was particularly happy, he has said, with the fact that Bill and Will didn’t suffer from “pushy parents”. Still, pushy or not, those parents may have been a little taken aback at the film’s striking opening scene. Young Will Proudfoot is outside a cinema with the rest of his Plymouth Brethern (imagine the Amish, on misery pills), waving his bible and telling people to keep away from the 18-cert filth inside. Inside, young Lee Carter is seated alongside a row of happy punters lapping up First Blood, the first adventure of John Rambo, the man who, to quote Colonel Trautman in the film, “was trained to ignore pain, to ignore weather, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke!”. Like the rest of the cinema-goers, young Lee is puffing heartily on a cigarette, his trusty VHS camera perched on his right shoulder. “My dad wasn’t too happy with that,” laughs Will. “He’s a professor of cardiovascular diseases, and he’s always been so against smoking. And it just clarfied it for me. I had to smoke a few times during the movie, and I really hated it. It showed the difference between Lee Carter and Will though.” “I think the point of the movie is how each of the boys learns from the other,” says Bill. “The fact that they are different offers up these other ideas, other ways of living. It’s not so much fun when you’re talking about the same things all the time. It’s great to learn something new.The smoking though, yeah, that was disgusting.”
So, given that most actors have to struggle through an awful lot of dodgy TV work before they make their way into the lead role in a much-loved movie, how does it feel to start off your acting careers in a movie like Son Of Rambow?” “It feels amazing,” smiles Will. “We had this great adventure making the movie – something we never thought we’d ever do – and now people are telling us that they love it. That’s a pretty wild feeling. You kinda fear though that you’ll never make something as good as this ever again though. “Well, it’s all downhill from here, innit?” nods Bill. Who’s 12.
Words : Paul Byrne
Check out our video interviews with the cast of Son Of Rambo next week on our monthly video podcast.