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James Marsh • Director

“It felt great that we could acknowledge actors at the end of their careers”

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- We chatted to British director James Marsh about his new film, King of Thieves, about the Hatton Garden robbery of 2015, which is out now in UK cinemas

James Marsh  • Director

The heist thriller King of Thieves [+see also:
trailer
interview: James Marsh
film profile
]
tells the story of the Hatton Garden robbery of 2015, where items in 60 to 70 safe deposit boxes in London’s diamond district were stolen. British director James Marsh, who made the BAFTA- and Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and The Theory of Everything [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, the Oscar-winning drama based on the life of Stephen Hawking, discusses bringing the remarkable tale of the robbers to the screen.

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Cineuropa: How did you get involved in the film?
James Marsh:
I was initially sceptical about my ability to make the movie. I was not sure I was the right person for the job. Once I’d met Michael Caine for lunch and he wanted to do the film, it came together quite quickly after that. At that stage, we had not yet written a word, and the rest of the cast we got came along after he was on board. You couldn’t make this story or the characters up: they are so dramatic.

Was Michael Caine always going to play ringleader Brian Reader?
He assumed what character he was going to play. We embraced his assumption that he was going to be the most eminent criminal, and rightly so. We wrote the part for him, and he tracked three or four drafts of the script. We got the other actors, Jim BroadbentRay Winstone and Tom Courtenay, fairly early on, all of whom have had brilliant careers. It’s daunting for a filmmaker when you’re dealing with these men and you ask them to strip down to their underpants on the first day of filming. We chose to do that scene first, as it set the tone for the rest of the work we did together. The funniest lines in the film came from their improvisations – they were like a jazz ensemble and a joy to behold. 

There are similarities between certain aspects of King of Thieves and Man on Wire; did you want to play on your earlier documentary, even though this time it’s the fallout, rather than the planning, that makes up the bulk of the film?
I was aware of the similarities. I constructed Man on Wire as a heist film, and there is a tonal similarity. It was a response to the story because the best part was what happened after it started to go wrong. The second half of the film takes a darker turn, and there are some enthralling details and absurdities that come out, which are very dramatic and highlight the conflict.

Why did you want to pay homage to the careers of the actors by featuring footage of them in heist films from earlier on in their careers?
That came quite late on. Initially, we used to open the film with something like that in the early edits. We felt that it was great that we could acknowledge actors who were at the end of their careers, recognise their mythology and screen presence, and also give a nice wink to the audience. Michael Caine loved it. It’s a film full of nostalgia for the actors – and the characters – on the life they used to have. 

Did you meet any of the robbers?
I didn’t want to meet any of them. We had a good source in Duncan Campbell, of The Guardian. Ray Winstone went to meet the character he played: he knew Danny Jones growing up. What we had was transcripts from the bugs placed in their cars in the aftermath of the robbery, and the dialogue that Joe Penhall wrote was either lifted or channelled from that. It was informed by the language they used.

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