Gemma Creagh chats with Killing Bono director Nick Hamm and Neil McCormick, author of novel Killing Bono: I was Bono’s Doppelganger.
How did you come to direct Killing Bono?
Nick: I heard Neil being interviewed on the radio in London and I thought there was an interesting story there about rock n’ roll failure. I thought that failure would make a good journey for a movie rather than rock and roll success, which is what most movies are.
Were you happy with the portrayal of yourself in the film?
Neil: You know it’s really complicated to see yourself portrayed by anybody, anybody else’s idea of you… I’m much better looking in the film than in real life so I should be happy about that, but of course my dance moves are way better.
Nick: He’s very lucky that Ben Barnes is playing him!
Neil: It makes my head explode. The difference is, when you write the book you tell these stories of your own failures with the ironic voice of someone who’s including themselves in the joke. I’m saying: ‘I did this really stupid thing isn’t that funny?’ but when someone else tells it, they’re just saying ‘he did this really stupid thing’.
What was the most difficult part of shooting it?
Nick: The most difficult part was to get two main elements. One was to make accurate the moments of rock history that I needed to get right. In other words: the early days of U2, the audition scenes and the music scenes in the clubs. Those for me, were important. I wanted to make sure they were historically correct and had the right energy and vibe at the time. The other thing was making the main character, because if you’ve got an antihero character that essentially irritates the audience all the time through ineptitude or hubristic decision making then you need to make that character as likable as you can. Neil’s fictional journey –the story of how bad he should be at any moment and how terrible he actually was – the plotting of that is quite difficult.
Has Bono seen it?
Neil: Bono has seen it. U2 have all seen it, they thought it was very funny at the screening. They’ve been supportive of the process because Bono loved the book in the first place. He felt it was the first time he’s recognised himself in print. He should know, because I knew him before he became Bono. I knew him as a boy and now I’ve seen this inflated image – this iconic rock god everyone has, this cartoon of an idea of Bono – that has taken over. I know the human being and he’s a really great guy, that is there in the book and it is there in the film. He should be delighted with that. No actor could have done better than Martin McCann as Bono. He IS Bono. He’s more like Bono than Bono is. If Bono wanted to retire and let someone else do the singing, he has a ready-made replacement.
Did you both collaborate when creating the characters? Because there are some pretty mental characters in there.
Nick: There are some mental characters in there! Without getting into litigious areas, Neil wrote about some real people in the book and we thought that probably wasn’t the best way to go. There were enough real characters in the story, so we conflated certain characters together that he met on his musical journey in the ’80s, and made them into one, cementing them. So therefore you get over the problem that they are ‘this’ person, and also create something that the audience can relate to. They go on that journey, because you can’t just have hundreds of different people coming in. The book is a kind of kaleidoscope of events that happened, whereas a movie has to be more focused.
How much of it actually happened?
Neil: It’s close to the truth of the idea of the book. The stuff that happened is on record with U2, the other thing is that Ivan and myself formed a band at the same time as U2 in school and U2 went to the top of the music business and we didn’t. The actual incidents of how that occurred have been dramatised and made more tangible for the film, but the essence of the film is a true story of almost cosmic levels of failure.
Nick: There are certain elements of the movie that are factually correct: They did audition in Larry’s mum’s kitchen, they did put a notice on the noticeboard at Mount temple school and they did play in that tiny little hall. We fictionalised other factual events and factualised a lot of fiction. In the end what you want to say to the audience is ‘yeah there are of elements in this that are true but it’s authentic to what happened.’
Does Ivan like it?
Nick: Ivan thinks it’s the truth. He thinks it’s funny that his brother stopped him in U2 and that now I’ve managed to get that message out to the world.
Neil: If you’re in an unsuccessful rock band, mostly your story never gets told and Ivan is a really talented musician who’s still a musician but he’s working on a different part of the circuit now. He’s available for weddings and parties. This is a way that he gets his story told to the world. I’ve been able to tell my story because I’ve written a book and I’ve been able to write and express myself in different ways, so this is a gift to Ivan – plus he gets played by Robbie.
Nick: He gets played by a very attractive actor, Robert Sheehan!
Killing Bono is released in cinemas today.