Bad boys: Hyena filmmakers talk dirty cops
Director Gerard Johnson and actor Peter Ferdinando on British crime drama
Gerard Johnson’s Hyena opened the 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival, and is on general release from this week. A grisly thriller about a group of Albanian gangsters in London, we caught up with Hyena’s director and its star, Peter Ferdinando – who have previously collaborated on 2009’s Tony – about the film.
Hyena could broadly be described as a police thriller, but did you want to put a different spin on that genre?
Gerard Johnson: I was massively influenced by the French policiers from Jean-Pierre Melville right up to the present day. I’ve always wanted to really understand why in the UK we can’t seem to make similar cop films. I think it’s because there’s cop telly maybe, so no one attempted to make them like the French – they churn them out, it’s brilliant, there’s so many that are fantastic. In some way I was trying to make a British version of that.
You play some really dark characters. Do you ever wish you’d lighten up a bit?
Peter Ferdinando: They’re all fun to play, and they’re all relatable, strangely. They’re all connected somehow. You want to play characters that are dark – or I do anyway – I don’t want to play conventional, regular guys. I want to play people that are dark, that have a secret or something about them that’s not pleasing to a lot of people
I think there’s been a trend of darker film making in Britain in the last couple of years… would you agree that it’s on the rise now or do you think it’s always been there?
GJ: I think it’s always been there, I don’t think it’s a current trend. Directors, writers – they’re always interested in dark material. It just so happens these two films [Tony and Hyena] are dark. It’s more [about] flawed characters than finding dark worlds but obviously flawed characters tend to operate and the world ends up being dark. The research takes you into areas and those are the areas I find interesting: the hidden world. Where’s the drama in someone who’s life is going extremely well with no problems?
PF: But then addressing those dark characters leads you into areas you’ve got to approach with some sensitivity because you’re not just doing it just for fun. It isn’t fun and it’s showing something for what it really is, the reality when it comes to human trafficking, police corruption, criminal violence – it’s not to be laughed at. Tarantino gets a kick out of making violent films but I’m not sure how far you take that…
GJ: I do have a gradual problem with cartoon violence [for] comedic value, that’s really shocking. I think the difference in Hyena is that it’s not gratuitous violence. The violence is sickening and it’s sickening for the main character. It’s not saying violence is cool. What I think is more damaging is when it’s cartoon violence and someone gets their throat slit and it’s sort of for comedic value... which I’ve seen and it’s getting more and more shocking as the effects get better. So I think in the right context it’s important but I’m not one of filmmakers who gets off on making a violent film, like a Saw or a Hostel. I don’t like that stuff.
The film involves Albanian gangsters – were you conscious about tackling the fact that there’s a lot of fear or scare-mongering about [this community]?
GJ: Very much – and I want to make it clear that it’s a very small fraction of that community. Obviously, from doing my research, the first thing I came across was the Albanian gangsters but after actually going deeper and meeting the Albanian community, I found that the criminal element was getting smaller and smaller.
The Albanians that I met were fantastic and we’re very close. I insisted on taking two of the guys, non-actors – one’s Cossack and one’s Albanian – and I wanted to know everything, Peter went over to Kosovo and shot guns with them. We immersed ourselves in the music and the culture and everything, I didn’t want to get that wrong. It’s important to say this is a small minority, it does exist but it’s a small minority.
Everyone in the film is bad, the cops are bad, the criminals are bad – everyone’s horrible, [so] it’s not like we’re saying ‘these are the good guys and these are the bad guys’ and being racist. It’s all varying degrees of horribleness.
Hyena is on general release from Fri 6 Mar.