|November 10th, 2005 10:15 PM
|Ten Thousand Motels
||How I found my inner hippy
Leo Gregory made his name playing modern-day hooligans. But when he took the role of drug-addled 60s icon Brian Jones - mercurial genius of the Rolling Stones - it changed his life. He talks to Will Hodgkinson
Friday November 11, 2005
Brian Jones - the original self-proclaimed "leader" of the Rolling Stones - has been mythologised, deified and demonised in equal turns since his death in June 1969. The everactive Brian Jones fan club organises annual pilgrimages to their hero's birthplace, the not-quite-rock'n'roll town of Cheltenham, while a new generation of thatch-haired romantics emerge every few years to ape Jones's music, lifestyle and most importantly, dress sense. As Gered Mankowitz, chief photographer to the Jones-era Rolling Stones, has it: "I've met people who have taken out a second mortgage to buy a pair of Brian's old shoes."
Leo Gregory was not among their number when he landed the part of Jones in Stoned, Stephen Woolley's long-planned biopic on the final days of the original Byronic pop star. "I had never heard of him," admits Gregory. "When I read the script I kept thinking, did this guy really exist? How can there be such an original, multi-faceted, fucked-up guy who was the original Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, and neither myself nor any of my friends know who he is?"
Not only had Gregory never heard of Jones; the entire world that Jones came from was alien to him. "I could have named you maybe two songs by the Rolling Stones before I got the part," he says. "I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, which were all about making money and rejecting the 1960s thing of letting it all hang out and being creative. The closest I got to Brian's world was when my mum stuck on a record by the Who."
Gregory had less than a month to prepare for shooting after he was offered the part. There were logistical problems; he had to get up on stage at Brixton Academy in south London with a guitar and look as though he knew what to do with it, only three weeks after picking one up for the first time. And there were character problems, too. Brian Jones was a complex man. He fathered a string of illegitimate children while still in his teens; he could be proficient on any musical instrument within days; and he had a prodigious appetite for drink and drugs that he was physically and mentally too weak to cope with. He had rock-star charisma, but came from solid middle-class stock. Keith Richards got along with him, but former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham wasn't so sure. In his autobiography he simply describes Jones as "a cunt". Gregory has drawn his own conclusions.
"He could be the most charming, eloquent, gregarious, peacock-like figure, and then in the blink of an eyelid he could turn into the biggest shit," he says. "He would take delight in pulling people to pieces. So I was trying to work out where that came from, and like most things it seemed to stem from childhood. He came from a 1950s world in which you speak when you're spoken to, and he was pushed to the periphery by his parents after his younger brother died. Then he gets a band together and it's cool, but that falls apart when Andrew Loog Oldham comes along. Throw in a bunch of drugs and a fragile mental state and you can see how things might go wrong."
And things certainly did go wrong. Stoned focuses on the last days of Brian Jones, when his future status in the Rolling Stones was hanging in the balance, the love of his life (Anita Pallenberg) had run off with Richards, and he was living in hermetic, drug-filled seclusion at his Sussex home with only a builder, the deeply conservative Frank Thorogood, and a fly-by-night girlfriend, Anna Wohlin, for company. The old rules of society had been overturned in Brian Jones's world, but nobody was quite sure about what the new ones were yet. Part of Gregory's job was to understand the vagaries of the swinging 60s as much as those of the character he was playing.
"I was trying to nail the 1960s," he says. "I was like, 'So Keith sleeps with Anita, and Brian doesn't mind, and everyone leaves their doors open and loves each other?' Nowadays Keith would get stabbed in the eye for looking at Anita. Whereas Brian's friends would sit around smoking pot and playing the flute, my friends would have been selling pot and going to prison. Brian was androgynous, but in a masculine way. Nowadays it's a case of, 'Are you gay or straight?' That 1960s culture of everyone just being themselves and doing their own thing was different from anything I knew."
Before the Jones role fell into his lap, Gregory was carving out a reputation as the ultimate hoodie, chiefly based on his role as a rampaging council estate teen in the 2002 TV drama Out of Control. Gregory spent his adolescence with his mother in Camberwell, Stockwell and Fulham, in south London, in a culture where expressing one's individuality was not an option. "I'd say that there was a coldness to my background. If you wanted to be different, you either had to have an army behind you or an army within you, because the reaction would always be, 'What do you mean 'different'? Who do you think you are?'"
After getting a taste of acting with some small television parts in childhood, Gregory had a brief spell at the income-assessed boarding school Christ's Hospital, currently famous for featuring in Channel 4's Rock School. He was expelled at the age of 15 for being "too 60s for them, shall we say". He returned to Camberwell, started working as a DJ, got involved with the urban music scene and made friends with Wandsworth's evertroubled collective, So Solid Crew.
"The Rolling Stones would play a concert in the 1960s and some girls threw knickers at them, but my friend Ashley [Asher D] would do a gig with So Solid Crew where two people got shot and he could never perform again. And I was doing next to nothing. So I asked myself, what's the one thing I could enjoy and make a life out of, and appreciate as an art form?"
The success of Out of Control resulted in Gregory being offered every hooligan part going. He took one of them in the football-firm film Green Street, but also went the other way, with a role in the Jewish romantic comedy Suzie Gold. The decadence and colourful promiscuity of Stoned is a world away from the harsh retribution of Out of Control, and Gregory has been changed by the experience of immersing himself into Jones's strange, brief life. "At first I thought it was just a great gig," he says. "It's turned out to be life-changing. It's changed the music I listen to, the way I dress, and the way I view people. I've realised that I was playing into society's hands when I looked at some long-haired guy as a freak. Now I think, let's get to know each other."
· Stoned is released on November 18
|November 11th, 2005 08:32 AM
|Ten Thousand Motels
||Sex and drugs and Brian Jones
A new film about Brian Jones suggests that the Rolling Stone's mysterious death in 1969 may in fact have been murder - and explores a dark collision of cultures that lay beneath the surface of the carefree '60s. Its director talks to Robert Sandall
It remains one of the great whodunnits - or whodunwhats - of the 1960s. On the night of July 3 1969, Rolling Stone Brian Jones was found face-down in the swimming pool of his home, Cotchford Farm in Sussex. An inquest recorded death by misadventure, "drowning while under the influence of drink and drugs".
At the time this sounded plausible enough, given Jones's gargantuan appetites, depressive tendencies and the fact that he had recently been pushed out of the band he founded. But posterity has begged to differ: a steady trickle of books alleging murder, conspiracy and much else besides has resulted now in a feature film, starring Leo Gregory as Brian Jones. Stoned advances the not unheard but so far unproven view that the hapless ex-Stone was done away with by his disgruntled, one-eyed builder, the late Frank Thorogood, who is played by Paddy Consedine.
Stoned is much more than a celebrity murder flick. It marks the directorial debut of Stephen Woolley, co-founder of Palace Pictures and a producer with impressive form in the area of fictionalised re-enactments of key tales from the '60s. Scandal, about the Profumo affair, and Backbeat, which told the story of Stuart Sutcliffe and the Beatles in Hamburg, both feature prominently on his CV of 45 films. Completing an informal trilogy, Stoned neatly combines Woolley's interest in the social history and seminal pop music of that fabled decade. "It was a great opportunity to look at the 1960s in a different light," he says.
The idea for the movie first came to him in 1993 while he was working on Backbeat. "I was only a kid in the 1960s and I grew up believing, as we all did, that the Stones were the real rebels and that the Beatles were more manufactured. Then when I was making Backbeat I realised it wasn't that simple. While Lennon and McCartney were hanging out with mad existentialists in Hamburg, smashed out of their brains, Mick Jagger was still at the LSE! And I saw then that the story of Brian Jones and the Stones was mostly PR."
Woolley's interest in Jones was stimulated by the discovery that Marianne Faithfull had advised her then boyfriend Mick Jagger to base his character in Nic Roeg's 1969 film Performance on Jones, right down to the slightly effeminate lisp. "Brian really epitomised the spirit of the band and of his time," Woolley says, quoting Bill Wyman's line, "No Jones, no Stones." (Before he began filming, Woolley made sure the whole cast watched Performance.)
The mystery surrounding the precise circumstances of Jones's death was "an excuse for 12 years of investigative journalism", and the reason why it took Woolley so long to complete the film. Having bought the rights to a number of books, including Paint It Black, Who Killed Cock Robin?, and the crucial text The Murder of Brian Jones by Jones's last girlfriend Anna Wohlin, Woolley went looking for eyewitnesses. He consulted the policeman in charge of the original inquiry. Then, with the help of private detectives, he tracked down the two women who were with Jones on the night he died, Wohlin, and his nurse Janet Lawson, who vanished after the event, lived abroad for many years and has never been interviewed by the police.
The two women's stories were so similar that Woolley reluctantly discarded conspiracy theories alleging hired assassins, midnight stranglers and the rest. "So many good things happened to the Stones because of Brian's death, but I believe that what happened to him came about because of his relationship with Frank Thorogood."
This is the real nub of the film. "There were two contrasting worlds in the 1960s, the tiny elitist world of Brian Jones, with its sex, drugs and decadence, and the real world, Frank's world, which was still very grey. Frank was very bitter, and jealous of the kids who were reaping the benefits of what he had helped to create. He was one of the forgotten generation who had won the war and survived terrible things, in his case losing an eye. And they'd done it though discipline and self-control. Then along came the 1960s with this 'Let it all hang out' attitude. It was like a red rag to a bull."
In a crucial scene Thorogood finally manages to bed one of the girls hanging around Jones's house, only to be told that she "prefers brain to brawn". For all its period preoccupation with nudity, casual sex and groovy gear - several of the outfits seen in the film were originally owned and worn by Jones and his most famous girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg - Stoned is not a straight hymn of praise to the psychedelic '60s.
It is permeated with Woolley's own hard-won ambivalence.
He grew up loving the Stones' music, but as one of five children who shared the same bedroom in a household with no fridge, no phone and no car, he inhabited Frank's world. His upbringing had little in common with that of Jones, a pampered child from the genteel spa town of Cheltenham. "Brian Jones's character interested me, the way he was always pushing the limits and would try anything. But for most of his adult life he was in no fit state deal with the real world."
Jones was no match either for his former bandmates, who have remained tight-lipped since his death and studiously blanked Woolley's film. "Their attitude seemed to be that this film and Brian Jones didn't exist and that the Stones began after he died in 1969."
The upside of this was that the director didn't have to cede any editorial control - or budget - to Rolling Stones Inc. The downside was that Stoned was able to use only three of the band's songs.
This hasn't endeared the film to the Stones anoraks invited to previews. "Miserable git gets the hump with a bloke from Chichester about his grouting", was one shirty comment posted on the web. Other reactions have complained about the skimpy soundtrack, as well as the implausibly well-toned body, and wiggy yellow hair, of Gregory's Brian Jones. Luke de Woolfson, unrecognisable as Mick Jagger, and a surprisingly wholesome looking Keith Richards, played by Ben Whishaw, have also raised a few eyebrows among the trainspotters.
Woolley is unrepentant. "I didn't cast lookalikes, or soundalikes. I tried a few and they were terrible actors. I've been very careful with the look of this film in terms of clothes and make-up, but it isn't a documentary. It's a drama about the haves and the have-nots and what happens when you put them together in an enclosed, claustrophobic space."
'Stoned' is released next Friday.
[Edited by Ten Thousand Motels]