Is there a Mr Hodges in the house? [2000 interview with Mike Hodges, film director]

The man who made Get Carter in 1971 is not in the best of moods. Mike Hodges’ journey from Dorset to London has been dogged by train-company failures. Spur-of-the-moment timetable changes mean that Hodges’ nerves are rattled and as it’s 10.30am, it’s too early to go to the pub. If the man who brought Jack Carter to life is hacked off, we’d better be careful. We don’t want to be thrown out of the window of this Leicester Square hotel like Alf Roberts was at that Gateshead car park.

With Get Carter being re-released every 12 months on DVD, you must be made of money.
Ha-ha-ha. I got £7,000 for doing the film and I signed away all my rights. I was so excited at being offered the film that I didn’t consider it.

What do you think of the new Get Carter film with Sylvester Stallone?
I haven’t seen it. I mean, it sounds such a completely different film to the one I made. I don’t know, we’ll see, won’t we? It will be terribly good fun to watch.

It’ll be awful.
Sylvester Stallone has a goatee beard and a tiger tattoo and he’s married, and it’s a redemption film at the end. He saves Doreen.

Do you think British audiences will boycott Get Carter 2000?
I have absolutely no idea. It depends on the hype. I think maybe out of curiosity people will go.

If you had to cast Jack Carter today, who would you choose?
God, I don’t know.

Apparently Leonardo DiCaprio wanted to play Jack.
Jack in what?

The Beanstalk might have been preferable. Was Michael Caine a first choice for Jack?
I did wonder if Ian Hendry [Eric Paice in Get Carter] was going to play him. He’s a terrific actor but I never voiced the opinion because I was too busy writing the script.

There were a lot of good British male actors in the late Sixties and early Seventies but not too many today. They’re all pretty boys.
Yes they are, aren’t they. Well, Michael Caine came to me and there was never any serious discussion. He was the one.

In the new film, Michael Caine is playing Cliff Brumby.
Is he really? No, not Brumby. He’s not Cliff Brumby, surely.

He is. Can you imagine Michael Caine getting slapped across the face and being told he’s a big fella but he’s out of shape?
Preposterous.

Why did you film Get Carter in Newcastle, when Ted Lewis’ original book, Jack Returns Home, is set in Lincolnshire?
It doesn’t say where it is, actually. He changes trains in Doncaster but you never know where he goes to. I’d done my national service in the navy, so I went into all these unbelievable ports like Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft, North Shields, Immingham, all that. So when I was sorting out a film location, I went up the east coast to all of these places.

What were you looking for?
I thought it should be set in a very hard fishing port but the developers had got into all the ports. The last throw of the dice was to go back to North Shields and we’d gone into the fishing jetty there, and there was an area at the back that was called The Jungle. Visually, the place was extraordinary. I came via Newcastle, which is inland from North Shields. As soon as I arrived in Newcastle, I just had to shoot there. I got there before the developers moved in; they destroyed the place. All the houses we filmed in were condemned at that point. I opened one up again just for Jack’s brother’s house.

Why did you decide to kill Jack Carter in the film?
That was the condition on which I made it. I wanted him being disposed of in exactly the same way that he disposes of everybody else. It’s without any sentiment, cold, put down like a dog with rabies.

Would you like to have done a sequel?
No. I did come up with an idea that he’d had a child and I was interested in the genetic ramifications of this young man who’s as violent and unpleasant as Carter. He’s been adopted by religious parents and he’s trying to work out how he ended up like this, and they’re wondering too. That interests me but no one else was interested in it. It was called Jack’s Back.

It sounds excellent. What’s the matter with these people?
I can’t explain the mysteries of this asinine business. It’s completely loony. Decisions that are made are stupid in the main, made by really dumb people. Just don’t ask me to explain it.

There must be some definable element that keeps Britain forever interested in Get Carter. What do you think it is?
I think it’s touched something deep. I think we have a very strange opinion of ourselves, the British.

Perhaps the Britishness of the film is why we like it – it’s cold, it’s bleak.
I think we’re rather bleak people. We can be a deeply unpleasant group. At the end of the Sixties we had a romantic idea about the way we were. Our gangsters were loveable, everybody was a really sweet lot – the Krays, the Richardsons, the police were corrupt, and so on. But that all changed. Get Carter certainly contributed to it. Reality was now being faced, or at least revealed. Carter certainly couldn’t have been made without being along those lines. It would have been absolutely atrocious if there hadn’t been the ruthlessness that the main character had. I think even then, people recognised something in themselves and about the general nature of the island race. I think we can be very ruthless and quite brutal and violent people.

But we’ve always been like that, through history. All over the country there’s violence every weekend.
Absolutely. I mean, I live in a small, country town in Dorset and I’ve seen it transformed. No one goes out on a Friday or Saturday, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of squaddies. There’s an army camp not far away. I wouldn’t go near the bloody place. That’s why I think The Wicker Man is so brilliant. Every time I go into the British countryside, I think of The Wicker Man. I think, “This is really what it’s like!” There’s some terrible acting in The Wicker Man.

Britt Ekland singing is weird but it adds to the film because everything’s so weird.
I think that every time I see it.

What are your opinions on modern gangster films?
I resisted seeing Lock, Stock… for a while because it just sounded violent. I’m not into violent films.

It’s violence with humour, though. Get Carter has violence with a certain amount of humour.
It’s a totally different kind of humour. Lock Stock… is just a farce, isn’t it? I saw it with a friend in America. I knew no one would see me going in and I was completely amazed. I thought it was quite funny. It’s perfectly alright but totally forgettable.

What’s the most bizarre question you’ve been asked by a Get Carter trainspotter?
You know the scene at the funeral where the hearses are going down the hill? There are two hearses going into the crematorium and a number coming out. He said, “Does the number of hearses coming out represent the number of people he’s going to kill?” That’s very good, isn’t it?

Did you smile and say, “Go away”?
No. I should have said, “God, how did you spot it!” LG

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