Cruel Britannia - Exclusive Interview With Gerard Johnson, Director Of Tony: London Serial Killer
By James Whittington, Monday 28th March 2011

Gerard JohnsonDuring April the Horror Channel celebrates the best of contemporary British horror with a special season of UK TV premieres which showcases some of the finest home-grown directorial talent around. You'll find sadistic killers, destroyed families, violent paranoia and self-destruction.

The season continues on April 15th with Gerard Johnson's, Tony: London Serial Killer. This dark, brutal and bleakly amusing shocker has drawn favourable comparisons to John McNaughton's seminal Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and features a star-making lead performance from Peter Ferdinando - probably the most alarming cinematic anti-hero since Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. We chatted to Gerard recently and this is what he had to say about Tony and the current state of the British horror industry.

HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a director?

GJ: Yes, I did find an old diary recently from when I was 13, I wrote that when I grow up I want to be a film director, it was the only thing I had any excitement for or gravitated towards, although it took a lot of terrible jobs and dedication to get here though.

HC: Were you one of these people who would create shorts in their backyards etc?

GJ: No but I did have plenty of action figures and would create elaborate battles so I guess as I got older I just replaced the action figures with actors. I spent a lot of my youth watching films, I had tons and tons of videos and I would even edit out the adverts and label them neatly up. I was learning all the time, my own film school.

HC: Where did the idea for the movie come from? Were you inspired by other gritty horror movies or dramas?

GJ: It came from reading about Dennis Nilsen the London serial killer when I was a kid, I remember when he was arrested and it stayed with me, that image of him talking to dead bodies in his front room and having his favourites who he would dress up scared me. It was also based on my experiences around the east end and the characters I knew then. I did love Henry as well and thought we needed our own version, as we British are good at producing real serial killers, only the US has more infamous ones than us. It must be our respective countries shitty diets.

HC: Did the script take long to write?

GJ: Tony was originally a short film and I showed it to Paul Abbott (creator of Shameless) who became a bit of a mentor to me and he asked me if I wanted to turn it into a feature. I jumped at the chance and started to expand from the short. I deliberately wanted to make a character study and a film that summed up the London I knew. I originally made the short as a serious piece but this element of black humour started to seep through so for the feature I worked on that more. I don’t think it would be as effective if it weren’t so funny. But it’s strange that having toured with the film in the US and all over Europe that the British humour does travel.

HC: Much has been made in the press about Peter Ferdinando’s superb acting in this movie, did he stay in character on set and how did he approach the role?

GJ: Peter is my cousin and we made a bunch of shorts together before the feature. He did stay in character and scared all the crew with his strange behaviour. Although I think they also found him quite funny as well. He approached the role with maximum dedication, he did his own research and we would compare notes. He lost 2 stone to play Tony and afterwards he had to go to Thailand for a month to recover from the traumatic experience I put him through, he still has nightmares.

HC: Was it a hard to movie to get funding for?

GJ: It was very easy to get the funding for this film because we didn’t need very much, Paul Abbott put in 20 grand himself and the UK Film Council matched it. They could see that I was willing to make a feature cheaply and it would look amazing. For a feature shot on film in 12 days all on location that is cheap believe me.

HC: The film has been recognised not only by horror media but more mainstream periodicals as a compelling, chilling and important movie. This must be rewarding but at the same time must put pressure on you to deliver the same sort of excitement for your next release?

GJ: It is rewarding but you have to keep things in perspective, its not like Tony was Slumdog Millionaire or anything, it had amazing reviews but was a small film really. I don’t feel too much pressure but I know that the second film is very important; I’m just enjoying the process of making a bigger film. I think it’s important to first and foremost make films for me, films that I myself would love and want to see, too many filmmaker’s don’t do it from the heart and it shows, that’s what its all about.

HC: If you had a bigger budget would you change anything about it?

GJ: Lots of explosions and Christian Bale as Tony may have helped box office a bit. But seriously I wouldn’t have changed anything. No need to.

HC: What's your take on the current British horror film scene?

GJ: Well there are a lot of directors pushing the boundaries, which can only be a good thing, and being a bit more experimental with things. I think we need to go back to making stuff that relies on mood as well though and not only on gruesome special effects; I’d love to do an M.R. James adaptation.

HC: What's your next project? Do you intend to carry on making “horror” films?

GJ: The next film is a cop thriller called Hyena about bent police and multicultural crime in London, I wouldn’t call it a horror but it deals with characters in pain. I don’t think Tony really should only be classified as Horror as it deals with social issues of unemployment and the class system in the UK. I’m interested in people rather than genres, so if I create a character they could turn up in any genre that suits them.

HC: What are your top 3 horror films of all time?

GJ: Texas Chain Saw Massacre: because it’s a perfect example of a genre film. I saw this when I was very young and no matter how many times it’s remade you couldn’t better it, it’s also interesting that Tobe Hopper never made anything as remotely good again.

Possession: the most art house horror film I’ve ever seen and I mean that as a good thing, it’s amazing and loopy on so many levels and obviously inspired Antichrist.

Irreversible: I guess this isn’t labelled as horror but what is it? It’s certainly not romantic comedy! One of the few films that after seeing it I couldn’t shake it from my mind. When I came out of the cinema I remember I had to walk it off and have a few beers afterwards to calm myself. But that’s what films should do sometimes.

HC: In your opinion what is the all time best British horror film?

GJ: Hmmm, that’s a toss up between Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man. Although Peeping Tom has to be there as well as 10 Rillington Place. I can’t decide so I’ll take all four please.

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