8 Things You Should Know About Sexy Beast

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It Came From A Bad Place

The unruly Sexy Beast was, unsurprisingly, the offspring of angry parents. Actors Louis Mellis and David Scinto met at a party, got on, and decided to write a play, which became Gangster No. 1. When they adapted it for cinema, the screenplay was sent to music video director Jonathan Glazer, who wanted to make it his debut film, but the production became fraught, mostly due to casting disagreements (producers wanted Peter Bowles in the role that later went to Malcolm McDowell). Mellis, Scinto and Glazer left the film; Ray Winstone was up for it, but he too dropped out, and it was made without any of them – the final product, said Scinto, was “ruined. Bastardised. Mutated.” As a reaction to their experience, he and Mellis spat out Sexy Beast, improvising Don Logan’s dialogue to each other.

Gary Oldman Could’ve Been Don Logan

Glazer loved the screenplay immediately. Winstone read it on a plane and “was laughing and crying” throughout. The role of Don Logan was originally offered to him, and he considered playing the character as a Tourette’s sufferer, but that idea was nixed. He then decided he’d rather play Gal, wanting to branch away from the hardmen he’d become known for – Gal was a thief, but not essentially a bad guy, whereas Don was undeniably awful. Winstone showed the script to Gary Oldman in view of having him play Don, but he wasn’t up for it. Finally it was offered to Ben Kingsley; everyone was excited about Winstone playing the soft guy and Kingsley taking on the nutcase. Kingsley said, “Don Logan jumped off the page at me and said ‘You are next.’”

Ben Kingsley Based Don On His Grandmother

Kingsley has called Logan a “tomahawk missile,” and saw him as someone who “was an abused child who was never held and went on to abuse others.” A big source of inspiration, though, was closer to home. Kingsley’s maternal grandmother, he told an interviewer, “was an extremely violent and unpleasant woman. She was racist, fascist and anti-Semitic. When I play great heroic Jews and great heroic dark people, I’m sticking two fingers up at her. When I played Don Logan, I was channelling her.” He later called her “murderous” and “terrifying” – “not physically violent, but verbally violent.” She did though, give us Ben Kingsley – and Don Logan.

Not A Word Was Improvised

Kingsley recently said the screenplay read “like a Jacobean drama… the rhythm of the writing was extraordinary.” Every single “YES!” and “NO!” was scripted, he said on the DVD commentary: “There’s not one syllable improvised.” There is indeed great beauty in that rhythm, and the film’s obscene amount of obscenities are far from gratuitous, performed poetically. “It was never naturalistic,” said Mellis when I asked him about it. “Yeah, it was always kind of poetic, rather than gritty realism. It was more hyper-realistic exaggerations.” As such though, it caused some problems. “We could hardly get a promotional trailer out of it because it was all swear words,” said producer Jeremy Thomas. “And it was very difficult to translate into French and Spanish.”

Kingsley Arrived On Set In Character

Sexy Beast was shot near Almería, Spain. Kingsley was tied to an American film which wouldn’t release him, so arrived just in time, two weeks after the rest of the cast, who’d been working on their tans. As a result, he hadn’t had a chance to bond with them, an unintentional effect which Kingsley believes worked wonders for the chemistry. “We were waiting for Don to turn up,” said Winstone later – and turn up he did. Having worked on the character and accent, Kingsley arrived full cockney, full Logan. Winstone had organised a beach party for him, but, meeting Kingsley, was perturbed by his immediate immersion. “He started to get on my nerves a bit,” said Winstone of their initial encounter. “So I quietly slipped backwards as he was talking, and I climbed out the window. I f****d off, I went.”

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Even Kingsley Was Scared Of Himself

After his initial escape, Winstone told Kingsley his performance was eerily reminiscent of someone he knew back in London. “I know the man you’re playing,” an unsettled Winstone told him on set. “I can give you his name, I can tell you where he lives. It’s uncanny. I know this man.” On the DVD commentary, Kingsley relates a story about the young boy who plays Gal’s pool cleaner being “a little frightened” of him. “Well we all were, Ben,” responds Jeremy Thomas. Kingsley remembers being frightened himself, during the scene in which he rants at himself in the bathroom mirror. “It was very disconcerting to see the monster that I’d created,” he says. “The monster Don, staring back at me. The first time I came to the mirror I completely dried up on my dialogue, I was so scared of my own face. This psychopath looking back at me.”

There Was Originally More Don

A few scripted scenes didn’t make their way to the final film. One, when Don is laying out the deal to Gal in the bar (“depends on the usual bumflufferies”), has Don taking umbrage at Gal’s assertion that he only does this sort of work for the cash. “Prostitutes say that,” says Don. “You sayin’ you’re a prostitute?” Another has Don appearing by Gal’s bed as he sleeps, waking him and further pressuring him to do the job. He compares himself to a supermarket (“I’m a shopkeeper… shop on the ‘igh street – like Tesco’s – ‘Logan’s’!”) giving away free money, narked that Gal won’t take any of it.

Logan Lives On

Today, Logan looms larger than ever. The makers of 2013’s Iron Man 3 cast Kingsley as the villainous Mandarin because of their love for the character. “Without a doubt that that was an influence,” Marvel boss Kevin Feige told me. “Sexy Beast was a game-changer for how a fellow relatively unassuming in stature could be so damn scary and powerful. It’s amazing.” “I am more in demand now than ever I was,” said Kingsley around that time. “And that’s probably because I turned a corner with Sexy Beast. I played a total sociopath, which no one had allowed me to do before.” Even more recently, Don inspired JK Simmons’ casting in Whiplash. Producer Jason Reitman had previously cast Simmons as the kindly father in Juno, and thought it would be effective to subvert expectations. Whiplash director Damien Chazelle agreed, once again deferring to Don. Simmons “had been in these ‘nice person’ roles,” he said, “and I wanted my version of Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, where it’s like, ‘Oh my God, Gandhi is f*****g crazy.’ ”

Last month, Simmons won an Oscar for the role. And he can thank Don Logan for that.

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Image Credit: Moviestore / REX

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