Read our exclusive interview with director Nick Hamm, who helmed the new comedy film ‘Killing Bono,’ which is now playing in select theaters. The movie, which is based on musician and music critic Neil McCormick’s acclaimed 2003 memoir, ‘I Was Bono’s Doppelganger,’ follows him and his brother Ivan as they strive to achieve fame as a rock ‘n’ roll band. The only problem is that Neil, played by Ben Barnes, and his brother Ivan, portrayed by Robert Sheehan, are competing against Bono, played by Martin McCann, and the rest of the members of U2, who they attended school with. While Ivan has come to terms with U2’s achievements, and doesn’t mind accepting help from Bono, Neil refuses to garner success off of someone he perceives to be his greatest rival. Hamm discusses with us, among other things, what he found compelling about Neil and Ivan’s story, and how closely he worked with them and U2 while filming the movie.
ShockYa (SY): ‘Killing Bono’ follows Neil and Ivan as they compete with their old classmate, Bono, and the success of his band, U2. What was it about the story that you found compelling, and convinced you to direct the movie?
Nick Hamm (NH): The story was compelling because it’s an everyman’s story. The main character is an everyman. Fundamentally, the story is about failure, and the notion of failure. So I was very interested in doing a music movie that didn’t end with success, but ended with the protagonist basically failing, and not succeeding. I thought the character of Neil would be representative of quite a lot of people, in the sense that which one of us, in our teenager years, hadn’t stood in front of our bathroom mirror, and said “I want to be a rock star.” So it was a movie that dealt with hubris and ambition, and the idea of really achieving fame over talent, and I just thought it was all a very, very interesting subject matter. I thought they had great comedic potential.
SY: ‘Killing Bono’ is based on Neil’s 2003 memoir, ‘I Was Bono’s Doppelganger.’ Before you began shooting the movie, how much knowledge did you have of the story, and did you read the book first, before you began filming?
NH: I read the book myself, five years ago, optioned the book and then employed the writers to write the screenplay. So it was something that I produced from the beginning. When I first read the book, I realized that this story needed good cinematic treatment. So I involved the writers in that. The script took about two or three years to get right. I was very involved. The book is a sprawling account of Neil’s journey through the rock business in the ’80s. So what we did was focus on that in a much more character (driven) way.
SY: Since ‘Killing Bono is based on Neil’s memoir, how closely did you work with him while shooting? Did he have any say in the filming process?
NH: No. He didn’t have any say, but he was very close to the project. He read all the drafts of the screenplay. He was very instrumental in helping us through, and navigated certain issues. He became a very close colleague during the process of making the movie, and was very, very happy in seeing the movie being made. He wasn’t on set until the last couple of weeks of the film. In a sense, he wanted to let the actors settle, and get it right. But he was a total supporter, and has remained since then. He has been gracious in the fact that we have treated his life in this way.
SY: Since the film focuses on Neil’s rivalry with Bono and U2, did you have any contact with the band while you were filming the movie?
NH: Yeah, we had to have quite a bit of contact with the band, because in the movie, we use quite of bit of their original artwork, some of their songs they gave us. We were interested in showing certain early moments of when the band was formed.
In the movie, there were two scenes that were part of rock history. The band did put a notice, (U2 founder and drummer) Larry Mulln did put a notice up in the school corridor, and asked for signatures for anyone who wanted to join. They were going to join U2. At that moment, they were called The Hype.
There was also another scene in the movie that was an audition scene, and it takes place in Larry’s mom’s kitchen, which is the first audition that U2 ever did for their members. It was the first time they actually got together to play.
So we talked to The Edge, we talked to their manager, Paul McGuinness. We talked with (bass guitarist) Adam (Clayton). We talked with one of the producers on the movie, who was their ex-agent. We wanted to make sure we got those early things in, those early records of U2 correct, that we got them right. So from that point of view, we had a lot of communication with the band, all the way through the process.
SY: Has U2 seen the film, and if so, what were their reactions?
NH: They all saw the film, and they all fell about laughing. They loved the representations of themselves in their early years, and I think they find the film quite an endearing portrait of their early life. They knew Neil very well, so I think they have been nothing but supportive and gracious with the use of their materials. So they’ve been fine all the way down the line.
SY: ‘Killing Bono’ is unique in the fact that it presents serious subjects, such as failing to realize your dreams, in a comedic way. Was that your intention while filming, to include the comedy?
NH: Yeah. I thought that if you were going to do this subject, and make a film about failure in that sense, and you’re dealing with something that’s potentially dark, and quite difficult, you always want to make sure that that’s also potentially funny. So that’s what we did. We steered it in a direction where you can have the emotional side of the movie, and the comedic side of the film.
SY: What was the casting process like for the main characters in the film, particularly Neil, Ivan and Bono?
NH: Well, for Neil and Bono, it was important to get two kids who were young enough to be in school, but also were old enough to go on and have a rock career. So you were casting in an age range of their early 20s.
Ivan was an easy casting, in the sense that I think I cast him first. I knew that Robert Sheehan was an incredible talent, and I wanted to put him in the film as the brother.
Then as we sort of worked around, Ben auditioned. His ability to play both the comedy and the emotion of the character was something that I really wanted to do. Also, Ben was playing an anti-hero. When you play an anti-hero that’s potentially dislikable to an audience, you have to make that person somewhat likable to an audience, in a way. That’s why I chose someone as endearing and having the same qualities, the nice qualities, that Ben has in the role.
SY: What is it about the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that people like Neil find so appealing, and strive to be a part of?
NH: I think that rock ‘n’ roll has always done that to kids, they always have and always will do. It’s glamorous, seemingly so, even though it isn’t. It’s a shortcut to a lifestyle. It’s fame. It’s girls. It’s everything the cliche suggests. If you can make it in that world, and have a good life in that world, why not? It’s fantastic. Some of us aspire to it, but some of us don’t achieve it.
SY: You started your career directing theater productions in Europe. What was the transition like into television and films?
NH: I did about 10 years in the theater. I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company (between 1983 and 1988) for most of that time, doing plays. Then as I transitioned into television, I started to work mainly in comedy and drama, because I liked those two areas. I did a lot of my early stuff with the BBC and ITV, and did some pretty big series.
By the time I had started to make films, I had already had a real understanding of (the) camera, working with actors and (the) characters, and how to work with the writers. That’s what working on the stage gives you. It all sort of melts together to give you a purpose and a drive, and also a technical ability. I enjoyed the transition enormously.
SY: Do you have a preference of theater over television and films, and how do they compare and contrast?
NH: You know what, I don’t think either is better or worse. I think some of the stuff on television right now is incredible. Some of the movies being made are appalling, but some of them are brilliant. So you can’t really judge the medium. You can’t pick a medium and say this medium is better or worse than that medium.
You can only say that’s the medium I wish to tell stories in. So if you want to tell stories on TV, tell stories on TV. If you want to tell them in pictures, tell them in movies. If you want to tell them in comic books, tell them in comic books. If you want to do theater, do that. If you’re a storyteller, and you enjoy telling stories, and you like the fact that the audience is going to be part of your stories, and you want to be in theater, that’s an absolutely valid expression. But there’s no one thing that’s better or worse. To me, personally right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying working on television and in films simultaneously, so I do both right now.
SY: Do you have any interest in returning to the theater in the future?
NH: I have a massive interest, and will do that. But I keep postponing the decision to do that, but yes, I do want to do that at some point.
SY: Do you have any upcoming films or television shows that you’re currently working on that you can discuss?
NH: I can’t at the moment, because I’m right at the middle of something. It’s not yet public, so it’s rather difficult to talk about it. We have lots of different stuff in development. But I will let you know as soon as I have definite answers on something.
Written by: Karen Benardello