Close up: Howard Marks

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The famed Welsh pot smuggler and student hero talks about a new film adaptation of his memoirs, 'Mr Nice'

Oxford-educated Welshman Howard Marks is the subject of ‘Mr Nice’. During the peak of his hashish-smuggling days in the mid-1980s, Marks shipped tons of the stuff before falling foul of the law and serving seven years in the US. It’s taken 14 years for Marks’s memoirs to be made into a film.

You published ‘Mr Nice’ in 1996. What took so long for it to become a film? Was there little interest?
‘No, there was interest right away. I sold the TV rights immediately to the BBC, who incarcerated it for more years than I was incarcerated. Several scripts were written and a lot of people expressed their interest to the BBC, but the BBC just sat on it.’

Do you think the film is faithful?
‘I don’t think it could be completely faithful to the book; it had to depart because you have to omit things, but it captures the same emotions and tensions. I’m very happy with it.’

Are you pleased with Rhys Ifans’s portrayal of you?
‘Oh yeah, it couldn’t be anyone else. We’ve known each other for so long.’

David Thewlis is especially wild as IRA contact Jim McCann. Is that an accurate portrayal?
‘It’s an amazingly accurate portrayal of McCann, especially given that Thewlis had never met him.’

Those early scenes of drug-taking and naked women at Oxford. Was it like that all the time?
‘Occasionally it did erupt into that. But there were loads of weeks when it wasn’t anything like that. It’s fair enough to include it, but it does give the impression it was one enormous fucking orgy which, regrettably, it wasn’t. In Oxford, the system was that you didn’t have an examination for three years, so people spent the first two years just dicking around.’

What’s your favourite scene?
‘The bit where McCann and I are trying to communicate with each other over walkie-talkies that he’d proudly bought in Amsterdam. It sums up the whole thing of two fucking idiots trying to do something enormous and succeeding in spite of all the odds.’

Who do you think will see the film?
‘I think it will be largely 18- to 25-year-old dope smokers, to be honest.’

Are you still doing your one-man shows?
‘Mmm, mmm… [draws hard on a cigarette or something similar] Yeah, I’ve got a tour starting at the end of this week up in Scotland.’

How’s your short-term memory?
‘Er, well… I don’t have one. So no problems with that.’

You’re a campaigner for the legalisation of recreational drugs. Does that include ecstasy and cocaine?
‘Yes, I think the same logic applies to all recreational drugs. But there has to be a caveat: if someone devised a drug that made you kill, there’d be a strong argument for making it illegal. The trouble with decriminalisation is that it’s okay to consume it but not to deal it. If it’s decriminalised, more people will consume it who perhaps wouldn’t have before because they didn’t want to break the law. But the supply of it would still be criminal. So only complete legalisation is the logical approach.’

Finally, what’s the best pot you’ve ever smoked?
‘The best was Nepalese from a place called Mustang and it was in 1976. I did bring a few kilos back; it wasn’t a heavy deal but it was the strongest I’ve ever had. It was, like, a very strong Himalayan high. I remember that everything I looked at was either very funny or yellow.’

Author: Interview: Derek Adams



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