Nick Moran discusses 'Telstar'
Joe Meek produced hit singles from above a shop on the Holloway Road. Trevor Johnston talks to Nick Moran about bringing his life to the big screen
‘Joe Meek? He lived and worked above a handbag shop, wrote the biggest-selling record of all time, turned down The Beatles, took lots of drugs, worshipped the Devil, got arrested for importuning, then shot his landlady and killed himself.’ Interested? Well, that’s about as much as Moran knew when he started out 15 years ago on a journey that has taken the 39-year-old one-time ‘Lock, Stock…’ actor from pub theatre to the West End stage, and now this energetic directorial screen debut. It all began, would you believe, with the plaque on the wall above the shop at 304 Holloway Road, where Meek had his studio. ‘It was about 1994 and I was an under-employed actor looking to write a play,’ Moran recalls. ‘I spotted the plaque, and someone gave me a run-down of the Joe Meek story, which hit the spot in terms of juicy subject matter!’
Meek’s legacy has been fiercely protected by The Joe Meek Society, and was the subject of a 1991 ‘Arena’ documentary for the BBC. However, it’s fair to say that the creator of such ’60s pop gems as The Tornados’ ‘Telstar’ – the first single by a British artist to top the US chart in the years before the Beatles-led ‘British Invasion’ – and The Honeycombs’ ‘Have I The Right?’ is best known these days to a coterie of musos and admirers. This might have given Moran and co-writer James Hicks the freedom to impose their own shape on the material, but since Hicks’s granny turned out to be a close friend of Meek’s writing partner, Alan Blakely – who provided first-hand recollections of the maverick producer’s rise and fall – it soon became apparent that Meek’s story didn’t need any creative sweetening.
‘What guided us was David Mamet’s dictum: “Always tell the truth, it’s the easiest thing to remember”, ’ Moran continues. ‘Meek’s story was about a man who builds a kingdom, then all the traits that made him great come back and destroy him. The point of the play and film is to show what happens when you get success, but you just can’t stop it slipping through your fingers. Perhaps that’s an uncomfortable story for some people, but we had a fantastic producer in Simon Jordan, who gave us the backing to tell it the way it was.’
Indeed, although Moran and Hicks’s stage play ‘Telstar’ was given its first public read-through in a Stockwell pub by a cast including Jude Law, Kathy Burke and Samantha Morton, Jordan – millionaire chairman of Crystal Palace FC – has loomed large in its progress ever since. He helped to fund the play’s West End opening in 2005, then kept it running when audiences plummeted after the 7/7 bombings. It was Jordan, too, who rang Moran in LA in early 2007 to suggest they turn it into a movie. ‘He has an affinity with the story,’ explains Moran. ‘Perhaps it connected with him as a self-made man.’ While Jordan’s cash made the film possible, Con O’Neill’s return in the demanding, flamboyant central role also proved crucial in easing the transition from stage to screen. ‘When you’re on an incredibly tight schedule, it’s amazing to have someone who’s that prepared,’ says Moran.
‘Telstar’ thrums with the excitement of unearthing a singularly eccentric chapter in pop’s back pages. The teeming incidents of Meek’s tragic life sometimes make an awkward fit in story terms, but it’s a confident, committed directing bow. Given Moran’s somewhat variable post-‘Lock, Stock…’ acting credits, where such indie offerings as ‘Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry’ nestle alongside the likes of ‘Soccer Dog: European Pup’, it’s likely to surprise people, and has since won him a second feature assignment, helming an adaptation of Kevin Lewis’s true-crime memoir ‘The Kid’.
‘I’ve done 18 or so movies as an actor and I’ve always been very watchful on set. You learn as much from doing a bad film as a good one,’ Moran sums up. ‘So I came into “Telstar” with a clear vision. I could have gone on “Mastermind” with Joe Meek as my subject. Now it’s trial by fire to see if critics and audiences like it as much as we do, but it’s great to make something you’re proud of. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that doesn’t happen so often.’
'Telstar' opens on June 19.
Author: Trevor Johnston
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