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Joe Cornish: ‘I was offered big movies but I thought I might make a mess of them’

The writer-director-occasional-podcaster on his new film, ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’, and life after ‘Attack the Block’

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

If you’ve been wondering what Joe Cornish has been up to since his storming filmmaking debut ‘Attack the Block’, he’s been beavering away on a childhood ambition: to make an old-school adventure movie about King Arthur. Well, kid Arthur. In ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ it’s a London schoolboy who is charged with saving the realm for untold evil. 

When did you come up with the concept for ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’?
‘I had this idea when I was 12. I was a massive movie nerd. In the same year, I saw “ET the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Excalibur” and I thought: Why hasn’t anyone done a movie about a normal kid who discovers the Sword in the Stone? Surely that would be a humdinger.’

How did you work out how to pitch the scariness level for kids?
‘This whole endeavour is connected to the movies I saw when I was 12. I’d go to Streatham or Regent Street [cinemas] and I’d watch “The Black Stallion” or “The Outsiders”, where the jeopardy was real and as a result the catharsis was powerful when they won. It felt like they’d really beaten something.’

Patrick Stewart plays Merlin – what kind of conversations did you have about the role?
‘He knew Michael Gambon and Ian McKellen, who play Dumbledore and Gandalf, and he said, “I don’t just want to repeat what my colleagues are doing.” I told him: “Your character arrives in the world naked, he acquires clothes as he goes along, if you saw him in the street you’d think he was a tramp or a wino.” He said, “Yes, ah…” As soon as he knew he wasn’t doing another pointy-hatted beardy wizard, he was in.’

Chatting to ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’s KiKi LayneSword-inary people: Louis Ashbourne Serkis in ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’

How was directing your mate Adam Buxton?
‘He was brilliant. I’m quite used to directing Adam because of all that stuff in “The Adam and Joe Show” (could you call it directing, or pointing?). When he was Ken Korda in front of the camera, I was behind it. I also enjoy showing off that I have an assistant and a big crew. I march around demanding cups of coffee and stuff within earshot of him, so he understands the deal.’

What else have you been up to?
‘I did get offered a lot of big movies as directing gigs after “Attack the Block”, but I thought I might make a mess of them. It does happen: you make an indie film that has a modicum of critical or commercial success and you often get offered a big old franchise or something. You do what they call the “bottle of water tour”. You go into these executives’ offices and they say, “would you like a bottle of water?’” You come away in your hire car with 50 half-drunk bottles.’ 

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