think the best way to describe this interview is rambling. It seems
that this is how talking to director Jim Sheridan works – you make a
statement or ask a question and you sit back for four or five minutes
and listen to him just sort of talk about whatever he likes. Maybe it
has something to do with the original question, maybe not. Whatever it
is, it’s probably pretty entertaining.
Sheridan’s new film is Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the 50 Cent movie. For many people this was a shock – Sheridan’s career included films like My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father and last year’s In America.
But when Sheridan came up to the roundtable rapping "G-G-G-G Unit!" in
his Irish brogue, it was obvious that Sheridan was no stranger to hip
Q: I understand you were very familiar with rap culture.
I am down with the hood. From 1981. From the time it was very
influenced by the Jamaican reggae artists. I remember when I first came
here in the early 80s there was a lot, in New York, Caribbean oriented
rap. I liked, way back in the black culture, all the narrative singers.
I was a singer myself, but I wasn’t as good a singer as Bono or
anything. So I liked to stay within certain notes. Oscar Brown Jr, I
don’t know if you heard of him, but he wrote all these songs that were
stolen and people adapted them. It was unfortunate that he was a black
writer on Broadway before it was acceptable. He had all these songs
that were like rapping.
was interested in it for a long time, musically. Because it was like
stories. I even like Tennessee Ernie Ford. Anything with a story. I
like the rap from when I came here. I liked Public Enemy, NWA. Bono
knew I liked rap, so he told Jimmy Iovine, and Jimmy Iovine asked me to
direct the movie. That’s how it came about.
like Bono says, rap’s more powerful than rock and roll because rock and
roll is a European/American phenomenon, while rap is worldwide.
Q: Was there any concern that you would get criticism for not getting the world right?
I’m an old Socialist. In Ireland we have something called begrudgers,
and begrudgers don’t like you when you’re successful. I was a great
begrudger. I only learned it when I came to America and I saw this guy
in a little car, a convertible, and two or three girls around him, and
this long hair. I said, ‘Look at that fookin’ eejit,’ and the guy in
the car who was driving me to the airport said, ‘What do you mean?’
fella there, I want to be him. And I realized, God, he has a point. But
in Ireland, the person in that car would have crossed two lines –
racial lines and class lines, by being successful. So the begrudgery is
based on betrayal. That happens within the black culture. To get very
successful you have to make a deal with the white guy. There are
I think I am probably closer to 50 because of growing up in similar
neighborhoods. So on a class level I understood, you know what I mean?
I felt like growing up with his aunt and his grandmother was like me
growing up with a lodging house. We weren’t poor, but I said to 50,
‘You grew up in Queens with a bloody garden. You had a front garden. I
can’t show that in the movie. In Europe they won’t understand. They’ll
think you’re well off.’
There are some people who say that white directors get the chance to
direct black-themed films, but that black directors rarely cross over
and have a shot at white movies. Do you have thoughts on that?
I don’t think that’s true really. From where I come from there’s no
directors from working class areas anyway. I was lucky enough to grow
up in a working class area because my parents were insane enough to
have a lodging house in a working class area. But there are no working
class people who direct movies. The movies of the hood are rap. The
reason rap things are so appealing to the kids is because nobody makes
movies like that. All the narrative in rap only costs, what, a hundred
thousand to make a record? You could make a record for ten grand. To
make a studio movie is forty million, so attached to forty million is a
lot of conservatism. A lot of guys trying to get all the things right.
A lot of people with opinions. Unfortunately what they’re doing is
they’re making every movie like the last one. As they’re making more
DVDs and the kids can see them before they’re 15, the kids have already
seen all the fucking movies. Now it’s catching up with the studio that
they’re making the same regurgitated movie. The system of exploitation
– which is that you make the movie, you sell it on DVD – has caught up.
Now the kids have seen these movies. The system’s catching up.
of the interesting things about 50 is that 50 never goes to the place
of self-victimization. He always goes to the place of winning. That’s
just the way he works. How many screens do you go out on? You go out on
2000 screens if you’re an urban movie, which translates as black. You
can go out at 2500 if you’re on the successful edge of urban. You can
go out on 3500 screens if you’re Star Wars. But all these things carry
things attached to them, but 50’s attitude is ‘I better be in a movie
with a white star next.’ He doesn’t have the attitude that somebody is
talking about blacks are 12% of the American population. 2000 screens
is, I suppose, of the total number you could go out on, is probably
60%. So everything has limits and constraints. And you operate within
them and you make them better than the next guy.
Q: When you’re making a movie like this, where your lead has never acted before, how do you approach that?
No art. No voice coaches, no acting coaches. No bullshit. There are so
many things around the movies now that are putting things between the
actor and the director. I just took 50 on the first day and got a video
camera and sat around the table and read a bit. I said, ‘You know, if
this movie fails, it won’t be because you can’t, it’s because I didn’t
direct you right.’ I take out the idea that he has to live up to
something in my head. I take performance out of the equation.
a six year old kid can act out through the screen by being left alone,
a lot of people could do it. Fear eats the soul, which is the best
title of any movie I ever heard. Fassbinder. The whole studio system is
based on fear, so there’s no soul. The director’s job is to stop the
fear process penetrating beyond them to the actors and technicians.
It’s hard to do, because every day you’re getting notes and more fear.
People are behaving out of fear, the whole system’s becoming top heavy.
Everybody is getting paid so much at the top of America that it’s
squeezing everybody else out. That’s what I think. That’s my
Q: You mentioned that you have a similar socio-economic background. But given that, did 50’s story shock you?
In Ireland we have that violence in the poetic tradition. Poets would
slam other people and get killed. If somebody did something to you, you
would go on hunger strike in front of their house. We’re in the victim
culture. When you’re dominated by a superior force with more numbers,
you sometimes don’t have the resource of being right, you only have the
resource of complaining. Within the black culture for some time they
only had the resource of complaining. Then they went through the
Panthers movement, which was ridiculous. If you’re 12% of the
population you’re only going to get your head blown off. Then you go
through the ‘We’re black and we’re proud,’ then you go through
accepting capitalism at face value. Except it’s like really weird. So
rap represents something really odd.
do white kids like it? They have no way of growing up anymore. Through
rap they get to exercise violence. Through rap they get to exercise
their fear of women. Little boys are all scared shitless of little
girls, and there’s no way of expressing this in the culture anymore.
And it’s doubled up in the black culture because a lot of them – 2Pac,
50 – come from single parent families. The mother is the only authority
figure, so the only person you’re rebelling against is a woman. So
naturally they become bitches and whores and everything gets fucked up.
they’re stages of development. Because they’re expressing things people
don’t want to hear doesn’t mean they’re wrong. If they don’t express
them, it’s going to come out another way.