Newcomers Will Poulter, left, and Bill Milner play boys who make their own version of a "Rambo" film in "Son of Rambow."
‘Rambow’ creator enjoys ride
Garth Jennings shares the back-story of finding the perfect cast and paying homage
Writer, director and sometime actor Garth Jennings simultaneously conducts an interview over the scream of sirens passing his London home, responds to the front doorbell, greets his young children coming in with their mother and prepares dinner ("I'm making salmon; it's gong to be amazing," he says) with the grace and wit of a stand-up comedian who might actually have planned the whole chaotic routine. The best part is that he seems to care little about promoting his second feature film, but happily shares his passion for the project that began eight years earlier.
"Son of Rambow" is the type of under-the-radar movie that could get lost in the shuffle of big-budget summer fare at the box office. But it shouldn't. One varied and highly entertaining conversation with Jennings makes it clear why word-of-mouth buzz has fueled this independent film, in which the multilayered characters elicit laughter, wonder, memories and tears.
"The British part of me wants to say that I had no idea anybody would be interested in this," says Jennings. "But you can't put that much of yourself into something you don't feel 100 percent about." Therefore, the reactions from audiences "are the reactions I'd wanted."
It's no secret that legalities surrounding the use of clips from "First Blood" held up distribution after the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie debuted last year. Jennings admits that the "sheer bureaucracy took its toll." On top of that, who could have imagined that Sylvester Stallone, old enough to be the father of the 35-year-old Jennings, would reprise his vigilante role again this year?
"If you would have told me there would be another 'Rambo,' I would have laughed you out of the room," Jennings said of his sentiments when he first started composing the story. But in the end, the timing turned out to be impeccable for all involved.
Along the way, Jennings and his producing partner, Nick Goldsmith, invited Stallone to view the film inspired by Jennings' own childhood and the enduring Rambo motif. "We'd been trying desperately to get (Stallone) to see it," says Jennings, fussing with pots and pans in the kitchen. "We just felt it was good manners." Of course, they hoped for his blessing.
"I felt confident he would like it, and he loved it. He sent this wonderful, marvelous message of congratulations."
Garth Jennings / "Rambow" filmmaker, talking about the original Rambo, Sylvester Stallone
"I felt confident he would like it, and he loved it," Jennings says of Stallone. "He sent this wonderful, marvelous message of congratulations."
One of the biggest challenges beyond licensing complexities and reaching Stallone involved casting the characters of Will Proudfoot and Lee Carter, the preteen boys whose bully-victim relationship evolves into a filmmaking partnership full of depth and surprises.
"We allowed six months to find them," recalls Jennings. "That's a long process. That's a lot of children." What he didn't want were "very small professional people who are not children anymore," a growing phenomenon Jennings finds "nauseating." Nor did he pursue youngsters with "ghastly parents who are very pushy." He avoided casting known actors for obvious budgetary reasons, but also because the movie was "all about children," he says. "There's no room for stars. It would have totally thrown off the balance."
Working with relative novices carried its own set of responsibilities, however. "If you put them in the spotlight," he says, "you'd better be ready to pick up the pieces when the spotlight's off." That turned out to be unnecessary, as a genuine friendship grew between the very grounded boys and their families during filming. "I think that shows on the screen," explains Jennings. "Natural charm is a hard thing to find. It's like lightning in a bottle."
That's an apt way to describe the movie itself. Viewers expecting an odd, edgy indie film should know that Jennings set out to provide just the opposite. He wanted to make sure people got "an old-fashioned movie experience."
And he certainly delivers that, though fans of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe," Jennings' first feature, and "Son of Rambow" can't necessarily expect something similar the next time around. "I realized after 'Hitchhiker,' if you have success with a film, it opens doors only if you want to do the same thing," he says. "And I don't want to keep repeating myself." In fact, his next project will be an animated feature.
Jennings seems to be the independent soul who will make films that interest him and generate curiosity. "People go in not sure what to expect, and they feel they discovered it," he says of "Son of Rambow." "It doesn't come in at No. 1, but it does find people. I made the movie I wanted to make, and that's the most anyone can hope for. The rest is bonus."
"Son of Rambow" is playing at Kahala Theatre.