The Stupid Boy
Directed by: Phil Dunn
Cast: Joshua Griffin, Shaun Mason, Derek Elroy, Ellie Piercy
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: In London, a broken man groomed for a terrorist attack is confronted by a local lad who sees things differently. But seeing things differently can be dangerous.
Where did the idea for this film come from and how did it evolve?
The seed for this film came to me in the aftermath of the 2005 London terrorist attacks. I was on the tube one day in London and, like everyone else, I was nervously looking around wondering if there were any potential threats. I wondered what would happen if a terrorist on the train started shouting that they had a bomb? Most of us would try to run away out of fear, of course. But then this thought occurred to me: what if someone walked towards the bomber instead, out of love? This completely fascinated (and scared!) me and I kept playing through scenarios of how that might work out. I had been reading about proactive non-violent techniques, like those used by Ghandi and Martin Luther King, and had often wondered what happened to those and why we now just seem to revert to a classic fight or flight response to threats, and not creatively explore a 'third way'.
It wasn't until many years later (during lockdown) that I realized that this crazy thought was a film that needed to be made. That's actually part of how the title came about - I felt that anyone looking on would think the person doing that must be stupid or crazy. So our title is provocative because it's kind of a question to the audience - do you think our central character is stupid and naive to try and love in a situation like that or is kindness actually extremely brave and powerful?
What helped confirm the title, and main character, was Dostoevsky's The Idiot. I love his protagonist, Prince Mishkin. Everyone around him in the Russian aristocratic society thinks of him as a simpleton, just because he sees things differently, but throughout the book you see how his quiet approach turns all that on its head. I wanted to do something similar with Michael.
There are quite a few locations in this film, How smooth was the shoot?
Thankfully the shoot went very smoothly, due to the amazing efforts of Gabi Oliver, our producer and our team. I have worked with many of the core crew of the film for a number of years on different projects, including shorts and client work, so we are used to working efficiently and creatively inside a tight timescale. And this definitely put that training to the test! It helped that we aimed to keep all the locations in or near Brixton, where our production company, Authentive, is based. The Adisa family home was actually Gabi's house so she and her family really went the extra mile in letting us all invade.
Obviously, the main challenge was filming the final scene in Brixton Village - lots of extras and - without giving anything away - lots of potential for problems with the public etc..! But thankfully, the people who run BV were super helpful and we were able to cordon off a big area of the shopping arcade for us. We shot on a Monday when a lot of the shops in there are closed, and those that were open, we made deals with - like Oowee Burger who became our caterer for the day, feeding the entire cast and crew with delicious vegan food!
There are some lovely performances in the film, none better than Derek Elroy who anchors the piece. How did you come across Derek?
I'm so pleased you feel that. We were really fortunate with our cast - all of them (except perhaps newcomer Joshua Griffin) are seasoned actors who have tons of experience in film, TV and theatre. I think that is really vital when you want great performances from your main actors - the whole cast around them need to be of a high caliber, giving each other the best material to work with, so that they raise each other's game. I am incredibly grateful that each of ours agreed to be in this film as it is the kind of story that requires excellent acting for it to work and for the ending to really land.
Derek is a great example, and I am so happy you highlighted his performance, because as the on-screen father to Joshua's Michael, his role was crucial in filling out the bedrock for Michael's character. What's so amazing is that we had someone else lined up to play Adio in the film, but he got stuck in a travel quarantine the weekend before we were due to start. Derek was next on our shortlist so we reached out to his agent and fortunately he was available. I got Derek on the phone and I could tell he immediately had a resonance with the part. He told me later that it was so refreshing as a black man to be asked to play a loving, devoted father, compared with some of the castings he has been offered, and that's what led him to jump on the role when we asked.
Looking back, I can't imagine anyone else bringing the warmth and depth that Derek delivered for the role - he was definitely meant to be Adio all along. It feels like a case of circumstances nudging us in the right direction, which as an indie filmmaker is something you always have to be open to and ultimately, grateful for.
What's this film say about loneliness and the need for love?
Well, I hope it says something about how we are all human and that we all need love, however terrible or messed up and isolated we might become. In the days before we began filming, our main actor, Joshua Griffin sent me a TED talk called “I Was Almost A School Shooter”. The guy giving the talk described how he had got a gun and ammunition, and had his plan set to go to his school and kill a bunch of people - a scenario that we are all unfortunately too familiar with. He described how lonely he was, how he was bullied mercilessly at school, how he was horribly abused by his addict parents, how he got more and more aggressive and angry, until one day he decided he would take out all his pain on as many people as he could. Then he describes how just one person he knew took the time to ask him how he was doing, and was kind to him, even though he treated this person with anger and hatred like everyone else. Ultimately, this kindness saved him and stopped him from carrying out his attack. Now he is a father of four and is married, but he puts it down to his friend's kindness - something so simple and yet so powerful, for him and for all the people who could have been killed. His message for the TED audience was: "love the ones that you feel deserve it the least because they need it the most". That says it better than I ever could and was a huge encouragement as we went into the filming process - that real stories like this exist and it just validated and resonated with what ours seemed to be trying to say.