Award-winning actor and filmmaker Noel Clarke spoke candidly about his near descent into crime and the pitfalls of the film industry when he talked to a packed audience last night.
Clarke shot to fame following the release of gritty Kidulthood in 2006, but he talked about the many challenges he faced getting the screenplay to cinemas when he took part in yesterday’s Olive Till Memorial Debate at Goldsmiths college.
‘”Nobody wanted to make Kidulthood – all the productions companies wanted to turn it into some kind of Grange Hill, they wanted to sanitise it,” he said.
Clarke didn’t have a traditional thespian background, but credits his mother with preventing him from getting involved with the “wrong crowd” while growing up on a Ladbroke Grove council estate.
“I was never a badman, I was never a gangster,” said Clarke, showing the words ‘notagangsta’ emblazoned on his t-shirt. “I could navigate myself away from that world because of my mum. She always told me to not be afraid of being an individual.”
For Clarke, Kidulthood was a vision of his possible fate had he followed a path of violence.
Despite his condemnation of gang violence, he reserved much criticism for the media’s depiction of youth culture. “Those people call a group of boys just hanging around ‘a gang’ which is just complete shit.”
After failing all of his GCSEs, except for drama, Clarke went to college to retake his exams and study media.
Taught by enthusiastic young teachers, who introduced him to films like Pulp Fiction, Clarke was inspired to pursue a career in film.
“Something went ‘click’- I knew I wanted to make films like that,” he said.
But it took years of rejection before Clarke’s visions made it to the big screen, with Kidulthood finally being funded by independent contributors at a meager cost of £600,000.
Despite getting his foot firmly in the film industry’s door with Kidulthood, Clarke found himself being restricted yet again, this time by the film industry itself, which wanted him to stay within the urban violence storyline paradigm.
“I’ve written a sci-fi, a romantic comedy and something about doctors. People were like ‘Where’s your voice?’ I felt like I knew what they wanted me to do. So I sat down and wrote Adulthood.”
Even with the success of Adulthood, roles in Doctor Who and Auf Wiedersehen Pet, and winning the BAFTA’s rising star award, Clarke still finds it hard to exert his creative potential in the industry.
“It’s tough. It comes down to numbers. You have to have a certain demographic.”
He added: “Everything I’ve got has come from someone giving me a small opportunity – you have to take everything that comes your way.”
The annual Olive Till Memorial debate, now in its eighth year, was set up by Stewart Till in memory of his mother Olive, who had been Departmental Secretary of the sociology department at Goldsmiths college.
Filmmakers Danny Boyle, Stephen Frears and Gurinder Chadha have spoken at the event in the past.