Mr Nice - Interview with Howard Marks and Rhys Ifans
Words: Mark 'Lenny' Linehan
The door of the penthouse suite in The "U2" Clarence Hotel opens and the 'uh-huh-shake-baby' strains of Elvis Presley come pouring out into the corridor. I picture for a second the groupies inside being instructed on how to correctly traverse a drainpipe down to the ground floor. Inside half-eaten plates of room service sandwiches and chips are covering the cheap MDF sideboard. For a hotel owned by the "biggest" rock band in the world, it more resembles a motorway Travelodge. A man and a woman are sitting talking to each other, both are wearing regulation rock star dark sunglasses and motion a wave in my direction. He looks suspiciously like the guy who accosted me earlier in the waiting room for cigarettes. It looks like he found one. I squint and realise it's bowl headed Irish singer-songwriter, Fionn Regan. "Rock and roll," I think to myself as I'm ushered out to the balcony, and introduced to Mr. and Mrs Nice.
Okay, so they're not a couple, but they're very close. Looking like a mischievous teenager on the piss with his "cool" dad, Howard Marks and Rhys Ifans are sitting outside on the spatial terraced surroundings of the balcony. At his height in the mid-1980s, Howard Marks had forty-three aliases, eighty-nine phone lines, and twenty five companies trading worldwide. He was smuggling consignments of up to thirty tons of hashish from Pakistan and Thailand to America and Canada and had contact with organisations as diverse as the CIA, MI6, the IRA, and the Mafia (apparently they're the only ones who still send the odd Christmas card). He once stood for Parliament in 1997 on the single issue of the legalisation of cannabis and gained 1.5% of the vote. Presumably, this would have been higher if only his demographic wasn't pinned to the sofa with the munchies. He is touted as a cultural icon, "I know for a fact The Beatles smoked some of my dope…I'm f*cking certain." And back home, in Wales, he's fast becoming a rebel folk hero.
"I love what they did here. The ceiling is like a real sky. Jesus, that must have been expensive!" Ifans sweeps his arms out and laughs. He cuddles a glass of white wine as we talk (which might explain his demeanor on The Late Late Show later that night). He is bubbly and sharp tongued, probably like the vino. Marks opts for the sophisticated red and puffs on a rolled up cigarette (or is it?). I have to double check the time. It's early afternoon. Both are probably still on it from the night before. They have known each other for about twenty years, since Ifans wrote to Marks when he was hold up in Terre Haute prison. He served seven years of a twenty five term in one of America's most notorious jails. "He wrote to me with sympathy, sincerity and wisdom. It wasn't until about '96 that I met him at a Super Furry Animals concert. He asked me to sign some cigarette papers." It was here that the two made a gentleman's agreement. If there was ever a film made of Marks's life, Ifans would play him.
That agreement was upheld and this week sees the release of the film version of Marks's hugely successful autobiographical tome, Mr Nice. The movie of the same name tries to capture an essence of his rollercoaster life, but obviously a lot had to be lost in translation: "In the movie they rolled (excuses pun) a few of my ex-wives into one. A lot had to be cut from the book, or the movie would have been a week long." The movie focuses mainly on his relationship with IRA man Jim McCann played by the excellent David Thewlis, his links with Mr Khan (Omid Djalilli) in Pakistan, and his relationship with Judy Marks (Chloe Sevigny), ex-wife and mother of three of his children. It travails his time from being an Oxford student where he earned a degree in nuclear physics and post graduate qualifications in philosophy through to entering the drug trade and his time in prison.
"There's a poetic nostalgia to the movie about how things have changed so much. There was no mobile phones. If I had one I would have needed a suitcase to carry it around in." It is hard to imagine an individual as charming as Marks existing in the drug world today. He doesn't have the unpredictable violent demeanor one would associate with a man in the drug smuggling trade for 25 years. For all his charm there is a steely determination and hardness. Outside in the cold wind he has only a short sleeve shirt on. When he talks, he is methodical and calculated, and his intelligence is tunnelled through a wise Welsh burr and soft eyes, like Richard Burton if he was in The Rolling Stones. Ifans is far more animated and imparts his knowledge like a philosophical drunk pausing between thoughts and grinning, "This is not a drugs movie. It's not Cheech and Chong. It's an odyssey of a movie, the story arc we are rewarded with in this film…(pause) erm, well, that's The Bible right there (looks at Marks and starts giggling) Not that you're Jesus! (Ifans makes the Crucifixion pose) How would you skin-up like this, ha, ha, ha!?"
If anything, the lads had a great time making the movie, and the press junket seems to be a riot. Finally, I ask Marks how, for someone who smoked Marijuana all his life and the known effects it has on the memory, how did he remember anything? "The DEA recorded everything so they were like my diary. It was all there I just had to fill in the details without it I wouldn't have been able to f*cking remember anything."
So, without even realising it, those who wanted him imprisoned were helping him all along. It is the law that are the subject of his next project. It's a crime fiction novel based on drugs and corrupt cops in Cardiff in the mid-1970s is due out next March.
Turned out Nice again. For one man, it certainly has.
Check out Mark AKA 'Lenny the Movie Man' on TodayFM. Every Thursday night on KC's show 10-12midnight.
Read Our Review for Mr. Nice here
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 5th October 2010 | Movie
I'm seeing double--Four Lennys!!Posted 13:54 | Tue 12th Oct 2010
Love love love rhys!!Posted 17:06 | Tue 12th Oct 2010
Wasn't impressed with Rhys Ifans performance on the Lat LatePosted 08:34 | Wed 13th Oct 2010
Thought he was hilarious on the Late Late. Far too quick for Tubridy even though he was wasted!!Posted 18:27 | Mon 18th Oct 2010
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