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CULTURE: More sex, thugs and rocknrolla; Guy Ritchie is hoping to turn the tide of opinion with his new Brit crime fl ick and prove there is more to him than being Mr Madonna. Alison Jones reports.

Byline: Alison Jones

It is rather telling that Guy Ritchie considers grassing on your friends to be a "crime" comparable with that of say armed robbery.

That we can see the "heroes" of his latest crime caper swinging away with baseball bats and golf clubs while trying to steal millions of euros and still think of them as lovable rascals.

But betray your mates and you are sleeping with the fi shes (or crayfi sh in this case) "What rung on the ladder of evil does that come at?" he queries.

It may be that Ritchie has become hypersensitised to people selling his secrets, particularly as the latest to do so was his wife Madonna's own brother. Christopher Ciccone.

But you don't spend eight years (and counting) married to the most famous woman in the world after not learn a thing or too about defl ecting personal questions. So when a foreign journalist asks what he thought of the book he answers that he hasn't read it.

"It's selling very well," she persists.

"Apparently she's very popular," he answers smoothly. "She's gonna be big."

Other similarly "probing" questions are given equally short shrift.

No, he and the missus are not planning to have as many children as Brad and Angelina, and the secret of staying married, he tells the suit from the Daily Mail who obsequiously dubs him Sir Guy, is "you've just got to love your wife. Is that a boring enough answer?"

Ritchie would far rather be remembered for his movies than for being Mr Madonna. However, should the fi lm career grind to a halt, he has another claim to fame - as the reason there are holes in Bic pen tops.

"When I was at school I swallowed a pen top and it got stuck in my throat," he confi des when he drops by for a post lunch chat.

"It was before they had holes in. My PE teacher had to jump over the table and give me the old Heimlich.

"Four times that week I went to Southhampton General Hospital. I cut my hand open, tried to murder myself with a pen top, someone threw a cricket ball at me and someone threw a rock at me.

"I was on fi rst name terms with everyone at the general. I should make a fi lm about that shouldn't I?"

For a while though he is sticking to what made him a fi rst-fi lm success with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and a cult favourite with Snatch, and that is the criminal underworld.

Rocknrolla has been hailed as something of a return to form following the critical roasting he received for his last project, Revolver Although he doesn't go so far as to say he considered this a response to the perceived failure of that and Swept Away (a desert island romance starring his wife), he is honest enough to admit the thinking behind it was "I hope people will go and see it".

"I wanted to enjoy myself. I felt there was an audience for this kind of fi lm, it's the kind of thing I like to see in the cinema, also the timing seemed right."

Given that Rocknrolla begins with two estate agents saying that you can always rely on property prices rising, the opposite would seem true.

"I don't think the upper echelons of the property ladder would fl inch," he argues.

Ritchie usually imports a few foreign players into his mix of London gangsters, guns and geezers. This time it comes in the form of a football club-owning Russian oligarch.

"It is not supposed to be about Roman Abramovich," he says. "It is supposed to be a commentary.

"There is an influence there but I hope he is flattered by it.

"There are just such fantastic stories of how much money they (the oligarchs) have. They can't spend it all. You can afford to buy a EUR300 million boat three or four times over and a football team and you are never going to think about that money."

Ritchie says that his films are not gangster movies in the conventional sense.

"The films of Scorsese and Coppola were bread and butter to me.

"I just like the underworld because it is an efficient polarisation of humans. My protagonists flirt with the law and have probably done a few naughty things but are actually good guys. I like the dichotomy of being able to feel uncomfortable about the fact that they are criminals but we like them. That interests me creatively, that people are not perfect."

He also likes that their crimes are unambiguous.

"I think it is easy for the middle class to judge just because we are on the right side of the law but character assassination is an act of nastiness yet somehow it seems to have become accepted in the media to diminish someone.

"I am not sure who is more guilty?" he continues.

"The people who perpetuate nonsense in newspapers and clearly want nothing more than a nefarious tale or the people that read it "Everyone is aware that we are just slagging someone off. It is clearly an unpleasant characteristic but we just sort of let it go.

"What I am interested in is that any worse than so-called crimes? I understand why we shouldn't tolerate them but the actual spirit behind it, there is something less dirty about the fact they are criminals because there seems to be a clear understanding that what they are doing is not a salubrious undertaking."

He finds honour among thieves and also humour. That fact that self-styled headmaster of old school crime Tom Wilkinson's chosen method of torture is to have his victims bitten by crayfish - like a poor man's Blofeld - takes a little of the sting out of his villainy "A friend of mine had his river banks eaten away by American crayfish. This is an issue in the English countryside which is much neglected.

I am starting a campaign if anyone is interested?" he jokes.

"They threw a chicken in the crayfish traps one weekend and in the morning by the time they pulled the chicken out it was just bones."

Although the end of Rocknrolla boldly declares that there will be a sequel he is cautious enough to want to wait for the box office figures for the first to come in before actually embarking on the second.

Ritchie, who turns 40 next week, says that though it is 10-years since Lock Stock, he still feels like he is at the beginning of his career.

"I feel the same way about 40 as I did about 39.

"I'm looking forward to the next 10 years because I am hungrier than I was then. I want to make as many different films as I can."

CAPTION(S):

The Wild Bunch (Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler and Idris Elba) run into trouble during a robbery. (inset) Guy and the wife at the premiere
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 4, 2008
Words:1166
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