On your marks
Noel Clarke couldn’t find the roles he liked as an actor – so, almost grudgingly, he decided to write them himself, then star in them, then direct them . . . But he’s no auteur, he tells TARA BRADY
WHERE DOES Noel Clarke find the time? Today, sitting in a Soho hotel, he’s here to talk Fast Girls, an Olympics fable and the talented movie hyphenates latest venture as a screenwriter and star. He might, just as easily, be here to promote Storage 24, an incoming summer sci-fi, or The Knot, an incoming honeymoon comedy. Both films star and were written by Clarke. Naturally.
Between these projects he has voiced a pro-Christmas critter for Saving Santa and popped up in JJ Abrams’s Star Trek sequel.
I can’t talk about it, laughs Clarke, as we make our best wounded puppy face. Not even a little bit. “I can tell you I had a great experience. I can tell you I went out there and worked with JJ Abrams. And now I’m back again and I’m not allowed to say a word.”
That’s just as well, Clarke reckons: “It’s a weird thing with fans: they want to know, they want to know, they want to know. But they don’t want to know because of spoilers.”
Professional, matter-of-fact and articulate, Noel Anthony Clarke is a guy who gets things done. Following the 2004 release of Kidulthood, his breakout directorial debut, someone at a meeting told him that he didn’t write women very well. He responded with 4,3,2,1, a female crime caper, written inside of a month. Fast Girls is Clarke’s second feature to focus on a feminine quartet. This time, the foursome form Team GB’s relay hopefuls at the Olympics (ersatz).
“I don’t try to write women or men,” says Clarke. “I just write. Afterwards I sit down and think, would a girl really say that? But I write characters first. Then think about the details later.”
He’s keen, too, that we don’t think of the new film as a sporting Spice World. The London Olympics, which are never mentioned by name for copyright reasons, provided a timeframe for Fast Girls, but were not the primary motivation for writing the screenplay.
“It’s only opportunistic in that this is when the distributor is putting it out,” insists Clarke. “But for us for myself and the producer, Damian Jones, this idea of making a movie about a female relay team has been kicking around a long time. He has been asking me to do this since 2005. He’s even had the title all this time. I was always busy doing other things but then he pushed forward because of the Olympics and then the studio, who picked it up, pushed forward because of the Olympics.”
It’s typical that Clarke would respond to criticisms of his female writing simply by proving the dissenter wrong. His entire career is a testament to a strong work ethic and can-do spirit. Born to London Trinidadian parents – dad is a carpenter, mum is a nurse – Clarke was raised by his mother, a lone parent who infused him with a strong sense of self-worth. When other kids were up to no good around the West London council estate where he grew up, Clarke was the kid training for karate contests and run meets.