I recently had a chance to do a Q&A with Welsh writer, actor and producer Jonny Owen on his new film “Svengali” about the trials and tribulations of Dixie, an average guy from a small Welsh village, with aspirations to become the manager of the world’s greatest rock band. Jonny has written for and starred in numerous TV shows, including Shameless, but this is his first screenplay. It’s clearly a labour of love, as he is a massive music fan, which is reflected in the cameo appearances and soundtrack which is second to none. You can check out my review for Svengali here, and if you wish to see what all the fuss is about, go get it on iTunes and Amazon among others.
Q. How would you describe Svengali to the uninitiated?
A. I’d say it’s a romantic comedy set in the world of Rock and Roll.
Q. Is Svengali based on personal experiences you’ve had at all?
A. Pretty much completely. All the characters and scenarios are ones I’ve encountered. Alan McGee gave me a great line once. He said ‘Rock and Roll is the only industry where bad behaviour is actively encouraged’. I immediately thought what a great premise for comedy. He’s right too. As long as your successful and making money you can pretty much be indulged to behave pretty much how you want. It’s quite dangerous actually. The plot of the film itself also began to copy my life as in the film the band become more successful and the film did too. A classic case of life imitating art imitating life as they say.
Q. How did you go from getting the idea and writing a first draft script, to getting the film made and starring in the lead role?
A. Well it was a long process. I set out just to do something interesting on line and to see what happened. I almost can’t believe where it’s ended up. A film that’s had a cinema release and is now selling across the UK. It was small steps I suppose. Quite Punk too in that I was making it up as I went along. I’d love to say it was all some meticulously researched master plan but it wasn’t. Once it went to script stage and the moment dropped the amount of work involved was astonishing. My head was spinning. Draft after draft, lots being changed as we were filming and all the while I was helping produce it too so I was involved on the business side of things. I’m glad I did it as I learned a lot but it’s was a lot of work. Would I do it again? Oh yes! 😉
Q. The music plays a key part in the film. Presumably that is a big part of your life? Mod culture specifically?
A. It was essential. We had to have a great soundtrack. Had too. I said this from the start and I was backed all the way. I obviously have a huge passion for music. I’ve played in bands and DJ’d so it’s a big part of my life. I knew the world well and I knew id be able to tell the story of it. It’s interesting that people from the music industry love it. They ‘get it’ because they can see that I was part of it for many years.
Q. Was it difficult getting the rights to use all that music?
A. We had a great guy called Ian Neil involved. He does loads of great films. He was superb at getting it all sorted out. Once The Who (or High Numbers) dropped everything pretty much fell into place. I was delighted with who we got in the end.
Q. And how did you get the likes of Alan McGhee, Carl Barat and Soccer AM involved?
A. Alan came through a mutual friend called Welsh Pete (Rob Brydon’s younger brother) who knew him as he’d been signed to his label. Alan came on board early doors and has been a huge supporter. Carl came through Alan and again has been brilliant bless him. Soccer am I knew as I’d been on the show a few times and they’d become good friends. I was aware that a bands trajectory was to get on the show too so I was able to use that. Worked a treat too.
Q. And bagging Martin Freeman was a bit of a coup, especially now he’s a Hollywood player! Do you know him personally, or did his love for Mod culture persuade him to take the role?
A. Bit of both. I knew him and he loves the culture. He’s a great guy. He’d seem the Virals and got in touch with me and asks if he could be in one. Naturally I was delighted to have him. When the funding came for the film part of it was that Martin would be in the movie and he agreed and shot it bless him. Obviously his profile was rising then but it’s now gone through the roof and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Q. Dixie is a bit dim but totally loveable. Are there any likenesses between the two of you?!
A. Haha! A bit I suppose. I like him enormously and he’s obviously brighter than people realise as he gets the band going across the music world. I definitely don’t have as long a fuse as Dixie. He’s much more patient than I would ever be.
Q. You’ve acted in many successful TV shows, Shameless included, but this is your first writing gig? Is it something you hope to do more of in the future?
A. Yes I think so. Obviously not many people get their first script commissioned to become a movie so I know I’m very lucky. I’ve written another called ‘Schemers’ set in late 70’s Scotland that’s just been commissioned too. I might even Direct that one.
Q. If you could actually manage any band in history, what one would you choose?
A. The Beatles. Obviously. 🙂
Q. Lastly, what are your three favourite movies and three favourite bands/artists?
It’s a wonderful life
City of God
The Stone Roses
Thanks for your time Jonny, loved the movie!
Thanks for your time and glad you enjoyed the movie. Keep the faith Tom, Jonny x