For all Ben Wheatley’s successes, the director behind cult hits Kill List, Sightseers and last year’s JG Ballard adaptation High-Rise can pinpoint one moment above all others. Spending an afternoon with legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. “As far as a career goes, winning awards or going to film festivals and all that stuff is fine,” he says, “but meeting him was the high point of everything I’ve done.”
They spent a few hours together at his office in New York after Wheatley discovered that Scorsese was a fan of Kill List, his breakout 2011 movie about two hitmen caught up in a dangerous occult world. “It was as close as you can get meeting your film god,” he says, citing Scorsese’s Taxi Driver as the film that first made him realise what a director actually does for a living.
Now Scorsese is executive producing Wheatley’s latest, Free Fire – ostensibly his first ‘American’ film, in that this 1970s tale of two gangs squaring up in a warehouse is nominally set in Massachusetts. Starring Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley, it was actually shot in Brighton at the old printing works for the Brighton Argus newspaper.
Director Ben Wheatley’s new film ‘Free Fire’ is executively produced by his hero Martin Scorsese (Getty Images)
Scorsese never quite made it to the English south coast – but with his name on the credits, he kept an eye on the project. “We had to take it to him and show it to him, which was terrifying. But he loved it.” It’s yet another milestone in the Wheatley story; one of the few British filmmakers to break from the genre scene and penetrate the mainstream.
Sitting in London’s Corinthia Hotel, sniffing his way through a cold, the Billericay-born Wheatley may now be 44, but he hasn’t changed much since directing his debut feature, 2009’s unsettling crime story Down Terrace, in just eight days. He still lives in Brighton, where he and his wife and regular screenwriter Amy Jump…