An interview with Mike Will Downey | THE BIG UGLY | VMA21 BEST OF THE MONTH | February Edition | By Silvia Nittoli
Crime boss Harris is a London mob boss who sends his henchman Neelyn to the USA, in order to set up a money-laundering operation with an old friend, American oilman Preston.
Neeyln is a loyal enforcer for his boss, who’s played by Malcolm McDowell, and takes care of problems and people that go in the way of his illicit business. When he arrives in West Virginia to deal with Preston, played by Ron Perlman, his girlfriend suddenly disappears.
In The Big Ugly, a Cockney gangsters v Redneck Americans pop-corn movie, all characters have their own idea of righteousness and friendship and they will find themselves to be at odds suddenly. Everything is tested: their honor, their commitment to their group, and their ideals of justice.
The Big Ugly, filmed entirely on location in Morehead, Kentucky, was written, produced, and directed by Scott Wiper and co-produced by Michael Downey, producer, and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. They both grew up in Granville, OH where they met in the ’90s.
• Michael, congratulations on your multiple awards at the Vegas Movie Awards™! The movie you produced, The Big Ugly, was directed by Scott Wiper, who wrote the screenplay with Paul Tarantino. How was your first approach with the director?
When I was growing up, he was making big movies while I was still in college. I always looked up to him like he was a big brother and we stayed in touch over the years.
• What were the sources of inspiration for this movie?
On this film, Scott's influences were real people in our lives. Real lives. Real deaths. Real wishes, regrets, anger, joy, and gratitude. We were also inspired by the nostalgia of other eras: paperback novels of Jim Thompson and Ian Fleming, all things Clint Eastwood, Get Carter with Michael Caine, The Getaway with Steve McQueen, and of course, The Long Good Friday.
As a producer, you have to take into consideration everything from locations, speaking parts, production design. As a screenwriter, you need to be clear about what you want, so a producer understands the vision.
• What made you jump on board on this project?
I always wanted to co-produce a movie with Scott Wiper since I saw his short film the Return of Wes Lauren while he was in film school at Wesleyan. I helped with the premier of his first feature Captain Jack and designed the website for A Better Way to Die. I stayed in touch over the years, read his scripts, and finally read the first script for London Calling, the working title for The Big Ugly.
• Would you say that The Big Ugly is a Midwestern movie?
Midwestern is a good way to describe The Big Ugly, because it has both the European influence and the grit of Appalachia. It was our version of a modern Western.
• While working on this movie as a producer, has being a screenwriter as well helped you in any way, and if so how?
A producer's mind is good when screenwriting and vice versa. As a producer, you have to take into consideration everything from locations, speaking parts, production design. As a screenwriter, you have to write everything that matters, because if you write in a lot of extra people and descriptions that won't make the final cut, you've just cost production a lot of unnecessary money. On the other hand, you need to be clear about what you want, so a producer understands the vision.
• Vinnie Jones plays an aging gangster with a compassionate heart. Why was he good for his role in the movie?
Vinnie was perfect for this role because this parallels his career a bit in terms of an ex-bruiser FA Cup winner in British football, turned movie tough guy. His wit and menacing charm were on display in Snatch as Bullet Tooth Tony. The Big Ugly really set him up for a very emotional turn as an actor and flawed protagonist.
• The characters themselves are well described, with a back story and with a complex relationship. Can you tell us more about these dynamics and why they were functional for the movie?
In the 80s there was a quirky type of character, the unexpected leading man. Nicholas Braun was perfect for that role as Will. Milt (Bruce McGill) represents a type of warrior who serves his friend and master Preston Lawford (Ron Perlman). Junior (Brandon Sklenar) is a force up against Neelyn (Vinnie Jones). Harris (Malcolm McDowell) is torn between protecting his empire and his right-hand man.
Although this was a heavy testosterone film the female characters had to have their own strength. They were essential. We have a cast of male characters who don't know who they are. There are weaknesses in all of them. Kara (Levin Rambin) knows exactly who she is and what she wants. Fiona (Lenora Crichlow) sees we have to make a change we need to go a different way. Tomi (Joelle Carter) right out of mythology she offers Neelyn tools to save his life. Every character served a purpose in how they affected the other characters.
• The movie was about to get released and the pandemic happened. How did you manage to deal with it?
Obviously, the pandemic has been terrible for the world and the film business. While other movies like TENET, Top Gun: Maverick, and more were continuing to delay their films, we stuck with our release date at the end of July 2020. It ended up working as we had little competition and took first place at the theatrical box office in terms of per-screen average, primarily in drive-in theaters across the U.S.
Although this was a heavy testosterone film the female characters had to have their own strength. They were essential.
• What are your next projects, Michael?
Currently, I'm working on a film with Scott Wiper and Vinnie Jones that is slated to film soon in Puerto Rico. It's an original action film and we're really excited about going into production and continuing the success we started.
- OFFICIAL TRAILER -
- MAKING OF THE BIG UGLY -
IMDb - The Big Ugly: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9441638/
Michael Downey: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2817746
Scott Wiper: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0007045