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Vicky McClure & Jonny Owen: Svengali

March 2014

VICKY McClure was on Radio 1 discussing This Is England ‘88, the second spin-off TV series by Nottingham-based director Shane Meadows, when Jonny Owen first heard her being herself.
The Welsh actor and screenwriter had enjoyed some success with his internet comedy series Svengali and was looking out for talent to cast in a film version.
“I thought she was very funny,” says Jonny, a 42-year-old Welshman who’s appeared in TV series such as Murphy’s Law and Shameless.
“I loved Lol, this fractured character she played in This Is England, but this person I was hearing was a much bigger personality. She was funnier, more entertaining and sexier. She was talking about living with her mother, the Baftas, stuff like that.
“I went home to Wales and dreamt about her playing Michelle in Svengali.”
The comedy film, which is released this month, tells the story of Dixie (played by Jonny), a postman from South Wales who dreams of discovering a rock ‘n’ roll band and taking them to the top. He finds The Premature Congratulations, a quartet of young and arrogant but talented musicians, on YouTube, and with a demo tape in his pocket heads to London to the heart of the music industry.
It’s based on Jonny’s experiences in the Pocket Devils, an indie band he was in 20 years ago, who opened shows for INXS, Stereophonics and Catatonia.
“I told the rest of the team that I wanted Vicky for the part of Dixie’s girlfriend Michelle and there was a lot of head-shaking. She was the hottest in Britain, as she is now, and they didn’t believe she’d do it.
“But I approached her agent who said she had eight scripts and she’s gone to Russia.”
“This was mostly true,” laughs Vicky, who was shooting Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley and Jude Law.
“But there weren’t eight scripts,” says the 30-year-old, who grew up in Wollaton but now lives with Jonny “round the corner from Shane Meadows” in Beeston.
Undeterred, Jonny sent Vicky a ‘viral’ (a video clip).
“You’d got Boy George, Martin Freeman and Maxine Peake already attached to it, never mind the viral you sent me,” says the Broadchurch and Line of Duty actress.
Jonny then sent her the script and was told that she was going to ring him to talk it over.
“I’ve never told you this before, Vicky but I saw that it was a Nottingham number and before I answered I took three deep breaths!”
She laughs: “And now I’m a complete nuisance.”
“She was fantastic. Straight away she said she loved the script and wanted to do it. It was such a relief. We talked for about half-an-hour and we arranged to meet. She said ‘when we do meet I want a sausage cob.’ I thought, this is my kind of girl.”
“Well that’s normal if you’re from Nottingham,” says Vicky.
“We went to this really posh Shoreditch restaurant and had a sausage sandwich,” she adds, poshing up the latter.
This was two years ago and the beginning of their relationship.
Says Vicky: “People ask what it was like for everybody else on the film, dealing with the fact that we were together but it wasn’t like that. No-one spoke about it; it wasn’t obvious and we weren’t doing anything that made people feel awkward.”
Working together did have its moments.
“There was a scene where were going to argue and Vicky being ‘Mrs method’ said ‘Right, we can’t talk to each other today,’” laughs Jonny.
“And she was the first actress I ever met who would go through the script saying ‘I wouldn’t say any of that... or that’ and there are three pages of the script gone!
“I think that comes from the (Television) Workshop, which I’m a huge admirer of anyway,” he continues, referring to the Nottingham-based acting stable that has produced many success stories, Vicky among them.
Svengali sees her in a new light; doing comedy.
“She’s a long way from Lol,” she says of Michelle.
“People will look at Line of Duty, This Is England, Broadchurch and it’s all quite dark but being a Workshopper, I’ve been doing comedy since I was about 11. The Workshop embraces comedy in a big way. So this is a big deal for me; Vicky does funny.”
She’s already filmed another comedy, Convenience, with Austin Powers actor Verne Troyer.
“Although I’m not very funny in it; I’m quite mardy,” she admits.
“It’s funny. I think it’s a bit of a stoner comedy. I don’t know if it will get a release. Sometimes they don’t.”
As well as Vicky, there are other Nottingham elements in Svengali. Jonny was helped with the script by Sneinton-born Henry Normal, who runs TV company Baby Cow with Steve Coogan. And the soundtrack includes Clifton’s Jake Bugg.
“It was actually before he made it and I didn’t know he was from Nottingham,” insists Jonny.
After filming finished they moved in together in London but within eight months Vicky wanted to come home.
“We were coming back so often for my mum’s Sunday roasts anyway,” she says.
“I made friends really quickly here and I’d watch County and Forest, so it made sense for us to move here,” he says.
“I love the city. It’s got a lot of interesting creative people like Shane and Billy (Ivory) and Jake Bugg and Notts TV and Antenna. And the people don’t shout about it. They just get on with it. I like that.”

Svengali is released in cinemas and as a digital download to buy or rent on March 21. It's released on DVD on April 7. For more about the film go to


Part II

IT is the story of Dixie, a postman from South Wales, who dreams of discovering a great rock ‘n’ roll band to manage.

Trawling the internet one night, he stumbles upon The Premature Congratulations, moves to London with girlfriend Shell in tow to convince The Prems to take him on as their manager and uses every penny of his savings – and £4,000 borrowed from a loan shark – to pique the interest of cut-throat record labels.

Svengali, a British comedy which brings together a cast that includes Vicky McClure, Maxine Peake, Martin Freeman, Katy Brand, Matt Berry and Morwenna Banks, plus cameos from Alan McGee, The Libertines’ Carl Barat and Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, is loosely based on the experiences of Jonny Owen, the film’s writer and lead actor.

During the 1990s, Jonny was in a band in South Wales called The Pocket Devils who were signed to a major label, toured with the Stereophonics and Catatonia, and supported INXS at one of their secret gigs.

“We had 1,000-strong crowds in Wales and sold out 2,000 copies of one of our singles in one week,” says the 42-year-old, who admits they didn’t have the staying power to make it any bigger.

It was his acting ambitions that prompted him to leave.

“I had a part in a series in Wales called Nuts and Bolts and it was nine months’ work. 

“Apart from anything else it was easier than lugging amps around at three o’clock in the morning.”

After that he appeared in Murphy’s Law, Torchwood, My Family and Shameless, and co-produced the documentary The Aberfan Disaster for which he won a Welsh Bafta.

Svengali was an idea that came to him from Creation Records’ boss Alan McGee, most famous for discovering Oasis.

“He gave me a great line when he said: ‘Rock ‘n’ roll is the only world where bad behaviour is actively encouraged.’ 

“You know, if you’re Pete Doherty and you fall over in a bar everyone thinks you’re a poet, but if you’re an electrician you’re thrown out.

“I thought that was a great background for a film to be set. That was the premise. And I knew a lot about that world so I thought I’d use a lot of what I’d experienced.”

Dixie is based on The Pocket Devils’ manager, Paul Dixon.

“He never had a bad day,” says Jonny.

“He’d be massaging your ego: ‘why aren’t you on the cover of the NME, why is Damon Albarn on there?’ The truth was Blur were a much better band. So he was a good basis for a character.”

Svengali started life as a web series in 2008 and featured Boy George among other familiar faces.

With funding secured to take it to the big screen, Jonny set about recruiting his cast. That’s when he and Vicky got together.

“I heard her on Radio 1 being interviewed about This Is England ’88 and I thought she was very funny. I dreamt about her playing Michelle in Svengali.”

She liked the script and the names already attached to it, as well as the sausage cob he bought her when they first met. “People ask what it was like for everybody else on the film, dealing with the fact that we were together, but it wasn’t like that,” insists Vicky, 30, who grew up in Wollaton.

“No one spoke about it – it wasn’t obvious and we weren’t doing anything that made people feel awkward.”

The film sees her in a new light; doing comedy. “People will look at Line of Duty, This Is England, Broadchurch and it’s all quite dark but being a Workshopper, I’ve been doing comedy since I was about 11,” she says, referring to Nottingham’s Television Workshop, where she trained.

“The Workshop embraces comedy in a big way.”

She adds: “The comedy is quite slapstick in places. It’s old-fashioned physical comedy. That was good fun, as was trying stuff out and making up stupid words.”

Says Jonny: “She’s got her own little language and her whole family knows about it. 

“She was doing it inbetween takes and I said ‘do that on camera, it’s really funny’”.

“It’s really childish,” she says, before demonstrating: “Habadaba... oramov... baratabada... hamar...” she babbles.

Vicky will be in another comedy soon, called Convenience, with Austin Powers actor Verne Troyer but she doesn’t plan on moving away from the gritty roles that have made her one of Britain’s hottest young actors.

As well as Vicky and Jonny, who live together in Beeston (“round the corner from Shane Meadows”), the Nottingham connections with Svengali continue with Michael Socha, another Workshopper, and the addition of Jake Bugg’s Taste It on the soundtrack.

Says Jonny: “We made the film two years ago, before he was really known. I heard this song and thought it was great. Then it turns out he’s from Nottingham. “Obviously, everyone will think he’s on there because he’s a huge star and from Nottingham.”

Others on the soundtrack are the Stone Roses, Miles Kane, Small Faces, The Fall, The Coral and the film’s fictional band The Prems.

To ensure the chemistry between the actors playing The Prems felt authentic on screen, Jonny got them together in a hotel to practise and bond, with the help of Carl Barat of The Libertines.

“I was there as well, handing out beers; I knew my place,” jokes Vicky, who will be filming This Is England 1990 with Shane Meadows later this year.

“They started acting like a band,” says Jonny.

“They really got into it. There was one morning when they knocked me awake and Michael Socha asked me ‘where’s the nearest McDonald’s?’ I said, ‘hang on, I’m not your bloody manager!”

He adds: “The drummer Joel (Fry) looks a lot like a young Jimi Hendrix, Dylan (Edwards) like Bob Dylan, Michael (Socha) like Bernard Sumner and Curtis (Thompson) like Paul Simenon from The Clash. 

“I told them this and they all went away and studied videos of each of them to see how they played. Obviously Joel is a drummer so I told him about Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground.”

He sees the band The Prems as a cross between The Stooges and The Clash. “Which I think is what rock ‘n’ roll needs,” he laughs.

“What with the X Factor going on...”

Svengali will be screened at Broadway next Friday at 8.15pm, after which there’ll be a Q&A with the cast and crew, including Jonny Owen and Vicky McClure. Tickets are £7.70 from the box office, call 0115 952 6611 or go to It is available to rent/buy as a download now on Sky, BT, iTunes, Xbox, Sony, Google Play, BlinkBox and Filmflex. The film will be released on DVD on April 7. 


Part III - Svengali screening and Q&A at Broadway, Nottingham

Nottingham’s Bafta winning actress Vicky McClure joined her Welsh boyfriend Jonny Owen at Broadway to talk about their new film, Svengali. The Q&A, which followed the screening of the British comedy on Friday night, was hosted by Post entertainment editor Simon Wilson. During it they spoke of their passion for the city...

You met during the making of Svengali and first moved in together in London but soon moved to Nottingham. Why?
J: Because Vicky was like ‘Oh I don’t like it here!’ There was a flat with a window looking out over Shoreditch, the trendiest part of London. She’d be there with a fag: ‘I hate it here!’ ‘Do you want to go home?’ ‘Yes!’
V: That’s so true. The thing is, I love London...
J: You don’t!
V: I do, I genuinely love London for what it is and now I get the best of both worlds. I’m there, pretty much, every week. I like to dip my toe in and then bugger off back to Nottingham.
J: I didn’t need much persuading. I was coming up with Vicky most weekends, going round her mother’s for a Sunday roast. Her dad’s one of my best mates and we’d go to the pub with his mates. I fitted in very quickly.

What is it about the city that you like?
J: What I love is that it’s as talented as Manchester for bands and This Is England and all the rest of it, and the people are as friendly as, say, the Geordies but they don’t crow about it. I love you for that. It’s a great city.
And you live where?
J: In Toton. I’ve started calling it Tot-ton for some reason.
V: We lived in Wollaton with my mum and dad for about a year. I came back from London going ‘I want to stay with my mum and dad for a few weeks.’ And before we knew it... it was like ‘this is all right isn’t it?’
How involved are you in Notts TV?
J: I’m doing the football for them. I’m going to watch County, Forest and even Mansfield. They’ve got some really exciting things going on, they’ve got people like Shane (Meadows) and Vicky involved. I think it’ll do really well.
Vicky is a County fan so are you Notts or Forest?
J: Cardiff.

In terms of This Is England, you will be joining Shane Meadows for another TV series later this year?
V: Yes and we start shooting toward the end of the year. It’s set in the ‘90s and as far as I’m aware we are all back. I genuinely can’t tell you how excited I am. The last time I was in this cinema was with the This Is England film and that’s coming up for ten years now. It’s played such a massive part in my career. It could be the last one. Never say never but it sounds like it will be.
Vicky, Line of Duty was so well received, will there be another series?
V: I hope so. Apparently we’re going for dinner with the producer soon so that’s a good sign. I’ve been recognised (in the street) more times for Line of Duty than anything else. ‘Oh my God, how small are you!?’ It’s been an amazing response.
J: A guy I work with told me that his mate said to him: ‘I saw a great film at the weekend. It had this dopey Welsh fella in it and the fit bird from Line of Duty.’ Dopey Welsh fella!?
Jake Bugg’s Taste It is on the Svengali soundtrack but Jonny, you chose that without knowing he was from Nottingham, didn’t you?
V: The director said to Jonny ‘I’ve found this track...’ and he straight away thought it was brilliant, listened to the album and wanted Taste It for one of the scenes. This was over two years ago and no-one really knew about him. I’d never heard of him. But when I realised who he was I said: ‘Oh he’s from Nottingham, use it!’”
J: And she was in his video (Two Fingers) about a month later.

Are you two going to get married?
J: We are. I often say to her ‘Are we going to get married?’ and she says ‘Yeah, but it’s got to be special, it’s got to be a really expensive ring...’
V: Not that expensive! What I said was ‘When you propose, you need to think of it as though you are writing a script, so it’s like the movies.’ That’s what I want!
J: It will happen... and you’re all invited.
Svengali is available to rent or buy as a download from Sky, BT, iTunes, Xbox, Sony, Google Play, BlinkBox and Filmflex. The film will be released on DVD on April 7.

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