They say every great journey begins with a single step. Such is the case with the Howard Marks, a Welsh-born Oxford University student whose dabbling in marijuana dealing led him to an incredible career as international cannabis smuggler with supposed connections to the IRA, MI6 and the Mafia all amid side jobs such as travel agent, teacher and spy. At the height of his career, Marks was said to have controlled 10 percent of the world?s hashish trade, no small feat for any one man. Marks’? adventures, conducted under countless alibis, brought him everywhere from London, Ireland and Germany to Pakistan, Thailand, Spain and America, and eventually to prison. Directed by Benard Rose, ‘Mr. Nice’ is the big-screen adaptation of the autobiography of Howard Marks. Boasting an all-star cast, which includes Rhys Ifans, Chloe Sevigny, David Thewlis, Jack Huston and Crispin Glover, the incredible journey of one of the world’s most intriguing personalities has made it’s way to theaters worldwide. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Rhys Ifans to discuss the process of bringing the film from script to screen, the challenges involved, his close relationship with the real-life Howard Marks, as well as some quick updates on his upcoming musical and film projects!
You latest project is ‘Mr. Nice’ and it is a very exciting film. How familiar where you with the tale of Howard Marks growing up?
I was very aware of him. I too am a Welshman and when he was imprisoned, I became very aware of him. When he was released from prison, thirteen or fourteen years ago, we met at a concert in Wales and where we hit it off. We have been very close friends ever since.
What is it about Howard Marks the man, that captivated you as an actor and made you want to bring in to the screen?
I think the fact that he evaded the authorities for so long, the whole outlaw thing made it interesting, along with the fact that he is such an eloquent and intelligent man. Howard has lived a great life and it makes for an interesting story.
Was it hard to play Howard when you know him?
No. It was very easy. I found that in knowing him for over thirteen years, I didn’t have to do a character study, I just kind of became him. I that space of thirteen years, I found that I had asked every question of him that an actor would need to ask. Howard and I found the whole thing pleasantly amusing! [laughs]
What do you feel that you brought to the character that may not have been in the script originally or even in the man you know?
Well, in many ways, Howard and I have similar energies. I didn’t want to do something radically different, why would you? He is an interesting enough character on his own. I guess that one of those redeeming features, the main qualities that Howard has is a very rich, deep resonate voice. I went to very great lengths to hold that and to use it.
From an acting standpoint, what was the biggest challenge in making this film?
I was playing someone that I knew. The film revealed to me that, yes, he did have a rip-roaring time and some very exciting times but what it brought home to me was a sense of loss When he was sent to prison he was separated from his loved ones for many years. It was the pain of incarceration that revealed itself to me.
In your opinion, what did director Bernard Rose bring to the project?
Bernard works very quickly, in an almost very deliberate kind of style, which is very fitting with the frantic kind of life that Howard led. He shot it very quickly and off the hoof which I think gave the film a sort of energy. It is a lot of story to tell in 90 minutes or whatever it is. Also, Bernard has a very healthy disregard for conventional filmmaking in the same way that Howard has a healthy disregard for the authorities! [laughs]
You were part of a great ensemble on this project. What did you most look forward to in working with this cast?
Chloë Sevigny and David Thewlis are two actors that I have admired for many years, so I was really excited to work with them both. They didn’t disappoint in any way, shape or form! It was thrilling to work with them.
Looking back at you body of work, how do you feel that you have evolved as an actor over the years?
Well, my work has been quite eclectic. Intentionally so. I am very easily bored, so I try not to repeat or touch on the same subject matters twice. So, I guess I am still evolving!
That being said, is there a particular type of film or genre that you are anxious to take on in the future?
No, not particularly. Nothing that springs to mind. I am really still excited about what comes my way. I am in the position where I can pick and choose more than I have in the past, so that is a luxury that you have to address responsibly. Hopefully, I will do that!
In some ways, ‘Mr. Nice’ deals with misconceptions. The film pulls back the curtain on what many people perceived the life of Howard Marks to be. What do you think is the biggest misconception about yourself?
Possibly that I am kind of this all-around scruffy guy. I am not! [laughs]
Your next big project is the reboot of ‘Spider-Man’. Did you have any reservations about tackling that role?
It is just a huge, huge honor. I wouldn’t say that I was a lifelong Spider-Man fan but I certainly remember wanting to be him as a kid. It is just a huge opportunity, you know? I had no reservations at all about taking the part. I couldn’t be more excited about the project and I am sure it will prove to be an amazing movie!
Many of your fans know about your musically side. Anything new on the way in that creative outlet?
That is on hold at the moment, due to the fact that I am working so much. But we have just completed a new album that we will be releasing at some point this year, when the time is right.
What is the best piece of advice that you would give to someone looking to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
Make sure that you can handle disappointment.
What other projects are on the horizon for you?
I have a film that I did with Roland Emmerich, we shot it last year, called ‘Anonymous’. That is to be released in September or October. I have seen it and it is a fantastic visual and intellectual banquet, that is probably the next thing that should be on the screens.
Anything that you would like to say to your fans before we let you get back to work?
Umm, yes. I would like to say “Hi guys!” and “Thank you for being my fans!” All the support I get is very touching! I appreciate it greatly.
Thank you for your time, Rhys. We are big fans of your work and we wish you all the best, sir!
Oh, you are very welcome! Thank You!