A ragtag crew of DJs rule in Pirate Radio, about an illicit '60s English pop station. The writer-director spoke to Sarah Ball.
You send up Parliament in this movie—getting political?
I am thinking of writing a film vaguely around the subject of malaria.
Not a comedy, I take it?
I hope there'll be some funny things in it. But there is a central core of it which isn't very funny. But Pirate Radio isn't seriously political. It's a celebration of being young—and if you're going to celebrate that, you'll end up criticizing the people who squish it. If I wanted to extrapolate, I would say that I often feel that politicians are solving the problems from 10 or 15 years earlier. Even five years ago, politicians didn't realize the Internet was of any interest. And now you've got a president here in America who was elected by it.
But the DJs are still after "the man."
In that way, it's a film about irresponsibility. I'm moved by pop music's long-lastingness in history. There are real emotions underneath it, but they tend to be about loving freedom rather than attacking political strategies.
When did you first hear pirate radio?
At school—I was sent to prep school when I was 8, which is a pretty traumatic experience. There you were in a hideous dormitory of 12 boys, not able to talk after lights out, and you listened to guys on the radio who did nothing but talk. They were clearly living in a world of chaos and drunkenness and friendship. If you heard that song for the first time then, all you could do is listen and pray they'd play it. You'd stay up later and later.
It's a different kind of thing, isn't it? I actually think it's wonderful. I'd probably prefer not to have to wait through lots of songs by Herman's Hermits and the Seekers in order to hear one good song by the Kinks.
This is your first film—
Set at sea?
Well, that, and set in the past.
Yes—I watched M*A*S*H a lot, which was also about a lot of guys in a weird place with a lot of incidents. There's more improvising in the movie than in anything I've done before.
I read that January Jones was chastised on the
set for improvising.
Thank God she did; it was a dull scene! That's why I desperately wanted to work with her again. She was funny that day, and I think I've learned to be more relaxed about it.
Taylor Swift's album cover appears in the credits. Is she in your pop-music pantheon?
The idea is just to say that pop music and rock-and-roll music have been great for a long time and still are great. My daughter is learning all her emotional lessons from Taylor Swift. She knows she's going to fall in love with some guy who's not the suitable one. She knows she's going to feel lonely at her new school. I love Taylor Swift.
What would your hard-core DJs think?
If the movie has a message, it's that we're lucky that God gave rock and roll to us. And the other one is enjoy your youth, because things get more formal.