Interviewing all of One Direction in a room together is like being ushered into a zoo and asked to keep order in the chimpanzee house. The boys – Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan – are shrieking exuberance and energy, even halfway through a gruelling nine-month world tour. They bounce on their chairs; interrupt each other, create the kind of chaos that leaves teenage girls fainting and screaming in their wake. Frankly, they’re exhausting.
Their zookeeper today is documentary maker Morgan Spurlock, red of moustache and avuncular in his indulgence of his partly-teenage protégés. He looks pleased to be near them. So he should, because the Oscar nominee has been “Super-Sized” to make a film on the biggest band in the world at the moment. One Direction: This Is Us is described as an “intimate, behind the scenes look at their real lives”.
Life though has been anything but real for One Direction, even since the five of them were meshed into a band by the Machiavellian hands of Simon Cowell on the X-Factor in 2010. They came third in the show but have gone on to sell around 30 million records –their second album, Take Me Home, was number one in 35 countries – and are chased by girls everywhere they go. They’re outside the concert venues, in the hotel lobbies, outside their mothers’ houses and a few have probably delivered themselves, Cleopatra-style in a carpet, to their dressing rooms. With such fans, what on earth don’t they already know about One Direction?
“Lots,” says Harry Styles earnestly, his angelic face furrowed with concentration. “This was really a bit of a thank you to fans really, for sticking with us. We wanted to show them the real us, because social media and interviews don’t really give you the chance to get to know someone. I really think this will help.”
Like all groups, One Direction are locked up together for long periods of time; after three years they can finish each others’ sentences. There are band dynamics within the band: Harry and Louis do most of the talking; they have a rapport, which means Twitter constantly speculates as to whether they’re an item. They jabber like magpies when asked a question, but if you want a serious, considered answer, it’s Harry Styles who will deliver it, after the others have finished chirruping; this boy is more than the serial lothario (with whichever sex he’s rumoured to prefer) pictured on the media’s sidebars of shame
So when asked why they chose Spurlock to direct the film, the others shout out “his jacket” or “his moustache”, but Styles patiently waits until they’ve finished, and adds: “We really liked his style of filmmaking. Whatever Morgan does, he always seems to get right into it – he immerses himself into that world. And that’s what we wanted; it’s nerve-wracking letting people into our lives, even if cameras were following us around on the X-Factor for 10 weeks. We needed someone we could trust because we were actually scared. But we’ve never said to him: ‘Stop filming, this is private.’ We really did want everything about us to go in.”
Forty-two-year-old Spurlock, famous for eating fast food for a month in Super Size Me, has made other documentaries, such as 2008’s Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? but has wanted to do a music documentary for some time: “There’s great potential there, kind of like A Hard Days Night or The Monkees.” Turned down by both Katy Perry and Justin Bieber to direct their personal outpourings on tour, Spurlock seems to have clicked with these Anglo-Irish boys half his age:
“I do understand something of what is like because after my breakthrough with Super Size Me everything went a bit nuts for me too. And then people were pretty quick to say, ‘Oh who’s this idiot – he’s got no chance.’ So I understand what the boys go through when they’re dismissed as little mannequins who dance and sing. But mainly, we built a rapport just through hanging out. They could see that I was investing in them, and they came to allow themselves to be vulnerable to me, I think.”
Spurlock does get some great material for the film: Zayn buying a house for his mother; Niall’s quiet musings with his brother before a family wedding; Martin Scorsese bringing his daughter backstage after a gig. However “unscripted” it’s billed to be, however, it can hardly be un-coordinated, when One Direction are run by Simon Cowell’s Syco machine. The boys insist they have asked for nothing to be left out so far – “even when we look really stupid” – and that final say will go to Spurlock, not Cowell. But their image is still heavily protected on screen; their fans are highly sensitive. A recent, slightly negative Channel 4 documentary about the fans themselves was rumoured (again by fans) to have caused a number of suicides, although not one has yet been confirmed or substantiated.
“Some of the girls are crazy,” recalls Spurlock, clearly still flabbergasted. “The boys have such a security apparatus around them constantly just to protect them. If they walk outside they will be mobbed, they will be chased. Their tour bus is chased down the street by hundreds of girls after the show. So for us it was trying to maintain this intimacy; but safety was a big concern because you don’t want to do something where someone will actually get hurt.
“Their families, too – I mean they have millions of Twitter followers just off the back of the boys, and have suffered terrible intrusion over the past three years. I am really grateful that they allowed my cameras in considering what they’ve had to put up with.”
“I don’t know why the girls love us so much,” shrugs Styles – who gets most of the attention, although clean-cut blond, Irish-born Niall Horan recently took the crown as most popular member in a recent poll. “I think it’s because we don’t pretend to be anything we’re not. Yes, we can be idiots at times. We’re like those boys in the back of class throwing paper and making a noise. I think girls can relate to us in that classroom way; we’re just normal lads.”
All five are now certainly too old to be throwing paper in classrooms: they range from the ages of 19 to 21. The last part of their education has taken place in lunatic conditions, with 19-year-old Liam Payne remembering with wonder that “the first few gigs we ever did, in some nightclubs, girls were fainting and getting pulled out of the audience. We thought it was the strangest thing we ever saw. I didn’t think any of us would get used to the screaming, and that reaction. It’s just mad.”
Now, clearly, it’s normal for them, with Styles confessing that “even when you’re having a bad day, the energy of 50,000 screaming fans is what lifts you. You can’t go out on stage with a scowl. They keep us going.”
Surely at some point, as with all boy bands, this bubble will burst and one of them will break out, be photographed, wild-eyed and drunk, at Glastonbury. But right now, they’re remarkably sober about their success. “Helping the people we love,” says Styles. “Out of all the success we have had, the fact that we have been put in a position to do something tangible for them is the best thing we have achieved so far.”
‘One Direction: This Is Us’ has its UK premiere tonight and is released nationwide on 29 August