Observations: Wild child who finally found the nerve to direct a film

 

Dexter Fletcher has come a long way since playing Baby Face in Alan Parker's 1976 film Bugsy Malone.

Yet despite the 36 years that have elapsed, not to mention acting credits in Elephant Man, The Long Good Friday and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Fletcher is still being stopped and called Baby Face. "Just the other day a woman taking her kid to school shouted, 'That's him, that's Baby Face!' It still follows me."

The larger-than-life, if diminutive, actor has a mop of silver curls which corkscrew wildly from his head. His face at 46, replete with rakish stubble, is definitely not babyish. Despite proving his prodigious acting talent, Fletcher followed a fine tradition of child actors by going off the rails.

We are sitting having lunch in the modern, open-plan apartment Fletcher shares with his wife, the theatre and opera director, Dalia Ibelhauptaitë. Fletcher has spoken frankly in the past about how Dalia "saved him" after he became addicted to drugs, lost his home and ended up sleeping in his car when he was in his twenties.

His film, Wild Bill, released last month, was described by The Independent on Sunday as "the most affecting, funny, and sure-footed comedy-drama that we're likely to see this year". Set in the East End, visually it is a love letter to gritty London.

"It was marketed as a gangster film, but it isn't one really," he says. "There's some dodgy characters but it's a family story. I filmed it as an antidote to those films about criminal hooligans." He is proud of the film, but is bemused that despite positive reviews it hasn't been widely distributed. Because he is synonymous with Lock, Stock and similar films, I suspect Wild Bill has been overlooked, unfairly, as a Britflick follow-up.

"It took me 40 years to make a film," he says. "I've been acting since I was six, it wasn't until my mid-forties that I got enough confidence and focus for the huge challenge." He's still acting, although he has to remind his agent every-so-often that he is, he says. But he's chewing over his next directorial idea: "I want to make a Western that supplants Londoners to the Wild West. Back in the day it was an open frontier, and London is one now."

Dexter Fletcher is judging the East End Film Festival, 3 to 8 July (www.eastendfilmfestival.com); Wild Bill is out on DVD 23 July

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