Filthy rich: From mayhem to mainstream

A group of friends from the Welsh Valleys used to film obscene pranks for their own amusement. Now Dirty Sanchez are global stars with a full-length feature film to be released next month. Louise Jury reports on the unlikeliest of success stories

They are, perhaps, unlikely heroes. They certainly regard their success as a monster surprise. But a bunch of skateboarding bums who have been friends for more than 15 years are set to be Britain's newest movie stars, thanks to their willingness to push the boundaries of pain and taste with a mix of mad stunts, bodily fluids and willy-waving.

Dirty Sanchez - three pranksters from Wales and a like-minded Londoner - first secured a show on MTV in 2003 after the word-of-mouth success of their amateur skating and stunt videos.

After three series, it was MTV Europe's most popular home-grown programme, watched in more than 160 countries, with a subsequent transfer to Channel 4 in the UK.

They quickly acquired underground cult status as far afield as America and Australia. And now their fame - or notoriety - is about to go mainstream.

For next month the team release their first film, Dirty Sanchez: The Movie, with a tenuous "plot" loosely based on the seven deadly sins and their usual surfeit of foolhardy wince-inducing pranks.

It was shot in a whirlwind five weeks for $3m (about £1.6m) in countries including Russia, Japan, Thailand and Mexico - and with a brief guest appearance from the former drugs baron Howard Marks as the Devil.

For the uninitiated, Dirty Sanchez are like a British version of the gross-out American gag gang Jackass and are cast in the same mould of stunt television as Banzai, which itself sends up the conventions of outrageous Japanese TV.

But - Dirty Sanchez producers believe - they do it all with more self-deprecating charm, albeit of the rough and ready variety.

The big question is whether Lee Dainton (also known as Dainton) from Pontypool, Dan Joyce (aka Joycey) from London, Mike Locke (Pancho) from Port Talbot and Cardiff-born Mathew Pritchard (Pritchard) can charm more than the young males who have proved their staple audience so far remains to be seen.

It has already been an extraordinary journey for the boys from Wales - and Joycey - who, until recently, could scarcely have dreamt of a movie career in exotic foreign climes.

As Dainton explained with genuine amazement: "I've escaped from the valleys, which is a pretty big achievement considering my education is nil."

Pritchard, an aspiring stuntman whose pre-skateboarding career involved a brief stint as a chef, was also far from academic. "I'm quite thick, I don't mind saying that but I've got a lot of common sense. I'm just good at doing stuff like this. It's what tickles my boat. I like to get myself in sticky situations to scare myself."

The team first met at skateboard competitions across the UK in the early 1990s and Pritchard and Dainton quickly became close friends. To pass the time, Dainton bought a video camera and they enlivened their stunts with practical jokes and pranks. The videos led to their first hit film in the skateboarding community, Pritchard vs Dainton, in which they challenged each other to perform unbelievable stunts. They then asked Joycey and pint-sized Pancho to join the group and the amateur videos became so successful they adopted a name - Dirty Sanchez.

Dainton, now 30, was convinced from the start there was something special to what they were doing. "I just knew that what we were doing was really funny to us and that we definitely had something there," he said. "But I didn't think it would have the snowball effect it had. We were in the right place at the right time with a good idea. I honestly think it's the biggest piss-take in history."

As magazines such as FHM picked up on the videos, the team got a guest slot on a Channel 4 show that was spotted by MTV who offered them their own show. The rest is history.

Pritchard, 33, talks quite matter-of-factly about how America is their biggest fan base - "It's like EastEnders to them over there" - and how they receive many messages on the contact webpages of MySpace.

Dainton, a carpenter by trade, describes "how weird it is when people stare at you all the time. We can't go anywhere in the world without people looking at us and shaking our hands because they like the shows".

Rupert Preston, of Vertigo Films, one of the producers, said: "They have got a massive cult underground following already built through the TV series and just through word of mouth.

"We certainly expect the film to sell everywhere outside the UK. We've got releases in Australia and Scandinavia in October and the States probably January. The film's quite anarchic and rude and crude but extraordinarily funny. It's a great antidote to some of the more po-faced British cinema."

The key to the lads' success appears to be their genuine friendship and their insanely cavalier can-do attitude to the kind of stunts that would make most blanch - or vomit. One particularly stomach-churning moment in the movie involves the drinking of fat and blood removed from Pancho during liposuction. "There's no acting at all," Pritchard said. "Everything you see is 100 per cent genuine. None of us are actors. If someone is pissed off, they're proper pissed off. I think the thing that works well is we're all four totally different characters. The global audience find it funny. It's the power of the Welsh."

Yet even he seems bemused at the notion that he is now a film star. "It's quite nuts when you look at it like that. If you had told me about the film thing six years ago, I would have laughed. But it's good. I'm not going to let it go to my head. I've still got a house and mortgage to pay for."

Bobby Allen, head of production and development for MTV Films Europe, attributes their success to their wit. "If it had just been a couple of guys who were doing pranks and hurting themselves for laughs, it perhaps would have died after one series - if there was a series in it. But there was something else going on," he said.

"The boys are charismatic and quite witty. It got them to the point where they have done three series, they have got a huge fan base and we thought let's see if there's something a bit bigger and more exciting for them."

The result is what Mr Allen hopes is "a very funny comedy - it's a situation comedy in that often the comedy is reliant on the situations they're in". Yet he acknowledges the show and subsequent film would not have been possible without precedents. "The Jackass phenomenon had to exist for these guys to get their chance but there's a fundamental difference. The key is they're self-deprecating whereas the Jackass films have a much more American frat-boy pushiness."

There certainly appears to be a vein of honesty about Dirty Sanchez. Their outbursts of anger and indignation at some of the more elaborate stitch-ups seem real - even if shortlived.

"Me and Dainton have been close sometimes to falling out, but it only lasts 10 minutes and we're laughing back at each other," Pritchard said. "Pancho went nuts for about 10 minutes after he realised we'd shaved his eyebrows off. But out of the four of us, we've not ever not spoken to each for more than, like, two hours."

And for all the daftness, the guys are not dumb, either. Pritchard has designed his own signature skateboarding shoe, The Sleep When You're Dead (SLWD) model - named after the motto he has permanently inked onto his knuckles - for Globe Shoes and has a full accompanying SLWD clothing range.

Dainton designs skate parks, owns Kill City Skateboards and has an endorsement deal with Etnies Skate Shoes. He will have his own designer shoe soon, too. And they claim to be goodhearted really. Dainton and Pritchard spent this week skateboarding from Cardiff to Newquay for Cancer Research while Dainton extols the virtues of Thailand because the people are "nicely mannered".

"We might seem like lunatics, but we're nice guys," Dainton said. "We're big softies really," added Pritchard, who admits to being scared of spiders and enclosed spaces.

Basically, he said, they are blokes intent on fun. "I'm just having a laugh. I'm just happy to be alive. Negative people do my head in. Don't take things too seriously."

That extends to their antics themselves. "If you don't like it, don't watch. We're not harming anyone. We're just having a bit of fun."

Despite the constant stream of expletives and some rather gross challenges involving tongue-stapling, nostril-glueing and filled condom-dunking in beer, the team insist that they have standards.

Dainton is adamant that he would do most of their stunts only among the group. He refused to have anything to do with one of the film stunts in which the end of one of Pritchard's fingers was chopped off.

"And I would never get my dick out in front of a granny because that wouldn't be funny," he said. The fact that he does do it for a TV - and now movie - audience of millions appears a moot point.

The film is likely to receive an 18 certificate in the UK and will not get a rating in America where it will be limited to certain cinemas. Yet the producers are "quietly confident" they will have a hit on their hands when it opens with around 200 prints - a serious roll-out in the UK - on 22 September.

A sequel to the first movie is already being planned. Come the new year, it looks as though Dirty Sanchez will be driving across America to Los Angeles in a stunt-packed road movie, Sanchez-style. Hollywood - you have been warned.

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