Simon West spoke to me about his new movie Stratton starring Dominic Cooper and why he wanted to turn the books into movies and where he hopes the franchise will go.
Why did you want to turn these books into a movie?
Looking to do a new British action hero. I’ve done films about action heroes and done films with people like Jason Statham but they are really American films and I have worked with a lot of American action heroes but I feel there is a gap in the market for another British hero. We’ve got James Bond, we’ve got Harry Potter but I think we need a third one and when I came across the books of Stratton I thought this was a great resource and met the author Duncan Falconer – who used to be an SBS officer – and picked his brains about what necessarily wasn’t in the books . So the first film is based on one of the books and there are stuff that are from anecdotes that Duncan told me and also other serving SBS officers. It’s a very accurate portrayal of how they really do it. We do have MI6 and Special Services but how they interact with each other is very realistic. I had to do something alternate to Bond because I’m a huge Bond fan and didn’t want to make a copy and I wanted to do something alternate and that’s what Stratton is. He is a darker more realistic version.
Would you ever want to do a Bond film?
Who wouldn’t? I grew up on Bond films. They are brilliant. I can’t imagine anyone turning down a Bond film. Just for the soundtrack/music alone it’s brilliant. You’d be crazy to turn down a Bond film.
Was Duncan on hand when the script was being written?
During the script stage yes. We had a long conversation and meetings about the books. I updated some of them because some were obviously written 30/40 years ago when he was in the forces. Although the character’s the same, I’ve updated a lot of the technology because they have moved on a lot. So when I was talking to contemporary SBS officers, they would tell me what equipment they use now. Duncan was on hand a lot of with the character and more of what SBS guys were like. So I could work with Dominic Cooper and make him a realistic character.
So you had to do a lot of research yourself before starting the film?
Yeah, the research is quite hard because the SBS are so secretive, you sort of have to talk to one person at a time. You cannot have a big cramming session with a group of ten of them. They don’t collect like that. They are always off somewhere in the world. They have been working non-stop since the Second World War, so they are very rarely in the UK. There’s only a very few of them and much fewer than Navy Seals and they are always away somewhere. So it’s very hard to get hold of one of them. So when one was in the country, I’d grab them and pick their brains about what they were doing, how they do it and say like look this is our story, if you were coming across this kind of bad guy, how would you solve it? What would you do? And they would tell me realistically how they would do it.
Did some of their answers shock you?
Some of them shocked me because you realise they are all completely different characters. They all have different specialties. They aren’t all getting the same training and they would tell me they weren’t really trained, they were selected. The unit selects people for very different talents rather than getting a group of people and training them the same. So no two are the same really. Very mixed group. That was surprising. They don’t consider themselves trained by the SBS so much as selected.
There are seven books altogether in the franchise, are you hoping to make more films?
Yeah, I would like to do more of them. There are so many stories and so many characters, it’s almost too big for a film series but maybe TV. Thinking which way to go whether to make another sequel or to use the film as an introductory for a TV series. The great thing about TV now is made on the same scale as movies but you can run much longer and get into the characters for longer so I’m a big fan of that now as the standard is so great, why wouldn’t you want to spend two or three years with all those characters rather than a few months.