To celebrate the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival which runs from 6th-17th July 2021, we spent the day with British TV and movie writer/producer Cris Cole and his wife, American actress Christine St. John.
Cris Cole is best known as the creator of the award-winning and BAFTA nominated British TV series Mad Dogs which rose to fame in 2015-2016. He has also found fame with the movies Pelican Blood (2010) and more recently Ana (2020). Christine St. John is known for her role in Mad Dogs as well as short movies The Angola Deception (2014) and The Audition (2003). Read on to find out how they met, their childhood dreams, their favourite denim and what’s next in store for the couple.
Welcome Cris and Christine, thanks for joining us, can you tell us a bit about yourselves - where have you come from today?
[Cris] We live in West London although we travel a lot for both work and pleasure. Travel is our passion. We started walking to Son of Stag during lockdown as we could not travel, which is a 12 miles round trip. It’s a great way to see bits of London you are not used to seeing at street level.
Yes, lockdown really did help us all appreciate the little things in life hey! So where did you two meet?
[Cris] In the pub, like most people our age!
Nothing like a bit of romance over a pint! So, Cris, you worked as a professional guitarist & Bass player for 15 years, playing in bands including Jimmy The Hoover, The Directions and The Hollywood Killers - what's your best rock ‘n’ roll story?
[Cris] I think most of them are either libellous or not suitable for publication! There were plenty of Spinal Tap moments though. I remember doing a show in a club that had a revolving stage and during the show, somebody obviously pressed the button and we ‘revolved…. our drummer got compacted!
Ha, now that’s a moment you’re never going to forget! What was it that made you put the guitar down and pick up the pen to turn writing into a career?
[Cris] I just got lucky really. I wrote a spec script and somebody bought it and so I kept going. Seemed a little less challenging than the music industry which I think had had enough of me anyway.
I think it's down to more than luck! You had huge success with the award-winning and BAFTA-nominated British TV Series Mad Dogs. Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
[Cris] Oddly, it came from a conversation with the actors. Specifically, Marc Warren & Phil Glenister were keen on doing a show together and we knocked around various ideas before we landed on one about four ordinary men getting in a big mess on holiday.
That’s fantastic, it's not often the actors get the chance to help shape the show or movie they will be starring in. Do you wish you could make more episodes of Mad Dogs? Or are you happy with how it has ended?
[Cris] I think it probably went on long enough. Also, after the UK version, I made the American version so it was a fair few years for me. I do feel some TV shows can out-stay their welcome, and it’s best to stop before things run out of puff. Having said that, there have been discussions about revisiting the characters in later life. I suppose one should never say never!
Ooh now that’s exciting… fingers crossed for a reunion! So, Christine, what was it like working with Cris on Mad Dogs?
[Christine] It was a blast. We were filming in South Africa so it was all great fun. And I got to get my head blown off on camera which was a first for me.
A very memorable moment for us all! Would you like to work on more projects together?
[Christine] Of course!
Well, that's good to know, you clearly make a great team! Was this always what you both wanted to do, what was your childhood dream?
[Cris] I wanted to play for Chelsea (and still do)
[Christine] I wanted to travel the world (and still do)
Well, there’s still time for you both! Cris, you released a film last year titled Ana starring Andy Garcia, this was your first time producing a movie, how did it feel? Can you tell us where the story came from?
[Cris] Making a movie is a bit like trying to land a spaceship on the moon…it’s complicated. But ultimately rewarding…. if you don’t crash the spaceship. As for the idea, I’d always loved the movie Paper Moon starring Tatum and Ryan O’Neil and wanted to try and write something similar about a father and daughter relationship, an odd couple pair who may or may not be related. Setting it in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was an interesting twist for an offbeat road movie.
Paper Moon is a classic, and we’re sure Ana will be too. Christine, which do you prefer acting on screen or on stage?
[Christine] Stage, 100%. Theatres are cosy, film sets are not!
I’m sure they’re not! So what has been your favourite on-stage performance?
[Christine] I wrote my one-woman play ‘Bette Davis on the Edge’ as a professional lifeline for myself. I wasn't ready to stop working but roles for women after a certain age are few and far between….it is changing now post #MeToo and BLM…there is much more diversity even within the past couple of years which is fantastic.
I began researching my play in 2009 when roles came to a sudden stop. I discovered so many misconceptions about Bette Davis and her professional relationships, most especially with Joan Crawford. This has become so overly exaggerated over the years (by male writers!)
How interesting, so is there a particular way that you like to research your projects? Bette Davis is such an interesting character that there must have been mountains of information to sift through?
[Christine] I researched at the Bette Davis archival collection at Boston University and the Motion Picture Academy in LA, and UCLA. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility to get Bette Davis’s story accurate. I learned that a piece can be entertaining with the truth. Her real nemesis was Jack Warner (head of Warners Brothers Studio), not Joan Crawford.
My play's world premiere was in September 2014, in Michigan City Indiana. I was so happy by the joyful reception it received, having performed it all over the world! Bette Davis remains, 30 years after her death, a true global icon.
I played 16 different roles (mostly men) in the 90-minute play. My final performance was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 19, October 2019, a fundraiser for the Meseret Yirga Centre. The extremely high altitude in Addis was the most unique challenge. The outdoor event at Zoma Museum, under the star-filled night sky, was a great success with young Ethiopian filmmakers and Hollywood fans in attendance.
What an achievement and a great way to honour the great Bette Davis! Can you tell us more about the fundraising campaign for the Meseret Yirga Dance Centre?
[Cris] We met Meseret in Addis over 20 years ago. She is now Ethiopia’s first woman choreographer. She teaches dance to street kids, the disabled and the elderly, basically anyone who would like a dance class, but gets overlooked or excluded. She’s an amazing woman and what she does is life-affirming.
Wow, she sounds amazing. What inspired you both to get involved?
[Cris] She was able to buy a small piece of land in Addis and asked us if we could help fundraise to build a dance studio - we thought ‘well, we have no idea how, but why not try. We did a GoFundMe page: ‘Buy a Brick for a Tenner’, and Christine toured her one-woman show “Bette Davis on The Edge’ around the world (including in Addis) to raise money…. and of course, we did lots of begging and bullying people and in the end, raised over £60,000 and it got built! Which was amazing.
You must both be very proud, is there a way for us or our followers to get involved?
[Christine] Yes - The centre still needs support and some finishing touches so please feel free to contribute, even if it’s only a couple of quid on our PayPal page on the website: www.meseretdancestudio.com
Such a great cause, thank you for sharing! So, what’s next in the pipeline for you both?
[Cris] I have about ten projects in development in the UK and US, but you never know what’s going to go next.
[Christine] Throughout lockdown I have been involved with zoom play readings with chums in New York City…we call ourselves, “Grumpy Old Pro’s”.
I am currently preparing to play Martha in a zoom performance/reading of that light-hearted comedy….'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’!
You two certainly enjoy being busy! Whether at work or not, how would you describe your style?
[Cris] Wow, hard to say. I think we both enjoy vintage designs - the Japanese take on old Americana is always fun. Basically, we’re jeans and t-shirt people. And of course good walking shoes/boots. Not forgetting a beanie.
Jeans & t-shirt people are our kind of people! What’s your go-to pair of jeans and why?
[Cris] It seems to change from season to season - you get new favourites! We are both loving the Oni Kihannen 18 oz jeans we bought from you guys. They have a really nice feel and we love the ‘weft'…is that the right word?!
ONI Denim is a strong choice, one of our favourites here too! In your own words what makes Son of a Stag the ultimate destination for menswear?
[Christine] And womenswear! We just really like the clothes and the general vibe of the place. Rudy and Linda are such good company and know so much about what they’re selling. It’s all very relaxed and a great area of London to go to.
East London is the place to be! Any other favourite destinations in the area to share?
[Christine] There’s a little Bangladeshi cafe around the corner in Brick Lane called Amar Gaon that has some really nice vegan dishes.
Good tip, we will be sure to check it out! Thank you both so much for your time today, it’s been an absolute pleasure.