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British Actor-Director Noel Clarke Prepping MMA Movie in The Vein of ‘The Wrestler’

British Actor-Director Noel Clarke Prepping MMA Movie in The Vein of 'The Wrestler'

Noel Clarke is a prolific actor and director, probably still best known to British audiences and internationally for a stint on “Doctor Who” and his youth dramas “Kidulthood” and “Adulthood,” though he’s appeared across a diverse array of genres and worked with under-appreciated British directors like Philip Ridley and Neil Marshall in fare like “Heartless” and “Centurion”. While his early directorial efforts might not aspire to the sociological exactitude of say, Andrea Arnold or Shane Meadows or the artistry of work being done by director Ben Wheatley (“Down Terrace“) or Eran Creevy’s (“Shifty”), his films attempt to deal with social issues of class and race in what could have been an otherwise patronizing and pejoratively ‘urban’ working-class environment.

It’s something the director is rarely credited with instituting in his native country of the U.K. — it’s hard to imagine Joe Cornish’s terrific “Attack the Block” without his precedent, and the director is indebted to Clarke for proving the subject matter that had significant commercial potential in the first place. While other performers may have been tempted to hotfoot it across the pond and cash in on this success, Clarke has demonstrated a commitment to breaking ground in the generally risk-averse British film industry. Though he’s got a slew of projects in the pipeline, the one that’s been gaining the most traction is the director’s untitled mixed martial arts (MMA) project, which seeks to replicate the successes of “The Fighter” and “The Wrestler” in a British context. The film is due before cameras in mid-October, will star Clarke himself and has a U.K. distributor already in place.

Speaking to Screen Daily Clarke said, “I looked at films like ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘The Fighter’ and thought to myself, ‘Why hasn’t there been a British film like that?’ I’m trying to expand what British films do.” For those who routinely dismiss the British film industry as essentially a cottage enterprise, still hemmed-in by kitchen sink dramas, period pieces starring Keira Knightley and offensively banal sex comedies that Ricky Gervais likes to describe as, “advertised on the side of buses for one week” before going straight to DVD, it’ll likely be catnip. Clarke also seems legitimately enthused by the project after a two-year period of hammering out the script.

“I’ve been a massive fan of the sport [MMA] for a long time and this felt like the right time to make this film, as I’ve got more confident as a filmmaker…MMA is more popular than football when you look at the attendance figures. It’s the fastest growing sport in the world.”

Clarke has always had an outspoken personality and had the detractors to prove it, particularly for his more recent works behind the camera (his boobs-aplenty ‘girl power’ actioner with Emma Roberts4. 3. 2. 1” and the recent prison drama “Screwed” were met with a largely cool critical reception) you have to admire the stones on the guy for sticking to his guns. He’s a one-man band that beats a lot of drums and, while some of his ambition doesn’t always come off, he seems like a genuine force for good. Even though it’s hard to get excited about the frankly prosaic description of the project’s plot – a “down on his luck MMA fighter who gets drawn further into the sport than he would have liked” which seems like generic filler for any old sports film – the prospect of a well-executed and yet straightforwardly commercial film with crossover potential is genuinely exciting.

His Twitter feed confirms the whole thing’s written and good to go within the next few months, and in terms of restless productivity and diversification of content he’s outclassed only by fellow countryman Michael Winterbottom. Since netting the BAFTA Orange Rising Star Award in 2009 Clarke’s also co-written a romantic comedy with Davie Fairbanks called “The Knot” (loftily described as “Four Weddings And A Funeral” meets “Bridesmaids“) due out in the U.K. early next year. Further to this, in an interview with the BBC in late May, he told interviewers he was working on a top-secret “sci-fi horror” that was due to “start shooting in a few weeks’ time”, though the specifics of the project remain shrouded in mystery. Whichever one of these goes before cameras first, it’s refreshing to see that Clarke, through his production company Unstoppable Entertainment , seems hell-bent on ensuring that the usually vaguely condescending notion of being slapped with the title “a British film” need not be anyone’s dirty little secret. About time.

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