Tongs ya bass: Small Faces cast reunite 20 years on

kevin mckidd
Image caption Kevin McKidd starred as Malky, the leader of the Tongs gang

The cast and crew of the cult Scottish film Small Faces were reunited as the Glasgow Film Festival drew to a close.

The film - made in 1996, just ahead of Trainspotting - launched the careers of a number of actors including Joe McFadden, Kevin McKidd and Laura Fraser.

It was a personal film for brothers Gillies and Billy Mackinnon. And one they felt had never been made before.

"The closest were the dramas of Peter Mcdougall but that was the 70s and Greenock," says Gillies.

So they started writing, Gillies in LA and Billy in Australia, swapping initial ideas by fax.

"Initially it was a compilation of anecdotes and memories, a great number of which were abandoned," says Billy.

"After that, we moved on to the characterisation of the four principal characters. It wasn't the conventional way."

Billy drew on the Swedish film My Life As a Dog and Gillies on the Italian film Rocco and his Brothers.

But both drew on memories of their own family, particularly in the figure of the mother.

"It's an incredibly important film for me," says Gillies.

"It's so personal. We didn't agree all the time. I'd love to see those fax pages because I'd write something and he'd score it out and send it back.

"For example I thought we ought to have a father because we had a father in our own family but Billy didn't want to do that and I agreed to let that go."

Finding such a large number of young actors to form the rival gangs was easier than they expected.

They went to youth theatres and staged open auditions.

"It was like a magnet," says Gillies.

"If you're going to make a film in Glasgow about young people, you're going to draw a crowd. In one day alone, we saw over a hundred people."

Image copyright Glasgow Film Festival
Image caption The MacLean brothers in the the 1996 film, with their mother played by Clare Higgins
Image copyright Glasgow Film Festival
Image caption Small Faces' three brothers Iain Robertson, Steven Duffy and Joe McFadden reunited 20 years on
Image copyright Glasgow film festival
Image caption Kevin McKidd joins the cast of Small Faces via Skype
Image caption Joe McFadden (left) played Alan MacLean in Small Faces

Among them was 13-year-old Iain Robertson, who was cast as Lex MacLean, the youngest of three brothers.

"I was in theatre school in London and already working. I'd already been cast but I always knew it was going to be us three."

"They look more like my family than my family do," adds Joe McFadden who played middle brother Alan.

The two actors are currently playing brothers again in the hospital drama Holby City.

"We were all so young. And a lot of us hadn't done much before. It was exciting. I felt a bit out of my depth."

Image caption Gillies MacKinnon describes the film as a coming-of-age movie

Like many of the cast, they found the film was an important springboard.

Both Joe and Steven Duffy who played older brother Bobby, got agents after the release of the film, which coincided with the release of another major Scottish film - Trainspotting.

"It's rare to get two British films, never mind two Scottish films out at the same time. It was massive," says Garry Sweeney, who played rival gang leader Charlie Sloan.

Small faces - big stars

GILLIES MACKINNON: Director and screenwriter of Small Faces. Went on to make Regeneration, Hideous Kinky and Castles in the Sky.

IAIN ROBERTSON: played Lex MacLean in Small Faces for which he won a BAFTA. Other Tv/film work includes Grange Hill, Sea of Souls, Band of Brothers, Rab C Nesbitt and Holby City.

JOE McFADDEN: played Alan MacLean in Small Faces. Went on to star in The Crow Road. Recent TV appearances in Cranford, Casualty, Heartbeat and Holby City.

LAURA FRASER: played Joanne MacGowan in Small Faces. TV since includes Casualty, Casanova, Lip Service and Breaking Bad.

KEVIN MCKIDD: played Malky Johnson in Small Faces. Also appeared in Trainspotting, Dog Soldiers, Brave. TV includes Father Ted, Rome and Grey's Anatomy.

GARRY SWEENEY: played Charlie Sloan in Small Faces. Films include Valhalla and A Lonely Place to Die. TV includes River City.

Kevin McKidd, who played the Tongs leader Malky, appeared in both films and admits Small Faces was his first audition.

He joined the reunion via Skype from the set of the American TV series Grey's Anatomy.

Laura Fraser has also gone on to work in American television - on the hit series Breaking Bad.

Iain Robertson admits he still gets people asking about the role he played 20 years ago.

"I did a play in Edinburgh a couple of years ago and the writer said I've always wanted to work with you since Small Faces. It was 18 years ago when I was a prepubescent teenager!"

Small Faces won the Best Film prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival when it was first released but it was the Glasgow Film Festival which honoured its 20th anniversary with a sell-out screening.

And whether fans of the film, or actors whose careers were launched there, it still sparks fond memories.

"Nine times out of 10, you make something in Glasgow, it has that whole gangster element," says Garry Sweeney.

"But Small Faces is a proper coming-of-age film about three brothers growing up.

"The gangster element - if you could call it that because they were plastic kid gangsters - was pushed to the side.

"The working title was Easterhouse and a lot of the attention focused on that because they thought it was going to be a horrible gangster film and it was nothing like that. It was a coming-of-age film."

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