Craig Pearce & Thomas Brodie-Sangster Interview: Pistol

FX's Pistol arrives on Hulu May 31, and it will chronicle the triumphant rise of the Sex Pistols and ensuing chaos of the 1970s punk rock scene in Britain. The 6-episode miniseries, which is based on the memoir of Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, was directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and written by Craig Pearce (Moulin Rouge). Though the show follows the band members themselves, it also expands to cover various elements and figures of the time period.

Among them is impresario Malcolm McLaren, who was manager to not only the Sex Pistols but also the New York Dolls. He is played in Pistol by Thomas Brodie-Sangster (The Queen's Gambit), and his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood - an iconoclast and entrepreneur in her own right - is played by Talulah Riley.

Related: How To Watch Danny Boyle’s Pistol

Pearce and Brodie-Sangster spoke to Screen Rant about how Pistol became a passion project and the responsibility of playing a real figure in the punk rock scene such as Malcolm McLaren.

Screen Rant: Craig, I want to start with you, because you're kind of the creator behind what feels like a passion project. Is it a story you had been wanting to bring to life for a while?

Craig Pearce: Well, no. Strangely no, but it is a passion project.

It's become a passion project relatively quickly in the way that sometimes these projects work. A couple of years ago now, Gail Lyon, one of our American producers, brought the book to me. I was in LA; I was working on Elvis with Baz, and I was driving around a lot LA. I listen to the audio book, and Steve Jones reads his memoir, Lonely Boy.

He’s lead guitarist of the Six Pistols, of course, and I fell in love with Steve through hearing him read his book because you get this whole other layer of his character beyond the writing. His vulnerability, his shyness; his outrageous, self-deprecating sense of humor and ability to shrug off really quite tough things that happened to him in a kind of a non-sentimental way.

But I was very aware, of course, of punk growing up and the influence that it had on our culture, music, storytelling, and film. When I heard the book, I was like, "Well, this is a character that I really love and I really wanna live with, and a world that I really wanna dive into." And as I did more and more research, I discovered a lot of things - many, many, many things that I had no idea about. In particular, the other characters, like Chrissie Hynde, Jordan, Vivienne Westwood - all these really, really rich characters, and I became very passionate very quickly about wanting to tell the story.

Thomas, Malcolm is such a fascinating character, but we don't realize that so many of these now iconic people were all hanging out and running in the same circles at the same time. Malcolm was kind of the epicenter of that. What is it like? Is there a special kind of pressure playing a character that's the pivot for all these other well-known characters?

Thomas Brodie-Sangster: There's a pressure to playing someone that really existed and to do a good job at it. There's a responsibility, and for a lot of people, that's what they'll know Malcolm as being like - through my performance. There's a responsibility to try and get it as good as possible, I suppose. To get it honest and truthful, for me, was the most important thing. But also... It's really fun.

It's restrictive because you have to make it like them, so you can't come up with a whole idea yourself and put it out there. But if I had to come up with that character all on my own, I don't think I would have had the balls to actually get on set and do that. The fact that he really existed - and he was like that - was wonderfully freeing because I could play this mad, crazy, over-the-top, wonderful character that was Malcolm McLaren. [He] was so passionate about what he did and what he set out to achieve, and how he just pulled people together.

Like you said, he was at the epicenter of this movement before it was even a movement. He saw it sitting right there, and he went out and grabbed it and threw it into the world.

I imagine it has to be fun but also a little challenging, because the way he talks is not like a normal person. It's so above the heads of most of the people he's running around with, but you still have to be able to make him charming enough to be the commander of troops that inspire these people to follow him. Is that challenging, walking that fine line between pretentious and genuine?

Thomas Brodie-Sangster: Yeah, that's a very good point. He has to be liked because, like you said, people follow him and the boys want to. They willingly go with him, some more than others. But he is inspirational. When he gets off on one, he's just so passionate and he just goes. But it's real, it's truthful. That's what he believes in, and I think that's always an attractive thing. When someone is passionate about what they truly believe in, it's infectious, and you follow and you wanna see what happens next.

For me, it was very important to make sure he wasn't a bad guy, the villain, but that he was a boy – really, a grown up boy on his own journey. Wanting to shout and scream at the world and make his mark and say something that meant something; something that was authentic, something that was truthful, something that was real, and something that resonated with young people at that moment.

Craig Pearce: Yeah, and the one thing for me as a writer is to look behind what a character is doing, even if they're an extreme character like Malcolm. [It’s not] what they do, but why do they do it? On a psychological character level, you really gotta look at how Malcolm was lost in the way that Steve was lost.

The reason he spoke in such a high-blown way - sometimes in such a working class way, and at other times a bit American sometimes - was because he had this sort of shifting persona. Because he was looking for identity, in the way that Steve was looking for identity. And he never really had a father either; Malcolm never really had a father, so perhaps he was subconsciously becoming a Fagan-like father figure to replace the fact that he never really had a family when he was growing up. And he was actually a fairly unreliable father, according to his sons, who I spoke to in the research.

Yeah, it's just finding the true things beneath the appurtenances, is I think how you create a character that's big but well-grounded.

FX’s Pistol is a six-episode limited series about a rock and roll revolution, available exclusively on Hulu. The furious, raging storm at the center of this revolution are the Sex Pistols - and at the center of this series is Sex Pistols’ founding member and guitarist, Steve Jones. Jones’ hilarious, emotional and at times heart-breaking journey guides us through a kaleidoscopic telling of three of the most epic, chaotic and mucus-spattered years in the history of music.

Based on Jones’ memoir Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, this is the story of a band of spotty, noisy, working-class kids with “no future,” who shook the boring, corrupt Establishment to its core, threatened to bring down the government and changed music and culture forever.

Check out our interview with Pistol stars Sydney Chandler, Maisie Williams, & Talulah Riley, as well director Danny Boyle.

More: Movies & TV Shows Where You’ve Seen The Cast Of Pistol

FX’s Pistol premieres Tuesday, May 31, 2022, exclusively on Hulu.

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