Like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean before him, Johnny Thunders has a certain mythology. Perhaps it’s because there are so few authentic characters left in rock and roll, maybe it’s because he left behind a mystery.
Earlier this year, as Britain experienced a rare heatwave and celebrated an even rarer Wimbledon triumph, I interviewed author Nina Antonia just before she’d been invited over to Hollywood to meet the production team who had optioned the screen rights for her cult book Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood.
At that point, there were still many elements that needed to fall into place in order to get film off the ground but happily progress in the project’s development has continued apace since the summer to the point where, last week, Los Angeles production company L.A.M.F Films were able to announce that Alexander Soskin had been chosen to direct the biopic, with shooting scheduled for 2014; the film’s screenplay to be adapted by Chloe Fontana and Ada Guerin.
So with that exciting news for all Johnny Thunders, New York Dolls and Heartbreakers fans, I thought I’d update the section of the interview pertaining to In Cold Blood and find out Nina’s latest thoughts on the upcoming film. But first a little about Nina.
Originally from Liverpool, Nina grew up between the crossroads of Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. Not that she was ever a fan of the Fab Four.
This gives a clue into Nina’s artistic tastes. Speaking in her book The Prettiest Star of her discovery of Alice Cooper in the early 1970s, she wrote: ‘I began to develop a taste for the outlawed and outcast, the ostracised and the subversive.’
Aged twelve, she came across some articles and photos of an unsigned new five piece band from America who even the so called king of schlock rock couldn’t compete with – the ‘fabulously unsettling’ New York Dolls.
The fascination with the Dolls and their rooster haired lead guitarist Johnny Thunders would become a lifelong passion and Johnny would be the subject of Nina’s first book, which she began writing in 1982.
During her attempts to find a publisher, she was informed that women weren’t capable of writing about rock music, that Thunders wasn’t deserving of a biography and even, by someone interested enough to invite her to meet, that punk was dead and few would remember the likes of Johnny.
Well, everybody is entitled to an opinion. Even eejits.
Eventually in 1987, Johnny’s label, Jungle Records, published Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood. Although the original version is now out of print, an updated version is currently available through Cherry Red and the book has now rather impressively remained in print for 25 years, and was authorized by the man himself, who Nina met and befriended in London while working on the biography. For Nina Antonia, it has been a life altering journey and there is still more to be done, in fact, Nina is currently revising the book for a Kindle edition with an extra chapter.
You started out writing some pieces for fanzines, then seem to have bypassed the Sounds/NME/Melody Maker route and went straight into your biography of Johnny.
Nina: ‘I would have loved to have contributed to the weekly music press but as a single mum living in the middle of nowhere, access to them was out of my reach. I went straight from having two pieces published in a local ’zine, into Thunder’s biography. It seemed easier to manage than attempting to make it as a journalist. I simply didn’t have the freedom or funds to live that way. Even going to gigs was difficult although I did get to see what I believe was the Smith’s second gig, supporting Richard Hell at Rafters in Manchester!’
My favourite part of ‘The Prettiest Star’ is probably where you take your daughter out in a baby buggy on a miserable estate with the neighbours looking on disapprovingly with no idea that the single mum in the funny clothes has been writing the first biography of one of the most influential musicians of the time, Johnny Thunders.
Nina: ‘It’s interesting what you said about the neighbours looking on disapprovingly. They may have disapproved even more if they’d known I was writing a book about Thunders, especially at that time. It’s worth mentioning that JT wasn’t particularly in vogue with the music press in 1982, not that I let that deter me. In fact it was something of a spur. A book has just come out about the Anarchy Tour, and it mentions Johnny Thunders – ‘In Cold Blood’ being greatly anticipated. Whilst it was a very nice statement, at the time of publication in 1987, aside from a couple of good reviews by Thunders aficionado’s, it got a pretty low key reception. Like all books that are eventually deemed ‘Cult’, its reputation has grown with the years. I had no idea it was going to snowball in the way that it has done. It’s now been in print for a record amount of years. Music books rarely have longevity. The original first edition is now very collectable, I believe the most that it has sold for was £500 which is crazy. I’d also like to point that the only person that usually profits from those kind of sales is the book seller, not the author.’
Are you actively involved in the film?
Nina: ‘I’ve been asked to be a consultant on the film and have already given feedback on the script. I feel a bit like a mid-wife at the moment! It’s a lengthy but very exciting process and watching it come to fruition is very rewarding. Life goes in cycles and there is a huge revival of interest in Johnny Thunders at the moment. I’m not sure if you are aware that there is also a documentary being made by Danny Garcia called ‘Looking for Johnny’? Danny has gathered some great interviews and footage and has been incredibly thorough in his research and dedication. Like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean before him, Johnny Thunders has a certain mythology. Perhaps it’s because there are so few authentic characters left in rock and roll.’
Are you pleased with how the film is shaping up?
Nina: ‘Definitely. Over the last couple of years, at least 6 different production companies got in touch about optioning the rights to make ‘In Cold Blood’ into a film. However, none of the contenders really hit the mark. For one reason or another, the pitch just wasn’t right until L.A.M.F Films, who are an independent production company from LA, got in touch. It was never about money but making sure that whoever the book went to had good intentions and were going to show sensitivity to the subject and that’s exactly what L.A.M.F Films have done. It isn’t just a case of making a rock n roll movie; Thunders has family, children and grandchildren. To have enabled something less than courteous to his memory just wouldn’t be right.
Who would you like to see play Johnny in the film?
Nina: ‘Now that’s the big question! Adrien Brody is a fine actor and I believe his mother used to be a photographer for New York Rocker which is a good start but you never know, there might be a great unknown out there who will take the role on. I’ve always rated the actor who played Christopher Montesanto from the Sopranos as well but age is a factor too. Al Pacino would have been ideal back in the era of ‘Panic in Needle Park’ and ‘Dog Day Afternoon.’
Michael Imperioli was actually the only person I could think of off the top of my head to play Johnny. A great actor who I’ve not seen on screen for a while. Saying that Adrien Brody might really work too and looks more like Johnny. I think he does anyway.
Nina: ‘It’s all conjecture at the moment, but irresistible none the less!’
Cheers, Nina and good luck with the film!
If you’d like to find out more about Nina and the film, the best place to start is via her Facebook page: Nina Antonia, Author