Page last updated at 08:39 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Serkis uncovers Ian Dury's poetic depths

By Emma Jones
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Ian Dury and The Blockheads came to public attention in the late 1970s as part of the punk and new wave movement

Ian Dury could be said to have put the term 'sex, drugs and rock and roll' into the English vernacular and now a movie of the same name explores the place of the late post-punk singer in British music.

"There are very few rock 'n' roll stories worth telling," claims Andy Serkis, the actor who plays Dury in the film.

"But he was a man with a unique voice who was challenging society and saying, 'wake up, look what's going on, don't feel that you have to fit in'."

The root of Dury's flamboyance and individuality partly lay in his disability - he contracted polio as a child.

After an art school degree, he and his band, The Blockheads, came to public attention in the late 1970s as part of the punk and new wave movement.

They scored chart hits with Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, helped by Dury's outstanding, tongue-in-cheek talent as a lyricist.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
The movie also looks at Dury's relationship with his son Baxter

"I think he is a poet," says Serkis, "but he would tell me that's pretentious to say it. I know the film's called Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and so people think it's all about that, but Ian was fastidious, a really hard worker and an incredibly literary man.

"He had pages of notebooks full of rhyming couplets on the go all the time to try to express what he was feeling."

Dury remained a much-loved voice in British music until his death in 2000 at the age of 57.

He was never afraid to court controversy. His 1981 record Spasticus Autisticus was written to show his dislike of the idea of having an International Year of Disabled Persons. It was banned by radio stations, even though Dury was disabled himself.

"He wasn't setting out to attain celebrity and I don't believe it suited him," says Serkis.

"It was when he was incredibly famous that he was the least happy in his life. It was when he had to fight for it all and get out there and connect with people, that when he was doing what he loved best.

"We show in the movie that when he got what he wished for, he started drinking heavily and it all fell apart - but then we also show him finding himself and his purpose again."

'Exciting, dangerous, unexpected'

Serkis has already taken on some major roles - his most famous is arguably still Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy - but critics have remarked on how the actor has managed to pull off an uncanny portrayal of Dury.

"We didn't set out to make an impersonation, we weren't trying to do Stars in Their Eyes or Ian Dury at Madame Tussauds," says the actor. "Ian definitely wouldn't have wanted that. It was all about telling the story.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Serkis had to give live performances in front of an audience

"It's far from a standard biopic. We take a period in his life and focus on his music and his relationship with his son Baxter.

"I know there are a lot of people around at the moment playing Thatcher or Churchill or Van Gogh or whatever, but playing real people is only ever interesting if it's emotionally engaging, it's got to be exciting or dangerous or unexpected."

The movie, written and directed by Paul Viragh, is full of early 1980s-style pop art and punctuated by Serkis as Ian Dury giving a music hall performance of Blockheads hits.

"That was the most challenging thing, " he recalls, "because it was a live performance in front of a crowd, and even though there were a number of takes, you really did feel like you were at a Blockheads gig.

"I've seen videos of the real thing, and Ian would always be drenched in sweat. It was physically exhausting and he had polio too. Yet he had a titanic force and energy."

One of Dury's greatest sayings, which the film adopts, is "there are a couple of ways to cheat death and one of them is to be magnificent".

"I love that," says Serkis. "I keep saying that to my children now. That was what Ian was all about telling people: 'You've only got a short time on this planet, create something unique.'"

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is in UK cinemas on 8 January 2010.

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