Legend – the new film about East End gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray – is in cinemas now. NME spoke to director Brian Helgeland about the sonic side of the movie, including the British invasion and soul-packed soundtrack, casting singer Duffy as long-forgotten vocalist Timi Yuro and what was on Tom Hardy’s headphones on set…
How did Duffy end up appearing in the film?
Brian: “There was a guy who was in ‘The Firm’ who went to prison with The Krays named Chris Lambrianou and I asked him who Reggie’s favourite singer was because I knew music was going to be important. He said to me Timi Yuro was his favourite singer. Chris told me how he would book her in all the clubs because he liked her so much. I thought that would be a great thread through the movie, to have that live performance from Timi, and I had seen Duffy’s video for ‘Mercy’ – which was very classy, with her up on stage as a nightclub singer. So one of the casting directors just got a hold of her. She thought it sounded like a fun thing to do.”
What can you tell us about Timi Yuro?
“She died a few years ago. She was American and she didn’t have much success in the States and she came to England. It was one of those ex-patriot stories when they do better in a different country than they do in their own country. She came to England and was very popular in the Northern Soul scene.”
What else did Chris tell you about The Krays’ taste in music?
“He told me what they liked and it wasn’t so much rock‘n’roll really. It was much more a big band sound – closer to Frank Sinatra than it was The Beatles. Ron was a little more interested in rock. Ron actually tried to manage a band for a while. They were called The Shots and they had one single. But Eric Clapton played in Esmerelda’s Barn, their casino, with a band called Casey Jones And The Engineers that he was in early on.”
Do you play music on the set to direct the mood of particular scenes?
“I never do. Tom [Hardy] played music a lot in his headphones, just to get himself in the mood. He was listening to Frank Sinatra, that kind of Las Vegas, 1960s music. Period stuff that was along those lines.”
Was Tom singing along like in his viral Dubsmash videos?
“He sings along sort of under his breath. We never got to hear what Elton John might sound like coming out of Tom! He’s very into music but he kept it very between his ears, so to speak.”
Did any cast members have a hand in the soundtrack?
“It was just me and my music editor, Adam Small. But they did in A Knight’s Tale . It started out as KC And The Sunshine Band but Heath Ledger suggested a David Bowie track which was kinda fun in terms of an actor suggesting something.”
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The actual soundtrack is pretty epic – 33 tracks over two discs – why so big?
“I think because there’s such a scope to it all. Twelve songs wouldn’t do it justice, because it goes all the way from Herman’s Hermits to Burt Bacharach. So to give it a flavour of all the different things that were going on it works better to be bigger. It was a very big time for instrumental tracks and we used some of those; ‘Cissy Strut’ [The Meters] and ‘Sleepwalk’ [Santo & Johnny].”
Did you try to have different songs representing different characters?
“Yeah, especially Frances [Reggie’s wife, who narrates the film]. When she’s on screen we’re playing ‘He’s in Town’ by The Rockin’ Berries on their first date, ‘I’m Into Something Good’ by Herman’s Hermits and The Dixie Cups sing ‘Chapel of Love’ when she gets married. Even later on ‘Little Miss Lonely’, the Helen Shapiro track, is sort of singing to her. With Frances the tracks are speaking for her.”