If you haven't yet seen our latest video on The Italian Job, it's a worthwhile watch before you settle into this interview with the protagonist, Matthew Field.
Hi Matthew, please tell us about your earliest memory of The Italian Job and where were you exactly when you watched it?
It was the first film I ever saw – the first movie to enter my consciousness, too. I saw it sometime in 1985 when I was four-years-old. My dad showed me the 15-minute Mini Cooper chase and I immediately fell in love.
A small but mighty lineup of Mini Coopers.
What was it about that first viewing that captivated you so much?
We were a ‘Mini’ family – my parents had owned them, and both my grandmothers each drove a Mini 1000. I would spend hours sitting on the driveway, clutching the steering wheel of my Grandmother’s chocolate brown Mini, lost in my own Italian Job dream. I re-played that car chase over and over until I wore out the videotape.
The original movie poster, 1969.
What compelled you to write your first book on it at such a young age?
Over Christmas 1998, Channel 4 aired The Mini Job – the first documentary to examine the making of the film. It reignited my interest and, as I finished my A-levels and contemplated university, it struck me that the film would make a good subject for a book. Since that book had not been written, I decided to take a gap year and attempt to write it myself. I was 18-years-old.
“Hang on a minute lads I’ve got a great idea..”
What’s your favourite line in the movie and why?
It’s the most quotable film of all time isn’t? There are so many! The obvious choice would, of course, be “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” but I am going to say the final line of the film; “Hang on a minute lads I’ve got a great idea..”
It’s followed by a tiny little riff of Quincy Jones’ music and demonstrates the optimism, it’s part of the Charlie Croker’s theme, there’s no such thing as defeat you can find a way through everything. It gave the audience a feeling that somehow they were going to find a way out of this.
What’s your favourite scene in the movie and why?
I am in love with the Mini Cooper getaway. It was these scenes that hooked me on the film in the first place. However, I adore the scene with Irene Handl. It’s literally a two hanger with Caine and Handl in her front room as they have tea. It’s full of innuendo and perfect comedy timing. Brilliant. “Isn’t this greenfly awful?”
Matthew alongside the Aston Martin from the movie - an incredible and very special moment for him.
Driving the actual Aston Martin DB4 from the movie for the Mason & Sons homage must have been a special moment for you. Please can you describe it?
It was incredible. To drive any classic Aston Martin is a treat but the very one used in The Italian Job!! The current custodian of the car was very helpful with my book and it has appeared at various Italian Job themed events over the past year.
Matthew delivering a lesson on The Italian Job on the sofa at 34 Montagu Square.
When writing The Self-Preservation Society: 50 Years of The Italian Job, you had intimate access to remaining members of the cast and production crew. Are you able to single out one astonishing discovery?
There are so many. The producer, Michael Deeley, revealed it could easily have been a totally different movie if others had, had their way. Paramount wanted to cast Robert Redford in the lead but Troy Kennedy Martin insisted on Michael Caine.
When British Motor Corporation seemed unwilling to shower the production with free Minis, Fiat offered up as many free Cinquecentos as they could possibly need. Deeley turned down free Fiats, free stunt drivers, a $50,000 product placement fee and the free gift of a Ferrari to keep the Mini Coopers in the movie.
What's your favourite goof from the production that makes you laugh and we should look out for?
If you look closely as they throw the Mini Coopers down the mountain, the white Mini has no rear screen. And also if you think about it….how did those little Minis jump buildings, race down staircases and escape across water with half a ton of gold bullion in their little boots?
A candid behind the scenes photograph of Michael Caine and Peter Collinson. Notice how he wears his watch on the outside of his shirt cuff - was this a nod to Gianni Agnelli, Turin's de facto King?
If you could have asked Peter Collinson one thing, what would it be?
That’s a great question. Probably how does it feel to be responsible for arguably the nation’s favourite movie? He was such a complex guy – a wild man. During my research, I soon discovered that everyone who knew or worked with Peter Collinson had a tale to tell. His time growing up in the Actor’s Orphanage after being abandoned by his parents cast a psychological shadow over the rest of his life. He once said, “I’m used to being kicked and God help anyone that comes and kicks me because I kick back very hard.”
Noël Coward and Michael Caine meet at 'Aunt Nellie's' funeral.
Noël Coward had been a patron of the orphanage and had assisted Collinson in securing his first job in the entertainment business. It was with great pride, Collinson repaid the favour by casting Coward in The Italian Job as the respected crime kingpin Mr Bridger who controlled London’s underworld from the confines of his prison cell.
Did you know Troy Kennedy Martin?
I actually knew Troy quite well and he was very enthusiastic about my book. I first met him in his writing den in Ladbroke Grove – always piled high with scripts and research notes. Troy was slightly embarrassed by The Italian Job, considering it not up to the intellectual standard of his later, more prestigious work. However, he took great delight in the cult status the film was beginning to enjoy. Troy allowed me to read each draft of the screenplay, giving me a much better understanding of how the film had evolved and his generosity has informed much of what I wrote in the book.
Finally, why do you think The Italian Job is still such a timeless and celebrated movie?
I think the elements which make it so pleasurable, particularly to a younger audience, is the wit and anarchy, the cars and the chase. By the mid-nineties, The Italian Job had become a cult classic. The arrival of Britpop projected the image of ‘cool Britannia’ for the first time since the sixties. Anything British was cool and the classic Mini symbolised it all.
To purchase Matthew's book, head to the link below.