It’s been four years since we had the pleasure of interviewing the Academy Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Brian Helgeland for our site (part I, part II). We’re so pleased to welcome him back as we look forward to the release of his new film, Legend. But who—or what—is Legend? Helgeland gives us the story.
The cigarette punch. Shake a smoke out of a pack and offer it to your unwitting victim. When he leans in to accept it—WHAM!—you break his jaw with a single punch; the fact that his mouth is open makes it that much more breakable. Reggie Kray broke the jaws of five men this way. No wait, twenty-five men. No, hold on, it was one hundred and twenty-five men. His paranoid schizophrenic brother Ron, meanwhile, was nailing people to the floor. Those are the types of stories you come across when you begin to investigate London’s most notorious gangsters—the Kray Twins.
On my mission to make a film about them, one of the first research images I saw was a photo of Reggie Kray’s hearse and a flower arrangement it held: white carnations spelled out the word Legend. With everything I had heard and read, the name seemed to fit and so I adopted it as my title. History is written by the winners, and Reginald Kray’s name will never be counted in that column. His story is told by enemies who hated him, whose self-serving interests necessitate that they diminish and degrade him. His story is told by authorities of law and class who wish to make him an example and hold him up as a lesson. Last, but not least, it is told by those who want to place him firmly in the mythic role of the outlaw. He was certainly some of the things they say he was, but none of it is close to the whole truth—and no one, as far as I know, tells his story out of love.
Reggie Kray was close to two people during the free part of his life: his brother Ron and his wife Frances. My desire was to humanize him and thereby do right by all of them. How can you humanize a villain, some may protest? Well, demonizing him doesn’t ask or answer very much; it’s too damn easy to be honest and also not very interesting. For me it all begs the question: how do we ever really know what’s true about someone? What we hear is opinion, what we see is point of view, and none of it is necessarily the truth, especially where the Krays are concerned.
Reggie is a myth now, doomed to a tabloid history and shoddy biography. I am guilty as well. Early on in my research I heard the story that on the morning of the day Frances Kray killed herself, Reggie had bought two tickets for them to go away together on holiday to Ibiza. That story appealed to the romantic in me, but it got even better. In his thirty-three years in prison, the one physical constant in Reggie’s existence was that he kept those unused tickets with him.
A tale of a violent cigarette-wielding gangster? I’m not that interested. But a man torn between his duty and his desire? A man who carries with him a talisman of his lost love and his sins against her for three decades behind bars?
Now we’re cooking with fire. The story of Reggie and Frances? That’s a Legend to me.
Legend opens November 20, 2015. Visit www.legend-the-movie.com for more information.