BILLY: Toyah Willcox has made her career as a successful singer and actress, and one of her first big breaks on the big screen was when she appeared alongside Phil Daniels and Sting in the film “Quadrophenia”. So was she a fan of the 1973 album first, before being cast as “Monkey” and the movie version of Pete Townshend’s mod rock opera?

TOYAH: I was a fan of The Who. I've always been a fan of The Who. I didn't know “Quadrophenia” until I received the script from the production team. And then of course this opened up The Who for me even more, and the extraordinary writing abilities and talents of Pete Townshend. So I've always been attracted to Roger Daltrey’s voice, to the power, to the mod movement and the sheer the finesse of what The Who created has always been very attractive to me.

Unfortunately, my career started at a time in punk where punk was opposed to what The Who created, but the energy of “My Generation”  and all those songs was pure punk. And suddenly I found myself in “Quadrophenia” as an actress, and I was having to hide the fact that I was a punk rocker. But I always respected and love The Who because they were the original punks.

BILLY: How did you actually get the part?

TOYAH: Franc Roddam, the director, asked me to get John Lydon – Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols through a screen test for the part of “Jimmy”. So I went along to John Lydon’s flat and ran through the scenes and he was absolutely astonishing. Firstly, he was a gentleman, he was an absolute treat to be with. There was none of that kind of persona of Johnny Rotten. He worked incredibly hard. He knew his lines. Then he and I went to Shepperton Studios where we shot our screen tests. I was playing “Steph”, he was playing “Jimmy”.

Then I didn't hear another thing and I was making a movie with Katharine Hepburn at Lee Electrics in Wembley and the production office and “Quadrophenia” was next door. So I walked around the outside of the building and saw Franc Roddam in his office and I banged on the window, and I said “Frank, give me a part because I did this favour for you. Give me a part”. John Lydon by the way didn't get the role of “Jimmy” because no one would insure the film if he was in it because of his reputation in the Sex Pistols.

But I knew that Franc Roddam hadn't cast the role of “Monkey” and he called me in and Phil Daniels was in the office at the time with him and Franc said if I could perform the party scene with Phil Daniels, he'd consider me for “Monkey”. We did the scene there and then and I got the job.

BILLY: What kind of person was "Monkey"?

TOYAH: “Monkey” for me was the girl with the golden heart that didn't make good. “Monkey” was a drug dealer because she worked in a chemist and she was just slowly taking all the pills and selling them to her friends. And she wanted to be loved and she wanted to be the number one girl but of course she wasn't, “Steph” was the number one fantasy girl for every male in the film. And we all know who this character “Monkey” is. She's the one that is that girl in the gang, but it's the one with the golden heart.

BILLY: And there's a real ensemble cast because Leslie Ash (as "Steph"), as you mentioned earlier, there's also Sting as the “Ace Face.” The cast also included people like a very young Ray Winston, Michael Elphick, who was "Jimmy's" father, Kate Williams, who was "Jimmy's" mother, Timothy Spall. And of course, Phil Daniels. And it's not hard to almost imagine anybody else playing “Jimmy Cooper” other than Phil, isn't it?

TOYAH: Oh, Phil Daniels was absolutely perfect for the role. It's the most ultimate character I think he's ever created. He was so astonishing and breathtaking. And even today, as acting has evolved into a more naturalistic form, Phil Daniels was ahead of game. Its perfection and that's why the film is still as powerful as it is today.

And looking back with hindsight now, I think Phil deserved more accolades. He deserved more nominations. But the film wasn't critically well received at the time of its release. And then the audience took it in their hearts and the audience, a generation after generation, the audience has returned to “Quadrophenia”, making it an absolute classic of its time.

BILLY: The story of “Quadrophenia” is set in London and Brighton in 1964. And you had to be so accurate, recreating that time period in terms of the clothes and the haircuts and the locations and the scooters. How was that done?

TOYAH: Franc Roddam was a documentary maker before making “Quadrophenia”, an award winning documentary maker and he wanted “Quadrophenia” to feel like a documentary. So he encouraged us to go out and socialise with people who had lived through the mod movement and still had the lifestyle within their lives. So we were going out at weekends and partying with people who've been mods, with people who have been rockers, and they did not hold back on the culture. They really immersed us in it.

Also, we were in dance studios in Covent Garden for three hours a day learning the dance movements, which we enjoyed so much, because as I’ve discovered with all great musicians around the world, Sting - great musician, great songwriter - can not tell his left foot from his right foot. Boy, did we have so much fun with that! This beautiful "Adonis" who we spent so much time with couldn’t dance, and we were just drawing focus to it all the time. Wonderful, wonderful man.

Other things that we did, we had to learn to ride scooters, we had to learn how to repair scooters, how it is to fall off a scooter. We needed to know all of this. We needed to know the dangers that surrounded us as well as the joys that surrounded us. And we immersed ourselves in this for about three months before principal shooting started.

The incredible thing about the principal first stage shoot - we were shooting the riot scenes first and talk about a baptism of fire. We were in Brighton with 5000 extras shooting riot scenes (below) for 20 hour days. And that really bonded us as actors, because we had to protect each other, look out for each other, find food, find water, find toilets. I mean it was extraordinary. And then we made the rest of the movie, by which time we were a family. And we've remained family. We are one of the closest knit teams I have ever known in the whole of my career. And we remain that way.

BILLY: One of the other real pivotal scenes in the movie is the dancehall scene where Jimmy is trying to impress “Steph” and he jumps up onto the balcony and then leaps off into the crowd. That must have been an incredible scene to be involved in. Was it?

TOYAH: Yeah, I think we shot those in Southall, North London somewhere. It was really wonderful to do and Phil Daniels was completely committed to doing that jump. I mean it must have hurt like hell. I think the first jump he did was into boxes. I don't think there was a stunt person involved. I'm absolutely sure Phil Daniels did the jump in the dance hall sequence himself. It was incredibly good fun because we got to show off our dance prowess.

I was dancing mainly with the actor Phil Davies, who I just absolutely adore. It was lovely because within that sequence, all the characters were able to develop and signal to the audience who and what we were by the style of their dancing, which you don't normally get the chance to do in films and the mod dances were just gloriously precise. So all of us got a chance to shine in that sequence.

BILLY: During the production of the movie there was some sad news when we learned that Keith Moon had passed away. What impact did that have on both the actors and the film production?

TOYAH: All of the actors were looking forward to meeting Keith Moon. All of us we just couldn't wait. This man was a legend. He was a bad boy, a great drummer. He had attitude. He was everything all of us wanted to be. But the week before we started principal photography, he died.

So when I first met The Who and I was in a room with The Who, with the producers, with the rest of the cast for the first time - it was literally the day after Keith Moon died. And the decision was made that the film was going to continue. They did think about discontinuing the film.

And thank goodness it was kind of made in his honour and in his memory. But we were all brokenhearted that we were never going to get to meet this legend. And I think he would have been on site every day enjoying all of us and we'd have been enjoying him. And it was a huge loss. That potential was a massive, massive loss.

BILLY: You spoke earlier about the lasting affection for “Quadrophenia”. 42 years on - what do you think the legacy is of both the movie and the album?

TOYAH: I think the movie is an astonishing film and an astonishing achievement made with no compromise, with great heart. And I think young people who feel diswoned by society will always find themselves and their story in that movie. And that's incredibly important, especially at a time like this where young people have lost a year of their lives. I think the legacy of the music is great music never goes away.

Heritage music and music that was there first, that broke the mould first, that inspired many generations of musicians to come, is the music that will remain constant and “Quadrophenia” will remain constant. It's one of those albums along with my husband's album “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, with Sting’s and The Police albums - they're constant so “Quadrophenia” is up there with the greats.

BILLY: We're asking everybody who takes part in the programme to choose their favourite Who track and naturally you have gone for a song from “Quadrophenia”. Which one is it and why?

TOYAH: My favourite Who song is “Rain On Me” because of the actual passion. It's about a young soul facing the future, just wanting their own place in the world. There's anger in it. There's hope, there's determination and it's an absolutely beautiful composition musically. And that is the song that I would choose.

You can listen to the interview HERE


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