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A comedy about unemployed Sheffield steelworkers who decide to pay their overdue bills by putting on a Chippendales-style strip show, The Full Monty is very English. Which means it’s perfect for a certain type of American filmgoer, like the ones who kept Brassed Off in Washington theaters for months.

“I hadn’t really thought about how an American audience would take it,” admits director Peter Cattaneo, in Washington for a day of promotional interviews, “but they seem to like it.

“We did a test screening, which is a completely new thing to me,” says the director, a British TV veteran making his feature debut. “It was terrifying. It was like standing in front of an audience and people giving marks for what you’re wearing. They loved it, thank God. Mostly.”

Although some marketing types may worry about the similarities between Brassed Off and Cattaneo’s film, the director says he hadn’t considered them, in part because the films were released at different times in the U.K. “They’re a year apart in London,” he notes. “I think if [audiences] had a good time at Brassed Off then they’ll go see Full Monty.” Appending another movie to the list of potential competitors, he adds, “The Van’s the other one, of course: Unemployed blokes do burgers.”

The milieu may be similar, Cattaneo says, but the themes are different: “Although they’re both about a group of contemporary Northern unemployed guys who overcome being treated like shit by putting on a show and keeping their self-esteem, I actually think they deal with different issues. I think Full Monty’s more about gender politics and role-reversal than about anything else.”

With the Labor Party now in power, it may be time for an end to films about the effects of Thatcherism, Cattaneo concedes. But the decline of the British industrial working class, he thinks, is a subject that filmmakers are just beginning to address. “When this was all going on, the closures of pits and steelworks, which really was 10 years ago, TV did do stuff. But there was no film industry then to react to and talk about what was going on in the country. Now the film industry is catching up and making films about what’s been going on. So I think it will run its course. They’re stories that needed to be told, and suddenly we’re making movies so we can tell them.”

His interest in the industrial unemployed is not purely political, he explains: “Although it’s a serious issue, it’s also a good subject. It’s like a new frontier almost: What do you do when you’ve got nothing and you have to reinvent yourself? It’s a good starting point for a movie, frankly.”

Much of the film is devoted to recruiting six less-than-buff men to dance and strip completely naked—”the full monty.” “There’s just comic value in searching,” argues Cattaneo. “I thought of The Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai or something. Also, those old heist movies always had, ‘We must have so-and-so, who’s great with explosives.’ That’s great stuff. If guys are putting together a dance troupe and have no resources, there’s huge comedic value. It’s fun.

“I wasn’t really interested in a movie about male strippers,” he continues. “It’s about men who were going to do a strip. The buildup to this great event is entertaining, but once they’ve done I think the movie’s over. It’s about their expectations and their fears of doing more than about actually doing it. Therefore I made it about finding the right people and learning the dance.”

The strip is the final scene, which Cattaneo decided to shoot early, during the second week of a six-week shoot. “I just thought, this is going to sit there. Also, if it wasn’t right, I wanted a second hit. If the ending didn’t work, we didn’t have a film. It was great for the rest of the movie. Once they’d done it, they kind of bonded forever.

“It was electrifying, really exciting. We’d rehearsed that dance really well. Three cameras—it was like doing a rock ‘n’ roll shoot. We ran it a few times and just made sure it was well covered [by the cameras]. The actors were terrified. They were all marching around backstage, all sort of ginning each other up. One of them brought a ghetto blaster and [put] techno on really loud, like arrrr arrrr arrrr. Then one of them said, ‘We need whiskey!’ And they just got half drunk and helped each other through.

“The last actual shot was a one-take,” he says. “The money shot, shall we say. I said that they had to count to five, once they’d gone full monty. I wanted a five-second hold. They said, ‘OK, but only if it’s one take.’ We got it, thank God. It was done in one take. Scary.”

He didn’t have to clarify the dialogue much for U.S. release, Cattaneo says, since he had avoided a heavy Sheffield accent even for the British version. “For the American one, we did another mix. I fought—and didn’t have to fight that hard—to keep the slang. We changed a couple of things. We changed ‘Barclaycard’ to ‘Mastercard.’ But you got pretty much what we got. I wouldn’t have gone any further.

“I think it’s important to keep it natural,” he notes. “I have to listen to a lot of American films that are quite dialecty. There’s not a lot of consideration given to the U.K. audience. Of course, the people of Sheffield are going to stick to speaking how they speak, [no matter] whether some poncy film has changed it slightly.”

Although set in the ’90s, The Full Monty is keyed to music by Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, Cockney Rebel, and other ’70s acts. “It seemed to fit,” Cattaneo says. “Normally, music is chosen in post-production. But we had to rehearse to certain things and shoot to certain songs, and ’70s music seemed like the right thing. They are dinosaurs in a way, those guys. That kind of labor-intensive industry is a thing of the past. So I felt like we had to do something a bit retro. And I figured that those sort of guys would have been listening to that sort of stuff in their prime. It just sort of stuck, and the we used more and more.”

“I tried one mix with a lot of contemporary British pop music,” he adds, “and it didn’t seem right.”

Like a lot of younger, pop music-marinated directors, Cattaneo loves putting music and pictures together. “It’s just fun,” he says. “But it’s very difficult to choose, because you’ve got the entire history of pop and classical music. Where do you start?”

The director showed rough cuts of the film to some “muso” friends, and then asked them to make tapes of music they thought would be appropriate. Fox Searchlight, the movie’s American backer, also suggested songs. “They have a huge music department. We’d get a tape a week from them.” Among the company’s proposals was Gary Glitter—”weirdly, being completely English, and the first record I ever bought being a Gary Glitter record. Fuck, yeah, brilliant idea.

“There’s nothing like when you spin on a CD and put images up and they’re sort of made for each other. It’s like, yes!”

“Then,” Cattaneo laughs, “you can’t get the rights to the music.”

—Mark Jenkins