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This story first appeared in the Aug. 23-Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
“He’s a bull, and I am too. Nothing takes him down. We have enormous pain resistance.”
Those were the last words Tony Scott spoke to this reporter during a conversation in April for a profile of his brother Ridley — and in the wake of his apparent suicide Aug. 19 at 68, they have taken on a haunting resonance.
While he was ostensibly talking about Ridley, Tony couldn’t help but also speak about himself. The two men — however different their individual films sometimes were — couldn’t have been closer, exhibiting the tightest of bonds. Ridley, more than six years Tony’s elder, cast his younger brother in an early short film, 1965’s Boy and Bicycle; Tony followed Ridley to London’s prestigious Royal College of Art; and then both became partners in their various commercial and film companies, where they shared a similar obsession. “We are workaholics,” Tony told me. “Our drug of choice is work.”
They developed their undeniable work ethic while growing up in a working-class family in the north of England, where Tony was born in 1944, toward the end of World War II. Before his birth, he said, his family had been “living in Ealing [just outside London] during the bombing raids that were horrendous, so they were right in the eye of the storm. Then the family moved to the Lake District, and I was born in North Shields.”
After the war, Ridley, Tony and their eldest brother, Frank (who would enter the Merchant Marines and die of cancer at 45), moved to Germany, where their father, Francis, worked until he brought the family back to England and became a docks manager in Stockton-on-Tees.
While the family faced some financial struggles, “We had a brilliant upbringing and we never wanted for anything, even though we went through highs and lows of finances,” Tony observed. “Dad was a very gentle, sweet man. Mum was the matriarch and the patriarch of the family. She ran the roost with a steel fist, but at the same time there was respect and love for her. The driving force Ridley and I have comes from Mum, but they were chalk and cheese. There was a real big, sweet heart to her and at the same time a determination and toughness.” He added, “We were a very, very tight family.”
While Tony and Ridley were each drawn to drawing and art early on, “Frank was different and didn’t have any artistic leanings; he was closer to Dad in terms of personality.”
Despite their later achievements, the two younger Scotts showed no sign of early brilliance. “Academically, we had no interest; we barely got through,” Tony said. “I didn’t graduate to the grammar school,” the public schools that took the brighter kids. “Our interests lay in sports and painting and drawing and rugby.”
Ridley led the way to a career in the arts, forging a path for both. “He has a brilliant photographic eye and is a brilliant technician, and he inspired me to draw,” Tony said. “Dad never understood why Ridley wanted to go to art school, and then I came along six years later and wanted to do the same thing.”
After failing to get into London’s Royal College of Art on his first attempt, Tony studied art in the British city of Leeds, where he made a short film in 1969 based on an Ambrose Bierce story, One of the Missing. Just as Ridley had once cast him in a film, Tony gave his brother a role. “The movie cost £1,000” (about $1,500), he remembered proudly.
Like Ridley, Tony made commercials for many years before getting his first feature, the 1983 vampire tale The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. And it was another three years before his career really took flight with the box-office success of Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. Finally, at age 43, Tony had cracked the A-list. But why did it take so long?
“I was finishing eight years at art school, and Ridley had opened Ridley Scott Associates and said, ‘Come and make commercials and make some money’ — because I owed money left and right and center,” Tony explained. “My goal was to make films; but I got sidetracked into commercials and then I took off — I had 15 years [making them], and it was a blast. We were very prolific, and that was our training ground: You’d shoot 100 days in a year, then we gravitated from that to film.”
No matter how different Tony and Ridley’s films, their bond remained intact. “We are very close; he is my best friend,” Tony said. “It’s been a brother-mentor relationship. But Rid and I are as tight as it can get. We are very tight and have had a brilliant relationship.”
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