Odd trip for Tony
T ONY Hawks has the sort of career that likely looks a bit odd on a CV. The writer and comedian has carved out a niche for himself thanks to a handful of non-fiction books about times when – on a bet, usually after a drink or two – he's gone off somewhere to have a go at some obscure task.
One of his best-known books, Round Ireland With a Fridge, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, about schlepping a refrigerator around the Emerald Isle.
One Hit Wonderland laid out his quest to write and perform a song that becomes a hit somewhere in the world.
Then there's Playing the Moldovans at Tennis.
Watching England play football can bring out ridiculous statements in lots of people.
But for Tony, an offhand comment made while watching England thrash Moldova 4-0 in 1997, led to places he never would have imagined.
Hawks' fans will already be familiar with what happened next.
As he watched the drubbing on television, Tony said to a mate he reckoned he could beat these Moldovans at tennis. The friend reckoned he couldn't, a bet was made and – as you do – Tony was off to Moldova, tennis racket in hand.
The resulting adventure, complete with surprisingly poignant ending, became the story of the book Playing the Moldovans at Tennis.
And now it's been turned into the film.
For a writer, there tends to be two ways to experience your book being made into a movie.
"One is you just hand the thing over to whoever the producers are, take the money and just expect it to be a disaster," Tony says.
Tony took the other route, in a big way. He wrote the screenplay, produced the film, co-directed it and stars as himself.
"It's a real challenge, but in terms of the result I'm really pleased," he says.
He wanted to use Moldovan actors – which in a country of less than four million people, kept things somewhat limited.
"The casting process was almost like finding all the actors who spoke English and dividing up the roles accordingly," he says.
"It wasn't like we had a load of choice."
But when casting was done, Tony was impressed at the calibre of actors, both British and Moldovan, taking part in the project.
Then it was on to getting them into their roles. Not much problem, as most actors met the people they play.
The events in the book took place just a few years ago, largely in and around the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. The people being portrayed in the film were still around.
"All the actors met the people they were playing," Tony says.
"I said to them, you're not trying to do impressions of people, you can just tell the story."
Money from the film goes towards the Hippocrates Children's Centre in Moldova, which is devoted to the health of children with chronic conditions who live in vulnerable families. Explaining exactly how the centre came about would be a plot spoiler; let's just say it's one of the more surprising outcomes of a bet to play some tennis.
Tony says: "I think that's the kind of exciting thing about life ... that you don't know what's coming.
"The intention was just to go with it and see where it went and do your best."
It's an ethos that's always worked for Tony. Although, he hastens to add, he may demur if you buttonhole him at his upcoming Broadway Cinema appearance with a brilliant idea for a wacky adventure.
"There is a sense out there that I am the kind of person that if you give me two drinks I'll go out and do absolutely anything..
"I have to explain that I haven't done that many things. I've done just a couple things and happen to have written about them.
"It's a long time, it's a big commitment to do something like this. It came at a point where I was looking for adventure."
He's not ruling out another adventure – but the idea would have to be right.
"For it to work for me, it's something where I've got to be genuinely fascinated by what might happen."