The night I met Vinnie Jones
The recent ill advised comments that passed from the lips of Hollywood ex-pat, Vinnie Jones, during his recent Radio Times interview reminded me of the night we met in 2002.
I was in Hollywood trying and failing to establish a career as a screenwriter, a quest that had seen me to uproot from Scotland and move lock, stock, and barrel (no pun intended) to a studio apartment just off Hollywood Boulevard that was so small the toilet flushed whenever someone pressed the door buzzer outside. Furniture consisted of a secondhand writing desk, side table, lamp and armchair, procured from the building manager, to which I added the mattress I was destined to sleep on for the next four years.
My neighbours were an interesting bunch: a Vietnam Vet named Pete who told me he kept a .44 Magnum cocked and loaded in his apartment “just in case”; a wannabe stand up comedian; and an aspiring novelist who ran 14 miles a day. The apartment was on Sycamore Avenue, home to the deluded, denied, and near destitute. I belonged to the first category, would progress to the second, and almost made the third.
But I digress.
My first encounter with Vinnie came when I was booked to work as an extra on a movie he was in – Swordfish – starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry back in 2001. I was in a big nightclub scene, meant to be in Prague but in reality shot in an impressively converted disused warehouse in downtown LA. It was all still new to me and therefore exciting, being on the set of a Hollywood movie oogling ‘stars’.
Unlike my fellow extras – or background artists as we preferred to be known – I was most impressed at the presence of Vinnie Jones than Travolta, Jackman, or even Halle Berry. Here, after all, was the most renowned member of the ‘Crazy Gang’, as Wimbledon FC’s team of plodders was affectionately known. Jones had somehow found himself playing top flight football for the most unfashionable club in the league, probably the most unlikely platform from which to launch a career in Hollywood in the history of the movie business. Yet there he was, strutting around the set, enjoying his new found success on the back of his back to back appearances in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
I was booked to work on the movie for three days, but didn’t make it back after the first; waylaid by a trip to a nightclub, a Dutch ex model with a thing for Scottish guys and drug fueled parties at her Bel Air mansion, funded by her rich ex-husband and father of her son.
Again, though, I digress.
It was around a year later that I ran into Vinnie Jones again. By this point I was working as a bouncer/doorman in a popular Hollywood nightclub called Las Palmas. Wednesday nights it was the place to be seen, home to a celebrity-laden crowd and their assorted hangers-on. In my time I saw the likes of Janet Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Jamie Foxx, George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Enrique Inglesias, Oscar de la Hoya, and many like them pass through the place. I loathed both the clientele and the job, and would spend the bulk of my time there questioning my purpose in life. It was like being afforded a glimpse of evolution in reverse.
Anyway, on the night in question, I was standing at the door when a stretch limo pulled up and out jumped Vinnie Jones and a couple of other people, whereupon they stepped through the velvet rope and on into the club. An hour or so later the bar closed, the lights came up, and it was time to clear everyone out, easily the worst and most stressful part of the night when it was your job to go round asking people to drink up and leave. No matter how many years I’d worked in bars and clubs, I always approached this part of the night with the same dread your average person approaches a visit to the proctologist.
There were two bars in the place, the one in the back doubling as the smoking patio. It was there that I found Vinnie Jones standing in the company of a guy named Sean, a Wednesday night regular who always wore a white vest to show of his muscles and who one of the other guys had previously informed – make that warned – me was a cage fighter.
No matter, the bar was closed, it was late, and I was tired and hacked off. It was time to drink up and leave.
And so I walked over and politely asked Sean to drink up. He was leaning against the bar smoking a cigarette while drinking a beer. Vinnie Jones had just moved off to the side to talk to his mates. Sean turned, blew smoke out of the side of his mouth, and told me in a dismissive voice that He-Man, the head of security, had said he could stay behind. The first thing to say about this is that, yes, the head of security’s name really was He-Man; the second is that I didn’t believe him about being given the okay to stay behind. Words were subsequently exchanged and things were getting heated when Vinnie Jones, overhearing, stepped in to try and calm things down.
“What’s your name, mate?” he said.
I told him, following which turned to one of his mates beside him and said, “‘Ere Barry…geezer ‘ere’s a sweaty sock (Jock).”
Just over a decade later, I’m writing this sitting in a council flat in Edinburgh while Vinnie Jones is sitting in LA starring in C-movies lamenting the state of Britain. Funny, but I wouldn’t swap places with him for the world.
John’s memoir of his years in Hollywood ‘Dreams That Die’ is published by Zero Books and available from AmazonTagged in: Vinnie Jones
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