"Guy?" says Sean Penn, who happens to be in the hotel for a press junket.
"Yeah?" says Guy Ritchie, who happens to be in the hotel doing an interview.
"Sean," says Penn, introducing himself and extending his hand. "I just saw your trailer last night. It looked fantastic."
"Really?" says Ritchie, sounding British, polite and surprised.
"Say hello," says Penn, making his exit, "and congratulations."
"See ya, Sean," says Ritchie.
The encounter must have been quite a shock to render bright red a man married to Madonna, but Ritchie collects himself quickly. "Isn't he a gent?" says Ritchie, who must be used to days far stranger than this. Last month Ritchie wed Penn's ex during a five-day celebration in a remote Scottish castle. Ritchie, 32, the father of Madonna's second child, Rocco, calls the nuptials "the best five days of my life," though it was preceded by months in a burning media spotlight. Tabloids excitedly chronicled HER PLOT TO GET TOYBOY LOVER TO ALTAR. Paparazzi stalked them in Greece, and the couple had to relocate three times. "It cost us a fortune," Ritchie says. "We couldn't go outdoors. It was a real mess."
Ritchie probably doesn't appreciate the irony, but all this personal chaos neatly reflects his work. Before he met Madonna, Ritchie was the filmmaker who picked up London by the scruff of the neck with his wild-eyed debut, the brilliantly messy Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a 1999 crime-caper comedy distinguished by rowdy camera work, shifting narrative and hysterical cartoon violence.
Now Ritchie's at it again. His new movie is Snatch, which is why we're seeing the borderline-obscene bus-stop ads. (Snatch is, of course, an innocuous verb, but--sorry, Grandma--it also moonlights as slang for female genitalia.) As in Lock, Stock, writer-director Ritchie returns to the mean streets of London where high-octane lowlifes compete in fixed fights and diamond heists. This time Ritchie brings along Brad Pitt as a quick-talking, bareknuckle-boxing Gypsy. Pitt was such a fan of Ritchie's work that he took a pay cut to join Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Farina in the ensemble; Snatch's entire budget is about half Pitt's usual $20 million fee.
Like Lock, Stock, it also stars Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham and has lots of gunplay. It's not exactly an endorsement of the filmmaker's versatility--the jury's still out on whether Ritchie's talent can ever measure up to his matrimonial fame--but Snatch's whiz-bang style does indicate that its director is more than a "toyboy."
"I can only do what I fancy doing at the time," says Ritchie, who's wholly unapologetic to critics who say Snatch is too similar to his first film. He says he stuck to what he knew rather than jump into the big-budget studio arena after his breakthrough. "The second film is very important to a filmmaker. You're establishing things that you weren't sure if you got away with by accident on the first one."
Ritchie, like the woman he calls "the missus," doesn't always play by the rules. At 15 he left school, then eschewed his upper-middle class for a life of globe trotting and barhopping. Along the way he acquired the long knife scar on his left cheek. Last summer he got into a scrape with a male fan because "our house got sieged," he says. "One day I couldn't even drive my car out of the house, so I got out and kicked someone. We haven't had a fan since."
No wonder he's writing a film based on the Great Siege of Malta, a 16th century battle waged by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman against Christian knights. "It's not biased to Muslims or Christians," says Ritchie. "It's just one of those against-the-odds stories." This serious, epic ambition may also indicate that marriage is maturing him a bit. "She's introduced me to spirituality, and I've introduced her to science," says Ritchie. "I don't think either is to be ignored."
Ritchie won't be ignored either. After he came up with the title Snatch, Columbia TriStar wavered. "We did very seriously debate changing it to Snatched for fear of the vulgarity," says vice chairman Gareth Wigan. But Ritchie put up his dukes and won his title back. Now that the film has already been a success overseas (and you must admit the idea of hearing Mary Hart say Snatch is pretty delicious), the suits have come around. "I was wrong," admits Wigan. "The vulgar connotation hasn't even surfaced." Careful. No one thought Sean Penn would surface either.