He’s a big-screen hardman, but Ray Winstone blubs with the best of them. Andrew Dickens talks Biblical weather and wobbly lips with The Daddy.
“I’ve ordered the salad,” says Ray Winstone. “I’m cutting out all dairy, the bread and the pasta. No red meat. All the stuff you love."
This is music to my ears. I’ve ordered the salad, too. He’s just finished posing for the camera and we’re about to have a chat over lunch and I’ve spent the past two hours fretting over whether Ray would respect me less for not choosing the steak or the burger. Ray, after all, strikes you as a beef man, the human equivalent of a British roast dinner.
The analogies needn’t end there. In his day job, Ray is this country’s only indigenous bear. His reputation as Britain’s go-to hardman isn’t based on his most psychotic roles, Nil By Mouth for example, but his ability to give heart to the horrible or evil to the earnest – provide characters who can cuddle or crush you. As in Sexy Beast and his latest role, as tormented biblical king and ark-botherer Tubal-cain in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah – if you want a vulnerable villain, he’s the first port of call.
It’s also the reason why the 57-year-old actor was first choice for our Male Crying cover. While not as shocking as his choice of lunch, it’s still a little unnerving to see Ray Winstone weep – mainly because whenever he cries in films, it’s usually related to someone being ‘done’. That said, it’s not unbelievable. Here is a man who, in real life, is undoubtedly masculine, but is also friendly, humble, honest and funny. There’s a noticeable soft centre – if you’ll forgive one final analogy – like a granite Creme Egg.
Thankfully, nobody had to be ‘done’ to dampen that granite. Ray didn’t even get upset. As he explains, in between chewing on tenderstem broccoli, he’s actually very good at pretending.
How did you muster those tears today?
Well, I didn’t. They put little tear drops on you. Otherwise you spend two hours getting yourself into a frenzy, then someone comes in and moves your shirt.
How do you do it in a film?
You can use different ways. You can cheat. I don’t like thinking of things that make me cry. In some way, you’re invading on something that is very personal to you. What I usually do, if I’ve got to be sad, is go really happy before the scene. Take it to the other end of the scale and then bring it back. That way you’re not worn out, because you will be by the end of the day. Totally f*cked.
Are you an emotional man? Do you often cry?
I am, yeah. Old films start me off. And it’s not just because you’re watching the film – it’s memories of where you were and who you were with when you watched it. Songs start me off. When I’m making a film, I usually make up a CD of old songs that get me in the right emotional mood. So I’ve got my own tracks, say for Tracker or Sexy Beast. I had my own music going on.
So do you think it’s good for blokes to cry?
I think blokes cry more than anyone else [laughs]. Blokes probably cry on their own. It’s when you have time and you sit down on your own and you think. You’re not just blabbering on about football or whatever. You sit down and something will spark you off. That’s quite healthy in a way. I think more blokes do it than care to admit to.
When you were growing up, was it an environment where you couldn’t really cry in front of your mates?
I guess so. I mean, I was born 12 years after the Second World War, so there were still bombed houses around. I’ve got a theory that people then had used up every f*cking emotion they ever had. Over bombings, being invaded and just watching death. It must have been difficult to cry any more.
Moving away from tears, is it hard for you to turn down work as an actor?
Sometimes you’ve got to work to pay the rent. I’m not earning that amount of money where I can sit around and say, “Right, I’ll take two years out.” In two years’ time, I might not get employed. I’ve been lucky though, 75 per cent of the scripts I’ve done, I’ve wanted to do.
Are you philosophical about career ups and downs?
You have to reinvent yourself. I’m not going to get the young lead any more. I’m an old boy now. So what you look for is really good acting roles, but it doesn’t always end up that way. A film studio comes along and pays you a nice few quid and that might pay for the little film you want to do that you couldn't afford to do before. It’s the reason why I did Noah. Noah came along and I was kind of finished in the US. Nothing was happening for me. It was for no money, Noah. Noah is a big movie, cost a lot of money to make, but all of it’s going on effects. I thought I’d do it, as it might lead on to something else. That’s what you hope for. So you have to take chances.
So, is Noah basically you versus God?
Nah, not really. I’m the child whose dad don’t talk to him no more. Tubal-cain and Noah come from the same family; Noah comes from Abel, I come from Cain. Tubal-cain was the last king, and by all accounts he was the first arms dealer [laughs].
Are you a religious man?
In my own way. I’m not so much a church-goer, but I have my own beliefs on what heaven and hell are. Seeing your kids being born is heaven. When things are going great, it’s heaven, but when it’s the other way round, it can be hell. I’m not talking about the silly things in life – finances and all that. I’m talking about when something happens to someone you love. You have to have some belief in life, otherwise there’s no point in getting up in the morning.
When most people think of the Noah’s ark story, they think of animals two by two…
Well, this is what I thought. I got the phone call and they said they were making a film called Noah. I started to giggle. I started to think, “What am I going to be? A tiger?” I said, “Who’s playing Noah?” and they said Russell Crowe, and I laughed again. Which I shouldn’t have done – I’ve never seen him in a bad film. I was like, “Right, who am I going to play?” And they said Tubal-cain, and I really did laugh that time. Then I asked who’s directing and they said Darren Aronofsky. I stopped laughing then.
Some of the film was shot in the wilds of Iceland. Were you on set for those scenes?
I wasn’t. I filmed in Long Island and New York. We were there when the storm [Hurricane Sandy] came. I was up in the hotel room and it f*cking hit New York. I looked out and saw the power station blow up. All the lights went. “Whoa,” I went. “Oh dear.” I got downstairs with my little torch and the bar was open, so I said I’d like a large vodka and Coke please. He said, “Sorry sir, but I can’t serve you, it’s an emergency situation.” I went, “Listen mate, in England, when we have an emergency situation, we have a party.” I argued for a bit, then I just f*cked him off. So, I got back to my room and remembered, I’ve got a bar. So I sit there and I watch the storm in the darkness – and you start thinking, maybe God is trying to stop us making the f.lm [laughs].
All very biblical…
The most amazing thing, though, was the next day when the sun finally came up and it stopped raining – it was like an exodus of people. People walking really slowly, belongings and all that, going north. I got all my gear together and someone found me. We stayed in an apartment north of the city and got locked in an Irish pub for three days. It was great.
Have you ever felt typecast?
That’s making movies. Typecasting’s all right. How many parts do you want to play? I might not be clever enough to do many. It’s up to you to make them different. When I play a bad guy, I like to play him as the goody. And when I get the goody, I like to play him as the baddy. If it’s written well, you’re going to come out of it well. You know what I mean?
Yes. Gangsters with a softer side, family men who kill…
You might be holding your baby one minute, kissing your wife and then you go bang, and you’re butchering someone. Which makes you a monster, because that’s not a human being that can do that, then cuddle someone. It’s just a front. There’s something much deeper about psychopaths. Just having a chat, all lovely jubbly, all right mate – then he chops your head off.
Anyone could be a psychopath…
You don’t know. Pass them on the street every day.
Talking of psychopaths, what do you think to EastEnders updating its image by introducing young media-professional characters? As a bona fide East Ender…
It might liven it up. I’ve got some good mates in it. It’s a tough show. People living in one square and you’re supposed to make it dramatic. You’ve got to have two gay guys kissing, a gangster, a geezer who owns a pub. Where do you go? And everyone’s rogering one another [laughs]. It’s nothing like the East End I knew. You know what used to annoy me on that show? You never see anyone in a nice car. There was always young Charlie who had a nice car. You think we all live in squalor? When I was a kid, my mum always had a clean step. You’d walk into a palace. You watch it and there are ducks on the wall and paper peeling and you’re like, hold on.
Would you do it now Danny Dyer has?
Nah, it’s not for me. I don’t fancy it. They don’t like you doing other things – and I don’t like being owned.
You still go to West Ham – is it with a celebrity fan group?
No, I go with all my mates. I go with my mate Yatesy, with a couple of old pals who come over now and again. I’ve had actors over there who’ve come from different places. I had a box for a while. Keira Knightley’s been there. Little Keira’s a West Ham fan.
Since you’ve been doing those TV ads, do people ask you for the odds at half-time?
[Laughs] Yeah, but they can’t work out how I know. People think I’m at home watching every game.
Do you ever have a flutter?
I do when I go to races, and football. I’m pretty lucky, actually.
What do you think of England’s chances at the World Cup?
I think England’s going to win the World Cup every time. I mean, we ain’t done bad. They all go that we are useless, but we’ve always got to the quarter-finals, semi-finals, more or less. And that ain’t the easiest. You have to have a bit of luck to win the World Cup. I think the chance we missed was definitely 1990.
You must have cried at football…
Nah, not that I can remember. Football is a game. It’s 22 geezers kicking a ball. I’ve been annoyed by it. I remember sitting in Enfield, where I lived, having a pint with a mate, as you do, just after we lost that [Italia ’90] game. We heard a woman scream and this TV came out of a 16th-floor window, right down past the flats and smashed. That’s how upset the guy was. He probably couldn’t afford a new TV and he’s just thrown it out of the f*cking window. I thought, “What are the kids going to watch tonight?”
They probably started reading books.
Yeah, maybe it was a good thing.
Noah is at cinemas nationwide from 4 April
(Images: Levon Biss)