Films

Ray Winstone on the key moments in his career

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Ralph Jones
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Your ultimate Tough Guy: home-grown, dangerous, but soft in the middle. Here, the actor talks us through the key moments in his career for ShortList's 400th issue

DRAMA SCHOOL

I had a ball. I didn’t learn much about acting, but I knew how to conduct myself with all people from all over the place – different genders, different cultures. We had some great parties as well. And there were a couple of teachers who looked after me and tried their best with me. I think I was a little bit out of control, in a world that I felt I had no place in. I didn’t particularly want to be an actor. I was asked to leave and I was gonna make my way in the world – doing what, I don’t know.

THE CONTROVERSY OF SCUM

If the film hadn’t been banned, I wouldn’t be sitting in Cape Town now and I wouldn’t have done Nil By Mouth. So the ban was great – I kinda love Mary Whitehouse for that. But it was kinda crazy; it went against everything the Play For Today [a defunct British TV anthology drama series], which I loved, was trying to put out there. It became very hypocritical, in a way. Having said that, I guess it opened all kinds of questions up for me about the BBC – it was run by the government, in a way – and borstal systems are run by the government, so you kind of think, “It’s almost like they’re making a film to knock themselves, and someone’s put the block on it.” But that’s me reflecting back on it now. Maybe after a couple of years of making it I didn’t really care, to be honest with you.

Winstone played Vince in 2001's Last Orders

MAKING NIL BY MOUTH

When you’re doing something of that quality, you’re doing such great graft and saying great words that it becomes a joy. Nil By Mouth was a tough film to make, but I have to laugh. I really have to laugh, because if you were to take that home at night with you, you wouldn’t be married for very long. I like to go the other end of the scale if I’m doing something like that, because I find it easier to go to the dark side. The whole process of making the film was for me – and I think I can speak for the other actors as well – an absolute joy.

WORKING alongside MY MATES

Gary Oldman’s the best director I’ve ever worked with: he allows you to go to work; gets things out of you you probably didn’t even know you had. Maybe I’m talking from an actor’s point of view – although I think he was technically brilliant. Really great directors, you learn something from. I learned a lot from working with Gary, as I did from Alan Clarke. The first time I met Gary was at Alan Clarke’s funeral. We just said hello to one another for a few minutes; I knew of him but didn’t know the boy at all. And then we met outside the Royal Court Theatre; he had the script of Nil By Mouth. And I said I’d have a little look at it, in my cocky way. I was blown away by the writing. He just took me in; somebody who’d written something, who knew something about it. Great dialogue, great stories to be told. I think he took that Play For Today stuff that he learned from people like Alan Clarke and other directors he worked with in the early years. And he went to America and he turned it into cinema. He went anamorphic; he went large. I think that’s what Gary always wanted to do. But he kept that very British feel to that film.

As Gal in 2000's Sexy Beast

MAKING SEXY BEAST

I’ve got fond memories of making that film. It was almost like a modern-day Shakespeare. If you missed a beat out, it just didn’t work. If you changed ‘if’, it didn’t work. I don’t think we changed anything. That’s wonderful writing.

WORKING IN BRITAIN

I love working at home. It just seems to work that way. It’s the quickness of working. There’s no time to relax. You’re on it and you’re in the mindset the whole time. When you make a big-budget studio film, there’s so much baggage. The actual film is the pleasure; you get paid for the waiting time. And by the time you come to do your bit, you’re usually knackered. Sometimes you’re ready to go at half past eight in the morning and two days later you’re still waiting. I like to get to set and be all pumped up and ready to go.

WORKING WITH MY HEROES

I remember finding out I was gonna do Last Orders. And they said, “By the way, you’re playing Michael Caine’s son.” I went, “Oh. Right. Blinding.” I’d never met him. He said to me, “Now, Raymond. I know you’re probably nervous, working with me. But don’t worry, son, I’ll look after you.” I thought, “F*cking hell.” He was good as gold. He was lovely. And then I find out Bob Hoskins is in it. Bob, I was lucky to work with on three or four occasions – once as a director as well. I can’t tell you what a ball I had with these guys. Proper men. I loved them all.

Point Break is at cinemas nationwide from 16 February

(Image: Trevor Adeline/Rex)

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Ralph Jones

Ralph Jones is a staff writer for ShortList magazine. In April 2015 he won a seven-foot throne of dildos but he’d rather you didn’t mention it. He performs sketch comedy and is on Twitter at @OhHiRalphJones

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