Winstone Journeys Into the Heart of Beowulf
by Paul Fischer
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At 50, Ray Winstone has discovered the fountain of youth, cinematically speaking. In the CGI, technologically advanced Beowulf, the British actor takes on a role over two decades his junior. On paper, the Nordic Viking warrior has little in common with the much shorter, older actor, so he does concede surprise that director Bob Zemeckis even cast him, “because he’s a six-foot-six, 20-year-old warrior, I’m 50 years of age, and I’m five foot ten.” So the actor adds, reflectively, that this new technology “kind of changes the game a little bit, becausesometimes it’s about the way you look, rather than the way you perform, so it’s quite flattering, because it’s about performance.” The actor, who was hired on the strength of his voice, happily admits that “it does open doors for other things, as there are parts that you might have bypassed because you’re too old.”
While the actor clearly relished being seen as a young viking warrior, he says that going into it, he didn’t understand the technology, so he had to take it on based on character and script. “I had no idea how big it was gonna be, then you read the script, and then right away you wonder about that kind of a man. He reminded me of actors, in a way, when they start believing their own publicity, which Beowulf does. So he starts believing his own story.” In further describing this larger-than-life mythical character, Winstone says that Beowulf then “wants something that another man has, whether it’s his kingdom or his love, which is the greed and then the ambition.” The technology aside, Winstone says he just loved the story. “Take away the 3D if you like, the IMAX, and the effects, it’s got a story, which I thought was clever, so I was so pleased with that.”
Yet Winstone has now embraced the technology that has afforded him the unique opportunity to play characters younger than himself. “Things like Henry V. You know, he’s a young man, but by the time you’re 50, you know how to play him. I wasn’t clever enough when I was supposed to be his age to play that, and I’d like to think I was now. So this opens the doors for everyone and I think it ups the stakes.”
He was born Raymond Andrew Winstone on February 19th, 1957, in Hackney, East London. His father ran a fruit and vegetable business while his mother, Margaret, had a job emptying fruit machines. From such humble working class origins, many of Winstone’s friends were into boxing, while young Raymond began hooked on acting with his accidental participation in a school play, “which was quite unusual,” he recalls. It was boxing. “But I think my Mum and Dad thought it was a great way of keeping me off the streets, so they backed me. It was kind of new, because no one else around my way was kind of doing that.” The actor recalls being influenced by Britain’s early working class dramas which had seen growing up, “like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life, where all of a sudden it was working class guys and actors like Richard Harris and Albert Finney, working class guys who were becoming actors, where before it was all chappies. So it kind of changed but whether I was aware of that, I don’t know.” He went to the movies with his father every Wednesday night, he recalls, and it was love at first sight.
Winstone has never looked back, and now at 50, the actor is philosophical about the choices available to him at this age. “I think for guys, I think there’s parts out there that are written, and I’ve been lucky enough to read a lot of them. But I’ve come along at the right time for me. If I’d have been doing this when I was 20, well, it’d have been a totally different thing, because I would have been out partying and acting like a lunatic.” Now, Winstone says, he believes that discovering success later in life has been beneficial, “because I don’t know what I was looking for.” These days, his ambition is merely “to do it well and be good at it. That’s about it, because I think if you set goals for yourself, what do you do when you get them goals,and if you don’t, you’re disappointed, so I don’t really set any goals or anything, but just go along on the ride.”
And that ride continues with roles as diverse as the actor’s career, beginning with 44-Inch Chest, which the boys who wrote Sexy Beast wrote. It’s about a guy who loves his wife too much, and I love it and there’s another one called Death of a Ladies’ Man, from Australian director John Hillcoat which Nick Cave wrote. Then I’ll be hopefully doing a film here called The Minutemen. And of course Winstone just wrapped the latest Indiana Jones film about which he revealed nothing, except to admit that making that film “was everything it should be and more, and to be part of a franchise that you’d watched was extraordinary. It’s a roller coaster and that is real fun all the way.” Winstone describes director Spielberg as brilliant. “You know, the people that are really good at what they do are the easiest people in the world, and they allow you to bring something to the table. You end up doing what they want you to do, but they make you feel that you’re bringing something to the table, and it’s just a real pleasure to go to work every day.” While Winstone will admit he plays a British character in the movie, as to whether he’s a good guy or not, “I’m not telling you,” he says laughingly.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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