WINSTONE ON THE EDGE OF DARKNESS
by Paul Fischer
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Ray Winstone can play any character; ot seems, from the irreverent to the understated or even King Henry VIII. Currently appearing as a cuckolded gangster in the brilliantly subversive 44 Inch Chest, Winstone will next be seen opposite Mel Gibson in the US remake of the classic British miniseries Edge of Darkness. Here he plays a reserved shadowy figure involved as Gibson’s character searches for his daughter’s killer. In this exclusive interview with PAUL FISCHER Winstone discusses ther film, acting and future projects.
QUESTION: It’s interesting that you do play a character who’s very emotionally cut-off, I guess. And you’ve played the antithesis of those kinds of characters in much of your work.
RAY WINSTONE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you find this a much more challenging approach?
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. It is – because as an actor, you feel – until you get a bit older, until you learn the game of it more, that you want to go out and perform in such a way, that you want to show your stuff off, I guess, And they always can be the more interesting characters to play. The only other time I’ve really played a character like that was in The Departed, I guess, when I played Mr. French. Who was a killer. And I’ve got to say, the people that I’ve met through the years – especially people in the services. for me to say “Yes” and all that – they have a way of looking through you when you talk to them. And they have a way of not – at least not showing an emotion, Could be really nice guys, But they’ve seen so much death and destruction, and caused so much death and destruction through their life, that – they have to switch off.
QUESTION: In the original miniseries, he was a – he works for – as I understand, as I remember, he works for the CIA.
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: In this particular version, we’re not quite sure who he works for, or what his deal is.
RAY WINSTONE: In doing so. Yeah. But I kind of came on – and I remember the series, and I remember Joe Don Baker’s character a lot, times change. And really, through recent history, anyway, we’ve watched people down in Africa with mercenaries, and guys from different armies who are coming out of the army and not necessarily having a lot of money, that they feel they’ve been left on the shelf a little bit, and it’s time to go on home, and they become mercenary, They’re like guns for hire. And it just kind of fell into place for me that governments use these people, really, so there’s no comeback. if they get captured, they’ve got no affiliation to certain countries,
QUESTION: Do you think Mel has lost his sense of humor? I mean was he still as – did you find him to be –
RAY WINSTONE: No. I think Mel and myself work in more or less the same way, I like to the other end of the scale, If I’m playing a character like Mel was playing it – you can’t walk around for 24 hours a day, 24-7, feeling like you do in the film. Because if you did, you would go off your head, And for me, I think it’s easier if you take it right to the other end and have a laugh, and then switch it back on, bang, there. Because you know what the scale is. You know where – you can come from one end to the other. It doesn’t always work – I mean, some people don’t work that way.
QUESTION Do you think the politics in Edge of Darkness is downplayed, or do you think the film has a very strong political message?
RAY WINSTONE: No, I think the film, the story, is an emotional journey for a man. It’s about a man who’s lost his daughter. The politics of it just so happens to be part of the story and then you portray that part of the story best you can,
QUESTION: You’ve been at this acting game now for some three decades, I guess.
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. About 35, 36 years.
QUESTION: And I do find it amusing, as I was reminding myself of all the work you’ve done, that back in 1976, you were in an episode of The Sweeney.
RAY WINSTONE: Yes, I was. Yes.
QUESTION: And now, depending on what one believes, you are set to be in the Sweeney movie.
RAY WINSTONE: I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
QUESTION: Oh, that’s a real shame.
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah, it’s a shame. But, even more really weird for me was turning up on a film set that first day of The Edge of Darkness. And I look in across at the camera, and there was Martin Campbell and Phil Major, the DOP. And Mike – Phil was the DOP on my film, Scum, that I made in 1978. And Martin Campbell was on the production team. So, we’ve all kind of come full circle in a way. So, I actually have a little smile to myself,
QUESTION: How surprised are you that you are still as incredibly busy as you are at the moment?
RAY WINSTONE: Oh, very surprised. It’s been kind of like the last ten to 12 years, it’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster in that way. And – I probably learned more in that 12 years, working with the people that I’ve worked with, than I probably did in the 20-odd, 26 years before that,
QUESTION: You’ve gone from something like Edge of Darkness to 44 Inch Chest, which I know you probably shot before that. Was Colin Diamond one of the more interesting and emotionally resonant characters you’ve played in a while?
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. In a way, he’s kind of a mirror of what Mel’s playing in Edge of Darkness. He’s a man who’s going through loss, who’s having a breakdown. And of course, they’re the parts you can really get your teeth into, as Mel did, And hopefully I did, as well, with Edge of Darkness—with 44 Inch Chest.
QUESTION: Well, what’s interesting about 44 Inch Chest is that it’s basically a bunch of guys in a room, swearing at each other for an hour and a half. And doing such a brilliant job at expressing themselves verbally.
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, obviously you must have been attracted to it, because you’re also a producer on it.
RAY WINSTONE: Well, I’m called an executive producer, which means absolutely nothing. But – [LAUGHTER] as what we’ve done to get that – myself and Ian McShane, was we punted the film around for about seven or eight years, before we got it done. So
QUESTION: Now as good as you are in Edge of Darkness, and as good a film as that is, something like 44 Inch Chest allows you to chance to really, purely act, doesn’t it?
RAY WINSTONE: Well, yeah. But at the same time, you see – that’s completely and utterly true to show your wares. But at the same time, it was probably more difficult a character I was playing in Edge of Darkness, because I had to keep all them emotions away, and keep them back. it’s – so, in a way, the more difficult chance I guess for an actor is to play that kind of part. Because you want to be emotional in films, and you want to be emotional when you act. But to keep them all pent up and keep them back is – is probably more difficult, I don’t know. It might be easier for some people. It wasn’t necessarily for me.
QUESTION: Now, I was looking through the latest group of films that you’ve completed, or that you’re rumored to be in. And I don’t know how you keep going.
RAY WINSTONE: I’ve got to work. I’ve got to work like you do every day. If I was driving a lorry, I’d have to get up in the morning and drive a lorry. That’s what you do – that’s what I do for a living. And I like doing it. And – I’m not getting any younger. So, you – make hay while the sun shines,
QUESTION: Let me ask you about a couple of things that sound really intriguing to me. First of all, Ben Hur.
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’ve never thought that you would be – that that would be a kind of genre that would be of intrigue. But, what was –
RAY WINSTONE: Well, it’s historical.
QUESTION: Now you play Quintus Arrias in that, don’t you?
RAY WINSTONE: Yes, I do. Yeah. Well, to be honest with you, I was quite thrilled and quite surprised when I was asked to play the character, to film the film with Jack Hawkins,
RAY WINSTONE: But, actually, it’d be nice if they paid me.
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. Yeah, the fuckers knocked us. But there you go. Yeah. So, the less I’ll say about that, the better.
QUESTION: Okay! Let me ask you about – I mean, apparently every English actor who can speak is in Chris Columbus’ Percy Jackson movie. Are you one of the gods in that?
RAY WINSTONE: No, I’m not in the first one. I’m not in the first.
QUESTION: You’re in the second one?
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. Possibly in the second one.
QUESTION: And who are you gonna be in that?
RAY WINSTONE: I’m not really sure, yet.
QUESTION: Oh. Because according to IMDB, you’re supposed to be the god of war.
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. There’s talk of that, yes, in the second one, but not the first one.
QUESTION: What’s happening with Soderbergh’s Cleo?
RAY WINSTONE: Well, Cleo was put back from last year. It was gonna be made last year. And then for whatever reason, Stephen went off, and he had another film to make. And Hugh Jackman did as well. So, it was talked about going this year. I haven’t heard anything more about it yet, but I’m sure we’ll hear about it in the next month or so, what’s gonna be happening. I’d love to do it – I would love to.
QUESTION: And you’re playing Julius Caesar.
RAY WINSTONE: Yes.
QUESTION: And you’re going to be doing a singing Julius Caesar.
RAY WINSTONE: Of course, yes.
QUESTION: And – have you been practicing?
RAY WINSTONE: Not yet, no. I usually do on a Friday night. Have some beers, and I’m on the karaoke, yeah.
QUESTION: Tell me about London Boulevard.
RAY WINSTONE: Ah. It’s Bill again, Bill Monahan, directed his first movie. And he took to it like a fish to water. You could see he’s smiling every day when he came to work with Colin Farrell, and little Keira Knightley, two brilliant actors. And – filmed in London. At London Gates [?], the film. I really enjoyed doing it, and it was a place to work with Bill. Because I know Bill anyway. Bill was a bit of a drinking partner of mine when we was in New York and Boston during The Departed. And to be in a film with him and watch him on set every day putting his words into action and directing them, was an absolute joy. He just had a smile on his face all day. And I just – I hope, and I’ve got a good vibe about the film. I think it’d be a good film. Brilliant film.
QUESTION: Are you a gangster in this?
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: That’s a bit of a stretch for you, isn’t it?
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. It’s really difficult. [LAUGHTER]
QUESTION: Tell me about Tracker.
RAY WINSTONE: Tracker is a film I made with a director I worked with about 26 years ago on a show called Robin of Sherwood, called Ian Sharp. English director. It’s myself and Tim Morrison, from Once Were Warriors. And it’s set just after the Boer War in South Africa. And my character’s a Boer farmer, who was one of the top rebels during the Boer War. Goes out of South Africa – so, he goes to New Zealand to start a new life, and ends up working for the British as a tracker to track down Tim Morrison’s character, who’s a Maori who’s been accused of murder. I track him across New Zealand, and I catch him, he catches me. It’s one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever worked on, actually, a fabulous job, in probably a country that is God’s own country. Most beautiful kind – I love Australia, and now I love New Zealand as well. I spent four months in a bush in Australia and I loved every minute of it. But New Zealand’s a different place. Different scenery, and every corner you go around, is stunning. And I had one hell of a time, making hopefully a fabulous film.
QUESTION: Now, do you do this with a South African accent?
RAY WINSTONE: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: How was that for a challenge for you?
RAY WINSTONE: Well, it’s not for me to say. I guess you need to ask a South African. But that’s what we do, I had a really good girl looking after me, teaching me before I went out there. I couldn’t listen to the New Zealand accent too much. Had to stay away from that. But, it was good and you feel like you’re achieving something.
QUESTION: What about Minutemen?
RAY WINSTONE: Oh, Minutemen. I’d love to do Minutemen. Two crazy brothers wrote it, and I’d I read these scripts, and it’s a very surreal kind of script. I’d love to do it. And it’s gotten very quiet now. I mean, it’s been kind of at the bat for the last couple of years, But it’d be a goodie to do. I thought it was a great script. Something different. and go and have some fun.
QUESTION: Now, having been in front of the camera for so long, do you have a desire to step behind the camera?
RAY WINSTONE: Maybe one day. When I can’t walk any more. I kind of think there’s so many great directors out there, who am I to think that I could do a better job? I don’t think I could do a better job. Obviously, when you become a director, or you want to – as an actor, you want to go and film something in your way. And I have got ideas how I’d love to film, and how I’d like to shoot a movie. But I’m enjoying myself doing what I’m doing, at the moment. So – really, that’s something for maybe the future, maybe not. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Are you very picky about what you do?
RAY WINSTONE: Well, sometimes you can’t be and there’s been times you’ll do a job because you need to pay the rent. And they’re the ones sometimes you don’t really enjoy, But I’ve been very lucky over the last ten, 12 years – with stuff that’s come through and been offered. I’ve wanted to do, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you do need to go and pay a bill.
QUESTION: You still live in London, don’t you?
RAY WINSTONE: Just outside, yeah.
QUESTION: Was there always a conscious decision for you to avoid living in the States? Was there any pressure?
RAY WINSTONE: I’m lucky enough to come and work in the States. And I love working here. I love working anywhere, to be honest with you. But the thing about England, the more I live in England, it’s just where my family is. That’s where my friends are. That’s where my roots are. And that’s probably the place that keeps my feet on the ground.
QUESTION: When you started out, all those years ago, what was it about acting that really appealed to you in the first place? I mean, why did you want to do it?
RAY WINSTONE: I’m not so sure I wanted to do it in the first place. I mean, I used to go to the pictures – the cinema on a Wednesday with my Dad. And – like most kids, I grew up watching the cinema. And I just kind of fell into it, Really just fell into it. And – I never really thought that I could be an actor, and be – in movies. Not movies like I watched. And now I’m actually in films that I used to watch, as a kid. I mean, Edge of Darkness is a thriller like I used to watch when I was a young man. a young kid. So –- I’m just really lucky. I – the more you kind of do it, the better the work becomes, the more classy it becomes, and the people you work with – the love for it kind of grows. I can understand when people get stale, and don’t want to do it anymore, because I’ve done that. I’ve actually retired from the business when I was younger, twice. But I wasn’t getting the work that I enjoyed doing. So that’s why I kind of stopped doing it for a while.
QUESTION: You’ve been married for about as long as you’ve been acting.
RAY WINSTONE: I’ve been married 30 – just over 30 years, yeah.
QUESTION: You’ve got three kids or something?
RAY WINSTONE: Three daughters, yeah.
QUESTION: Do they keep you grounded? And do they also help determine the amount of work you do?
RAY WINSTONE: No. Well, I determine how much work I do because you go to work for your kids and for your family, because you want to give them a good life. So, in that way, they do. They don’t ask me to go to work. I go to work because I want to go to work, for the reasons I’ve just explained. But – they keep me grounded, because – yeah, they’re my kids. And – everything that I do revolves around them.
QUESTION: Does your wife ever ask you to take a break?
RAY WINSTONE: No, not really. I mean – I guess they know what I do. I guess sometimes they’d like to see me a little bit more. But I do take – if I’m away a long while, I do take my kids with me, and I take my wife with me. But my two older daughters now are 27 and 24, and they’re in the work environment now. They’re working themselves. so.
QUESTION: One of them’s a singer, isn’t she?
RAY WINSTONE: My – my oldest girl, yes, she’s a singer, yeah. And she’s an actress, but she’s a singer. Hell of a singer, actually.
QUESTION: Do you encourage the kids to follow in your footsteps?
RAY WINSTONE: No. But I – if that’s what they want to do, then I would encourage them, yeah.
QUESTION: Now, do you still support West Ham United?
RAY WINSTONE: Oh, without any shadow of doubt, baby. There’s no – you don’t stop supporting a team. It’s in your blood. [LAUGHTER]
QUESTION: How they doing?
RAY WINSTONE: Not too good, at the moment. But they’ve got spirit and they’ve got art, and they come from East London, so they’ve always got a chance.
QUESTION: What’s next coming up for you that you’re really excited about? Is there anything –
RAY WINSTONE: Oh, nothing yet. After we’ve done this – all this press stuff, I go home and I do a little couple of days with the film school at home. Just a couple little commercials for them. And then really, I’m just having a read, and I’ve got a bit of time at home.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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