Lunch With Ray Winstone

  • Over beef broth and Grey Goose, the actor tells Port’s editor Dan Crowe why British taxes are a waste of money, why the UK film industry is in a state – and why he wouldn’t live or work anywhere else
    Ray-openerDan Crowe: You’re an old mate of guest editor Daniel Day-Lewis, aren’t you?

    Ray Winstone: First time I met Daniel we were playing football in the grounds of QPR, West London. We both went for the ball at the same time. I pushed him over. He was not happy – at all – but I went on to get the goal. He’s a tough little cookie, is our Dan. When he did The Boxer, he was a boxer.

    Dan: Speaking of boxing, is Scorsese’s Raging Bull an influence on you?

    Ray: Mate, let me tell you, it’s one of my favourite films. I remember seeing it with a friend when we were both boxers. We cried. Then I saw it later, on TV. They’d cut out all the swearwords and I suddenly realised that it’s not a film about boxing at all, but about people who live in a certain area – about a way of life.The drinks arrive.I was a very lucky boy. Grew up in the East End of London, so we saw plenty of violence. Before I cracked it as an actor, before I became posh, I remember standing outside a council flat in Enfield after England got beaten by West Germany in a World Cup semi-final. I heard a woman scream from above and a few seconds later a TV landed next to us. Smash! Nearly killed us. I’ve been involved in violence. I don’t mean killing and cutting people, but just the normal, physical stuff as you grow up. So when it came to working on the film Nil by Mouth for example, I could draw on that.

  • Ray: …Because making a film is like therapy. It gives you the chance to express emotions you wouldn’t be able to if you were in an office or at home. It keeps me calm, it keeps me grounded, helps me deal with anger. I’m grateful for that.

    Dan:Who do you end up drinking with at the end of a day on set?

    Ray: The crew usually – the sparkies, the techs. They are usually from East London so I know them. Same in the US, the crews will be from the Bronx – the working class. They don’t want to talk about the film we’re working on. They want to banter about other stuff. Perhaps it’s also something to do with my grandfather’s voice in my ear saying, “Get a proper job, Ray!” I’m not in love with what I do. I look at it sometimes and it’s like I’m a transvestite schizophrenic or something. It’s hard work on set all day. You’ve worked your bollocks off, you’re mentally drained and you want to go out and talk about boxing, women and football. You know – we’re the chaps! Then you’re back at work in the morning, mentally refreshed.

    Dan:What’s the most fun you’ve had on set?

    Ray: The Sweeney was great fun. Nick Love, the director, would be there in the morning in his pyjamas saying, “Lets have some fun today!” Nil by Mouth was enjoyable for the simple reason that you had such a quality script. And a great director, Gary Oldman, who respected the opinions of the actors. We had to have fun on The War Zone as it was such a difficult story. I was fine until one scene – the bunker scene. I thought I was ready for it and I wasn’t. It broke my heart. Thank God for the crew. I was ready to kill Tim Roth, the director, at that point. The little girl who played my daughter, the one I abused, she was fantastic about it. The thing is, you have to party when you do a film like that. You have to get to know everyone. It’s a family and you get through it together. You have to enjoy it, because if you don’t you’d lose your mind.

    Dan: Did Tim come straight to you for the role?

    Ray: Nah, he came to me last. He went to Scandinavia to look for actors who knew paedophiles and then, at the end, came to me. I didn’t want to go and meet a paedophile for research. I’m a father with three daughters. I’d kill ‘em. I wouldn’t be able to talk with one in the same way as I’m sitting here talking with you. And that’s just how it works for me. But then I realised you have no idea who these people are. These people need to be liked, they are clever. They blend in… they have a working family life. Tim said, “Why do you want this part?” I said I just wanted to play the good guy for a change, because that’s how I needed to work it.

    The food arrives.

    Dan: What’s the hardest part of your job?

    Ray: Getting over the boredom. That’s the good thing about low-budget indie films. There’s no time, everyone’s rushing about. On bigger films there’s so much waiting around. If you have to have prosthetics – makeup and all that – you spend seven hours in the morning getting it on and feel like you’ve done a day’s work. I try to relax but I’m like a caged tiger. For some actors, staying in character helps but I’ve tried it and it drives me fucking insane. If I have to play someone who is angry in a scene I’ll laugh a lot, just before, to find the other end of the scale. And then, when we start filming, bang! I’ll also make an album for each film and have a dance in my Winnebago before I go on set. Johnny Cash… Tony Bennett singing ‘San Francisco’… Ray-2 Ray-1 Ray-3

  • Ray-4Dan: Did you always want to act?

    Ray: I always wanted to be a film actor. But I ended up at the Royal Court. Theatre is great but it’s all the bullshit you have to listen to afterwards. I could never stand around and deal with that self-congratulation. I guess I’m not so approachable. My wife says, “People seem frightened to come and talk to you.” I say that maybe they don’t like me. She says, “No, it ain’t that, Ray. You’re standing there looking like you want to kill them all. Like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Smile sometimes Ray!”

    Dan: What makes you angry?

    Ray: Politicians. The Olympics made me angry. I was asked to carry the flag but said no. I loved the show, the athletes and all that – but we have hospitals and fire stations closing down. We can’t pay teachers properly! And we spend all this money on this Olympic white elephant. Politicians should be made accountable. When they make promises and don’t even try to follow through, that’s fraudulent. They should be removed from office there and then. Any other walk of life you’d be nicked. And the fucking tax you have to pay in this country for all this bollocks! If they looked after the nurses and firemen and kept the schools in good order I wouldn’t have a problem with the tax – at all. And I don’t mind saying that. Fuck ‘em.

    Dan: Is there anyone left you would like to work with?

    Ray: Ridley Scott. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth again, both as actors and directors. I’ve worked with 16 or so first-time directors and have enjoyed every moment of it, because they break the rules, they invent. Like Malcolm Venville of 44 Inch Chest, a very special director. Love to work with Meryl Streep, though I’d just kiss her to death. Robert Duval, Day-Lewis, De Niro. But you know what, I don’t give a fuck who’s there. I just want to go to work and do the thing.

  • Ray: I made a little film last year called Ashes. Mat Whitecross directed it – blinding director – but we didn’t find distribution. Maybe because the film has difficult subject matter, maybe because it’s rubbish. But it gets you thinking. We’re always talking about the state of the British film industry, that people are not seeing the films we make. Right now, we need our own cinemas. You have Warner Bros and Sony who own their own cinemas, and they won’t let you distribute unless you’re going to make them loads of money. The French have their own industry, so do the Germans. Let’s have cinemas that show British films, let’s support our own industry. We are part of Europe, we have a great English-speaking outlet and, if we supported our own more, then maybe we wouldn’t lose our best directors and editors to the States.

    Dan: What do you do when you’re not working?

    Ray: Party. Spend time with my family. See friends. Russell Crowe, he’s a good boy. I like a drink with him. Leo DiCaprio called me up in New York and we went out. We got mangled. He is a top lad. The people in this industry who are not so nice are the ones who don’t know what they want. So you stay away from those lot. Fortunately I have some very old friends that I’ve known since I was a baby. This is the most important thing: family and friends.Had I lived in America, I’d have smashed it. There are certain roles that have come along that I didn’t get, and I’m not bothered, as they weren’t roles I could inhabit – that I could eat up. Only once have I thought, “Fuck! That’s a shame.” And then the film didn’t happen anyway. I would have eaten America up had I lived there. But you know what? I’m glad I’m here, for all its problems. I love this country. I love London. I hate the industry I work in sometimes, but when you meet the good people, and you know when you meet them, it’s golden – proper good. Come on mate, let’s hit my favourite, the best pub in East London. Let’s go and have some…

    Interview Dan Crowe
    Photography Jamie Morgan

    Watch Ray telling an old East End joke in our exclusive film

    Ray ate pumpkin soup followed by Aberdeen tenderloin
    Dan ate beef broth followed by roast lamb shoulder and Jerusalem artichokes
    Ray drank Grey Goose vodka and Coke
    Dan drank Merlot MCMXCV Alois Lageder 1995
    Andaz, 40 Liverpool Street, London, EC2
    The best pub in East London:
    The Three Lords, 27 Minories, London, EC3