The East London icon takes us to old haunt E Pellici’s

Ray Winstone might be familiar for any number of reasons – it could be his early role in Scum, produced for the BBC but deemed too violent to be broadcast, or in his turn in Nil by Mouth for which he won the Best Actor BIFA. Over the five decades of his career, Winstone has proved equally at home voicing animated animals in family films as he has playing dark, near-irredeemable criminals. After taking us to E Pellicci’s, his favourite spot, the east London legend sat down with Port’s Dan Crowe, as well as old friends and industry veterans John Dodds and Michael Stevenson, for a chat.

Dan Crowe: E Pellicci’s, the café we shot you at, you have been going there for years?

Ray Winstone: It all started when I went to the Repton boxing club to box, just off Bethnal Green Road. I was 11. We’d be in the gym and then you’d go there after for a cup of tea and a bacon roll with the boys. The wonderful thing about the place is it’s all walks of life, and the same family have run it for years.

John Dodds: What does it mean to you?

It means the past, it’s memories. It’s being a 13-year-old kid, having a cup of tea and a bacon roll, which we liked, and it’s that kind of thing of… I’ve experienced it once on the other level. Peter Smith used to have a bar in Knightsbridge where you’d have people that worked in the stores, you’d have racing car drivers, MPs, models, you had every kind of walk of life in the bar. That’s the posh version, and it was fucking great because you’d have lobster and chips and all that kind of stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m from the East End, but I’m a bit partial to a bit of lobster now and then… On the other side of London, Pellicci’s has got the same vibe. You’d have fucking film people, you’d have stall holders, you’ll have people from sports and all that. And they’re all talking about the same thing. They’re all conversing about the politics of the day or what was on telly last tonight, or did you see the game? Did you see the sports event? Did you see the goal? And there’s people from all walks of life talking about the same thing. God, if only Parliament was like that.

DC: Do you find that you’re drawn to certain characters now?

I’ve just finished a film called A Bit of Light, where I play a father of a girl who has alcoholic problems. It’s about a man who doesn’t show his anger, doesn’t show his problems. He wants to talk but doesn’t always know how to talk. It’s quite a different concept for me, character-wise. I want to be confused when I watch a film. I want to ask questions. I don’t want to just sit there and have it spelt out for me.

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

Oh, making the movie Tracker was fun. That was in New Zealand with me old mate Ian Sharp. New Zealand is amazing – you get a little feeling when you’re up on a glacier. I’m not a religious man, but when you’re there you feel you’re the nearest you’re ever going to be to God. That was fun.

DC: What have you just finished?

I’ve just completed Damsel, with Millie Bobby Brown, a terrific actress. I’ve got Angela Bassett playing my wife, for God’s sake! Robin Wright’s in it. There’s little Brooke . When I sat down at the table they said, “let’s talk this through!” It’s a great feeling when you feel you’re part of creating something. When a director sits with you and allows you to have your say.

Michael Stevenson: How did you find working with Steven Spielberg?

Absolutely magnificent. Because you feel part of the process of making a film with Steven, and he gives everyone that feeling on the crew, the lot. He enjoys showing you what he’s doing. He enjoys telling you what the shot is. When we were making Indiana Jones, the camera always moves to the right, because he’s moving you onto the next scene. And you understand that. He takes great pleasure in listening to what you have to bring to the table. One of my favourites, to be honest with you.

MS: Is there anybody that you haven’t worked with that you would love to work with? 

Yeah, Ridley Scott. What a filmmaker. Never happened for whatever reasons. He might not like what I do or whatever. But I admire him as a filmmaker. I really do. I don’t really know him – I’ve said hello to him.

DC: Is there a trait that you’ve worked on to get out of your system; or do you have aspects of yourself that you consider to be ugly that you need to work on?

That’s a good question. I think the one thing that I really had to get over was an inverted snobbery. Being a working-class boy, you’re thinking, you know, people think you shouldn’t be in this industry. That was my problem. That was nobody else’s problem.

DC: Do you think of yourself as having a sort of big break moment?

Absolutely: Scum. It was an accident. I mean, it was written for a Glaswegian. For the casting, I was the last person in the room and wasn’t even supposed to be there. I’d been expelled that day from acting college and my mates were going up for it. I said, “I’ll come with you and have a beer after.” I was talking to the receptionist, this girl, a beautiful girl and all. She said, why don’t you go in and meet Alan Clarke? He’s a lovely man. We didn’t talk about the part. Just had a chat and a laugh. Because I was the last one, he saw me out and he watched me walk down the corridor. And because I was a boxer, I had this kind of bowl and stride. And I got the lead part. I got the part not on anything that I had done as an actor, because I’d never done anything.

DC: So you didn’t read for him?

No, I got the part because of the way I walked down the corridor.

DC: You’re very true to yourself. It sounds like, in a way, you weren’t trying to force yourself into an acting space.

I think that was part of the inverted snobbery, in a way, because I just felt I didn’t fit. I was like a square going into a round circle.

DC: But did that feeling leave after doing it?

No, it was many, many years I had that chip. And maybe that’s what drove me on in a way, you know, that kind of thing of thinking, fuck you!

MS: Did you enjoy working in the theatre as well as films?

I worked in small theatre, and I don’t mean that as in small in the way of the importance of it, like The King’s Head in Islington, the Royal Court Upstairs, the Cottesloe , the Red Lion in Islington, and what that is, well, it’s like cinema. I learnt so much doing that because the audience is there. You experiment. I’ve done things that the fucking director went mad at, and there’d be people laying there, I’d be lying on the bed, and I’d put my hand on someone’s lap and you’d feel the whole audience going, “Woo!” ‘Cause we’re all touching one another. And he’d say, “You can’t do that!” I love it.

JD: It’s interesting, isn’t it? I was at The Orange Tree in Richmond, I went to see a tiny thing with Ben Whishaw, a talk about himself, but as a drama, in that little place. He’d never done it before. And he said the same thing. He said it’s like being in a movie. He’s very un-showbizzy, and he was amazing.

DC: What’s your idea of perfect happiness?

Coming home, and your kids are in a row with one another for at least three days. And they’re all kind of lovey-dovey. You worry, “When’s the storm gonna start? When’s it coming?” But it’s not. To me, perfect happiness is when they’re all loving one another, and the world seems happy. That, to me, is what you look for, and that’s all you need.

DC: Favourite meal?

Lunch. Rib of beef. Roast potatoes, yorkshire, gravy, carrots and honey. I like sushi and sashimi too.

Photography TEX BISHOP


Clothing throughout by MR PORTER



This article is taken from Port issue 34. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here