Ray Winstone: more than a macho man
The actor has played many geezers, thugs and hard men, but the list belies a complex approach to masculinity
Ray Winstone in Sky 1’s Moonfleet
Ray Winstone in his breakthrough role in 1979’s Scum
A bearded Ray Winstone in a velvet-collared coat is handing out chocolate biscuits and larking about with his young Moonfleet co-star Aneurin Barnard, who is doing interviews in the same room. At one point Winstone affectionately chucks him on the chin. He’s a bit misty-eyed about his co-stars and the predominantly Irish crew. And he waxes lyrical about how Sky 1’s swashbuckling new smuggling drama depicts a seaside community heroically fighting a rapacious tax-heavy state.
Does he see in Moonfleet an analogy for British tax law (last March he railed against “high” taxes in a radio interview)? “A little bit, yeah,” he says and laughs. He clarifies that he doesn’t mind paying taxes for hospitals, schools and firefighters, but he doesn’t go into too much detail. He prefers to talk about acting.
Winstone’s breakthrough role was in Alan Clarke’s Scum in 1979. “I got that because of the way I walked down the corridor,” he says. “It was nothing to do with ability or anything because I didn’t have a clue. I was lucky to have a man called Alan Clarke who taught me how to conduct myself when making a film. Whenever I’m doing something, I talk to myself the way he talked to me.”
It was the first in a long run of Winstonian geezers, thugs and macho men, but the stereotypes belie a complex approach to masculinity. His idols growing up were
actors such as James Cagney. “Even when he played a gangster, you wanted him to win. And I always liked actors like Henry Fonda and James Stewart. They had a weakness about them that made them men. James Stewart would cry. In The Searchers John Wayne played a bigot. John Wayne, an American hero.”
So he always tries to subvert expectations. “When you’re playing the good guy, play him as the baddie, and when you play the bad guy play him as the goodie,” he says, “though it’s a bit more complicated than that.”
In the 1980s he had a starring role in ITV’s Robin of Sherwood. “I based Will Scarlet on a football hooligan. It was based on a kid I knew. Will Scarlet is a medieval mugger. He goes out and he robs people. He’s having your dough.”
In 44 Inch Chest he played a man encouraged by his friends to kill his wife’s lover. “It showed the bravado of a man at his worst point.” The War Zone was about a paedophile. “They asked ‘Do you want to meet a paedophile?’ I said ‘No! What am I going to do sitting across from a paedophile? He’s going to lie to me. His whole life is a lie. I don’t want to meet him because I’d want to strangle him’.”
He watched some documentaries instead. “They’re great actors, paedophiles,” he says. “They’ve got to be to survive. It might be one of your mates. Great guy. Great actor. Great liar. I wanted him to seem a normal guy, so I played him as me. The stories in the film are my stories, until you get to a point when he becomes the monster, and then after that he goes back to being Ray Winstone again.
“I think when you see him as a normal person it makes him a bigger monster, because there’s no excuse. He’s not mentally ill; he’s just f***ing horrible. That was the toughest film I ever made in my life, because I had no feelings for him. I f***ing hated him.”