Paddy Considine: ‘I can’t remember the last big film I’ve seen that was any good’
Director talks about his new film, his 'crippling' Irlen syndrome and why Hollywood isn’t everything
At first glance, Journeyman looks like another one of those appositely scrappy, noble British boxing films. Actor Paddy Considine’s second outing as a writer-director tells the story of middleweight boxing champion Matty Burton (Considine). Having settled down with his wife and infant daughter, the pugilist attempts to bow out from a long career with title fight against a younger, trash-talking rival.
So far, so Rocky sequel.
But some hours after the bout, Matty collapses at home, floored by a delayed reaction to an earlier punch. Awakening from surgery, the boxer is a shuffling, slurring shadow of his former self, and prone to violent outbursts. The real fight is only beginning.
Boxing has long been a part of Considine’s life. He joined his first boxing gym as a teenager. He reads Boxing News. After studying photography under the social documentarian Paul Reas at the University of Brighton, Considine graduated with a first-class degree in photography, and went on to specialise in photographic studies of bare-knuckle fighters.
Unsurprisingly, Journeyman can feel like a love letter to the lowly community boxing gym, as opposed to the high-priced, white-collar training facility.
“I wanted to acknowledge boxing,” says Considine. “How it changes so many people’s lives. I’ve seen people go into boxing gyms and develop character and discipline and all those things. There’s a sense of community around boxing clubs. I gravitated toward boxing when I was around 18 years old. My friend was an amateur and then he turned pro.
Different kind of breed
“The pull, for me, was just being around boxing people. They’re a different kind of breed. For a character like Matty, the gym is the only place he feels at home. It’s a hard thing to walk away from.”
In preparation for the role, Considine trained with Dominic Ingle, the son of Irish boxing manager Brendan Ingle, and the head trainer at the Sheffield gym that has produced such champions as Billy Joe Saunders, Naseem Hamed, Junior Witter and Kell Brook. The 12-week bootcamp was tough, says the actor, but playing the post-injury Matty was a far more daunting task.
Considine duly visited the brain injury charity Headway in Henley-on-Thames and consulted with Headway’s chief executive Peter McCabe and various specialist surgeons.
“I had a lot of different resources,” says Considine. “I watched a doc about Edwyn Collins called The Possibilities Are Endless. I think that’s a great film about memory and presence and the fragility and the potential of the mind. The main thing I did was went to Headway and just sat with people with brain injuries: just chatted with them and heard their stories. But it was quite frightening.
“I shot the film as chronologically as I could. So even on the day when Matty is leaving the hospital and his wife is taking him home, I still wasn’t completely certain how I was going to play him. Nobody had seen that version of Matty on set before. It was quite shocking for people.”
Against this, Journeyman remains respectful of the sport it depicts. By Considine’s fictionalised account, the dangers are outweighed by camaraderie.
“I just wanted to tell an authentic story,” he says. “Boxing is a very masculine sport but I didn’t want to make a masculine film, not in the puffed out chest way. It’s a film about a man battling his personal demons and friendship and loss of self. And how the only people that really matter in your life are the people around you that love you. There’s a kind of grieving that goes on around Matty and people grieve differently.”
Considine (44) was born in Staffordshire, where he still lives. He lost both parents relatively young: his Irish father died of cancer just before Considine went to New York to make 2002’s In America with Jim Sheridan. He has been with his wife Shelley since he was 18 years old.
As a teenager, he played in bands and wrote to the BBC to inquire about acting.
“I was a baby when punk was happening,” he says. “But I had older siblings and that ethos – that anyone could get a guitar and smash the shit out of it – was still around. Most kids around our way started bands in their shed. But acting didn’t feel that accessible. It seemed like you had to get selected for it or that you had to live in a certain postcode. So I wrote to the BBC and they encouraged me to join a local youth theatre and I thought: yeah, fair enough.”
In 1999, he made his screen debut when his friend, the indie British film-maker Shane Meadows, cast him in A Room for Romeo Brass. He went on to star in Dead Man’s Shoes, which he co-wrote with Meadows, giving a performance that would see him named Best Actor at the Empire Awards and the Evening Standard British Film Awards.
As a writer and director Considine’s first short film, Dog Altogether, won the Silver Lion at Venice in 2007. His hard-hitting debut feature, Tyrannosaur, saw him named Best Director at Sundance in 2011.
“Earlier on in my career I was contributing a lot of stuff to other people’s films. I was writing and improvising for a lot of them and I thought: What am I doing here? I’m giving away all my ideas. I wasn’t particularly confident in my ability as an actor. I thought maybe I was one of those guys like Alex Ferguson; that I’d be better in management than I was as a player. I felt very insecure about acting, so I thought I’d be happier behind the camera.”
Considine describes himself as a bit of an anomaly, and his squeamishness about acting, a profession that has earned him rave write-ups and hatfuls of awards, is typical of his incongruities.
As an actor, he has segued, seemingly effortlessly between comedies, (including Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz and The World’s End); biography (playing New Order manager Rob Gretton in 24 Hour Party People); literary adaptation (ITV’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and The Girl with All the Gifts) and Shakespeare (playing Banquo to Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth in Justin Kurzel’s 2015 adaptation).
He doesn’t do auditions and he has turned down Marvel Studios, and yet he has dabbled in the studio system, with roles in Cinderella Man (2005) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).
“Hollywood isn’t everything,” he says. “There’s this illusion that that’s where it’s all at. But it’s not. I’ve had some nice experiences on those films. I always have nice meetings and stuff when I’m over there. But I’m not that interested. I want to be in interesting films with good material. I’ve never really felt the lure of the big film. And I can’t remember the last big film I’ve seen that I thought was any good.”
In 2011, following years of anxiety, Considine was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He was subsequently discovered to have Irlen syndrome, a condition that has links with autism, one that makes it difficult for him to process light. These days, he wears special lenses or glasses to offset the effects of the disorder.
“I was crippled by it”, he says. “It’s still there. I find a lot of situations scary that are simple for other people. I did a play last year and I nearly walked away from it several times. I was in an environment with about 20 people that I didn’t know. It took me weeks to settle in. The lights in the room affected me, I was twitchy. I wasn’t very communicative. I was absolutely terrified.
“If it wasn’t for Sam Mendes, I would have walked. It’s important to feel safe. And I think that affects how I treat the actors I work with. I want them to feel safe, too. I’m not a great believer in creating an environment where everyone feels on edge. I am who I am and my filter is what it is. I can only deal with the world as it in my head. I try to think of the way I receive information as something unique, as a kind of a gift.”
Between films he continues to tour with his band, Riding The Low. It’s another curveball from a man who has often said he’s terrified of being famous.
“These are the things I’m good at and that I enjoy,” he says. “I’ve always said that if I could paint, I’d paint and get it out that way. But I can’t paint, I can’t draw.”
He laughs: “I can just about write my name.”
- Journeyman is on release now.
Five knockout boxing movies
Raging Bull (1980): Let’s not try and be too clever. Still shocking after close to 40 years, Scorsese’s study of Jake LaMotta is one of the great analyses of toxic masculinity,
Rocky (1976)/Creed (2015): We’re cheating here. The Rocky series had some highs and many very lowly lows. But the first and (for now) last film in the sequence are irresistible crowd-pleasers.
Champion (1949): This story of ambition and corruption launched at least three great Hollywood careers. Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman, both future Oscar winners, produced and wrote. Kirk Douglas starred as the ruthless Midge Kelly. Still gripping.
When We Were Kings (1996): It began as a music flick, you know? Leon Gast and Taylor Hackford’s documentary on Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s Rumble in the Jungle features some of the greatest talking heads ever. “What a fighter he was … and what a man,” George Plimpton says of Ali.
Fat City (1972): Like many of John Huston’s later films, Fat City – derived from a Leonard Gardner novel – got just a little bit lost in the post-classical Hollywood mix. Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges hustle in a down-at-heel corner of the fight scene.