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44 Inch Chest - Ray Winstone interview

44 Inch Chest

Compiled by Jack Foley

SINCE he emerged to great acclaim in Alan Clarke’s Scum 30 years ago, Ray Winstone has become one of Britain’s busiest and most popular screen actors. Key highlights in his film career include Nil By Mouth, The War Zone, Sexy Beast, Last Orders, Cold Mountain, The Proposition, The Departed, Beowulf and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

In 44 Inch Chest – out on DVD and Blu-ray on May 10, 2010 – he plays Colin, whose life is turned upside down when his wife Liz (Joanne Whalley) reveals that she is leaving him for her young French lover (Melvil Poupaud). He reacts violently, and his close knit group of friends (played by Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane) rally round to offer their support. They kidnap the cuckold, whom they call Loverboy, and in a deserted house spend the evening deciding what terrible revenge to take upon him.

In our interview with Ray Winstone, the actor talks about the challenges of making the film as well as some of its themes…

Q. How long have you been connected with 44 Inch Chest?
Ray Winstone: I was aware of the script about seven or eight years ago, after Sexy Beast because it’s by the same writers, Louis Mellis and David Scinto. I love their writing, so I got hold of it and read it. We knew it was going to be a very difficult film to make anyway because it feels like a stage play in some ways. That’s where director Malcolm Venville came in. It’s staged the way it is because it’s in someone’s head, a lot of it. Whether you get that when you watch the film is kind of irrelevant, in a way.

Q. You and Ian McShane were pitching the script to potential financiers weren’t you?
Ray Winstone: It took quite a while to get the film off the ground, between me and Ian McShane. I was punting it a lot. You go into places and they ask what you’ve got and you say you’ve got this. I was sitting in the Chateau Marmont in LA one day having a drink, as you do, and I came across Richard Brown, who became one of the producers on the film. He asked what I had and I showed him this. The title alone gets people interested because they think they’re going to get a gangster film.

He said: “Send it to me.” So, I did. Then my agent in America also represents Malcolm, so that’s how I met him. He’s got some soul, which I think the film needed, and it all kind of fell into place from there. That’s how your luck goes sometimes, you meet the right person in the right place, and it kind of took off. But it was still a very difficult film to make in a way because you’re in one location most of the time.

Q. That’s true, the story unfolds in one dingy room with this group of guys goading each other on to do something nasty to Loverboy, doesn’t it?
Ray Winstone: It’s very difficult to stage that. How many times can you move people around a room without it feeling like you’re looking out front and staging a play? But I think Malcolm achieved it with his vision and his eye for film.

Q. Did you enjoy your role as producer on this?
Ray Winstone: Not really. I like doing what I do. I’m an executive producer, which means you don’t get paid basically, but I’m very proud to be associated with this kind of film. To be a part of it from the beginning, that’s an accolade that me and Ian McShane deserve. So that’s okay, I can live with that. The process of actually making the film, and turning up every day and going to work with the talent that we had around us was phenomenal.

Q. As far as the casting goes, did you quickly settle on the actors that you ended up with?
Ray Winstone: There were a lot of people approached to play these parts. Some read the script and didn’t get it, or didn’t like it. They didn’t like the language, for whatever reasons, and that’s fine as well. My Dad would probably say: “What do I want to go to the cinema and listen to swearing for?” I think the film’s got a lot more in it than that, that just happens to be the way people speak in certain places.

Q. How do you address the issue of the strong language in the film, and the dark implications of the action?
Ray Winstone: To me it’s like listening to Shakespeare in a way, without the five beats. There’s something very poetic about the way these boys write, I just wish there were more writers like them. Sometimes all you hear about a script is that an actor gets it and strips it and strips it and all that’s left is the visuals. That’s fantastic, that’s cinema, but it’s also great to listen to the words. I love films like A Man For All Seasons… Robert Bolt wrote a script that stands up today and that’s all dialogue. Okay this is a working man’s version, dare I say it, it’s a film that hopefully keeps you locked in on the dialogue because visually there’s nowhere else you can go other than that room. But I think it’s shot in a way that complements it.

Q. In the end, it’s a film about conscience isn’t it?
Ray Winstone: It’s about conscience, it’s about a man having a breakdown, and a man who loves someone too much. It’s a really funny subject, one I haven’t seen before. It’s a very different film than any I’ve seen before, about actually smothering someone you love. In a way it reminds me a lot of The War Zone, a film I did about incest. It’s getting to know someone within the film and maybe feeling sorry for them. Seeing the pain he’s in through that love, and then finding out what he actually did – and asking yourself how you feel about him afterwards.

44 Inch Chest

Q. How was it for Melvil Poupaud, playing the French guy on the receiving end of some brutal treatment?
Ray Winstone: Several people were offered the part, it really needed a fine actor and a brave actor as well, to come in and not speak a word. It’s all physical, it’s all body language. Originally, it was going to be an Italian waiter, but there’s something about the French [chuckles]. Melvil’s a talent, a big star in France, so it was a very brave thing for him to come and do this, sitting there and listening to us waffle on all day with a bag on his head.

Q. Was it not intense for you too, playing a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown?
Ray Winstone: That’s the thing about the part, because from beginning to end you’re in a certain state, with this nervous breakdown. He’s getting worse and worse as the film goes on. That’s the killer, really. But I kind of enjoy being intense because I’m not that intense when I’m not working. Of course it was tiring. By the time I finished I was completely shattered but that’s only for a couple of days. Whenever you finish a job and your holiday’s about to start your body knows it and turns off for a while.”

Q. The drama turns on your character’s marital crisis so it’d be interesting to know if your wife Elaine has seen it?
Ray Winstone: No, not yet. I never tell my wife about my films. The only one I ever spoke to her about was The War Zone for obvious reasons. I’m a dad, I’ve got three daughters, and there’s repercussions with films like that. But other than I like her to go and watch the film and then make her own mind up at the end of it. I think she’ll love the film, actually.

Q. Do you think she’ll agree with the sentiment that real love is hard work?
Ray Winstone: Yeah, love is hard work. I’ve been married 30 years, and you have your moments and your rows and at times you can’t stand one another, but I’m a bit old fashioned. We come from that age, where you work at that and you get over that and become mates again and love one another again. I can be overbearing I suppose, but I love a cuddle. I like to be cuddled, there’s nothing wrong with that but that can be overbearing at the wrong time. So, I kind of understand that, over loving someone because you want them back.

Q. The film also conveys the complex relationship between these five friends doesn’t it, with a lot unsaid, and issues underlying their threatened abuse of their kidnap victim?
Ray Winstone: I think you get to know them as the film goes on, what they’re about. It’s that thing of your mates egging you on: “Who is he? Do the bastard!” Some people do it and some don’t, without giving too much away. They’re all geezers. When the time comes, it takes a certain sort of man – if you want to call him a man – to kill someone, or hurt someone. There’s people who are capable of that, but do you put them in the same category as another human being? I don’t know.

44 Inch Chest

Q. How did Joanne Whalley feel as the only woman on set?
Ray Winstone: She’s a top girl. She’s one of the geezers, a stunning girl and a great actress. I love her to death.

Q. How did you feel about your character, Colin, by the end of the film?
Ray Winstone: I felt for him, I did, even with what he did I felt for him. He can be a bit of pussy can’t he, over loving. But there for the grace of God can go anyone of us, I guess.

Q. Does it seem curious to you now that you’re able to use your name to help get films like this made and at the same go off to work with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese?
Ray Winstone: Crazy, innit?

Q. Is this the kind of stuff you’d never have dared dream of when you were starting out?
Ray Winstone: I wouldn’t have even thought about it, it didn’t even enter my head. Getting a film like Scum, when I was 17 or 18, I didn’t even understand what it was. I was playing this geezer in a film. I had no idea, no concept of that or where it would take me. I’d have loved it, loved to have been a film actor, but people like me didn’t do that.

Q. Did you not even take someone like Michael Caine as your example?
Ray Winstone: He was a great influence, I love Michael Caine. And then later on Bob Hoskins and all that. But I never put myself into that bracket because they were real actors, proper actors, good actors. I never saw myself as that because I suppose it was all a little bit of a game.

Q. Was there a moment when you suddenly considered yourself as having ‘made it’ as a film actor yourself?
Ray Winstone: I could never believe I’d be on a film set at all, let alone one with Scorsese or Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. I like them, and they’re really talented boys. And just down to working with Malcolm Venville on this, they’re geniuses, really clever people. You’re just a cog in that wheel going along, and hopefully you’ll become a part of that and help make the film they want to make and help turn it into something special. I think you feel like that on any film you do.”

Q. How does Hollywood regard you, do you think?
Ray Winstone: A little fat geezer from the East End! I don’t know, I get a really good reception there. It’s almost like they understand me more than the industry does here, I get that vibe about it but that’s okay. They look at us English actors with a lot of respect, you know, and they’re ready to take a bit more of a chance on the parts that we play. Here you have to create the work for yourself, and then it can be a little bit cruel, but that’s life.

Read our interview with Malcolm Venville