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The Sweeney - Ray Winstone interview

The Sweeney

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RAY Winstone talks about stepping into the shoes of John Thaw in The Sweeney, becoming an unlikely sex symbol and wearing yellow underpants.

He also talks about working with co-star Ben Drew and learning from him, his own past experiences of working with John Thaw and why he would be up for a sequel. He was speaking at the London press conference for the film…

Q. What was your memory of The Sweeney?
Ray Winstone: For me, because I am old enough to remember it, I remember it very well because it was kind of groundbreaking TV at the time. You had Dixon of Dock Green and Softly, Softly, which were great shows in their own right, but this was probably the first show that I can remember that came on TV that was down and dirty if you like. I think we could all kind of relate to it… or I could. So, it was kind of real on TV. I think it was probably groundbreaking all over the world. Now, you have shows like The Wire in America and HBO stuff that are making kind of the same sort of stuff. It may be updated but it all kind of, for me, came from The Sweeney.

Q. You have some fairly intimate scenes early on in the film. Is that one of the perks of being an executive producer?
Ray Winstone: Um, the terminology of executive producer means you do absolutely nothing. I don’t know what it is. You put your name onto a film, and I’m very proud to have my name on this film, but as for developing the film other than from an actor’s point of view, I had nothing to do with it. That was down to Vertigo, Chris and all the people there. They put this film together and, I must say as well, I’ve worked on some British films, which I love doing, but the way they’re distributing the film has been far better than on anything else I’ve worked on. For once, I’ve worked on a film where they know how to sell it. The rest is up to the public whether they like it or not, but they have really put it together very, very well. But that has nothing to do with me. My name’s just there.

Q. After Beowulf, did you see Jack Regan as the latest stage in helping to establish yourself as a rugged sex symbol?
Ray Winstone: As a sex symbol, I don’t know what is appealing to women. I’m a 55-year-old fat man, you know? I think it’s the way you treat women that makes you sexy if you like. You’ve got to be genuine, you’ve got to be… I don’t know, a bit of a gentleman and a bit of a rogue at the same time. But if you try and set out to be that then you’re not going to achieve it. I don’t know how that works. Ask the ladies. But if I am, then fantastic!

Q. Those boxer shorts… unusual colour! Were you hoping to set a new trend in fashion or were you wearing them for a bet?
Ray Winstone: I’ve got a piece of advice for you, don’t wear yellow when you’re in a sweaty room all day! They were the only underpants I had on and I like yellow underpants!

Q. Did you gain anything from working with Ben Drew and if so, what was it?
Ray Winstone: Money [laughs]! Yeah, you always learn and that goes for everyone here. For me, I don’t always turn up for work 100% sure of what I’m going to do or how I’m going to go about it. I think you’re thinking about it all the time. But with people like Ben, and especially with young actors who come along, they’re so far in front of what we were at that age and probably still are at my age now. I’ve worked with some great young actors. And it kind of reminds you… it ups your game, for starters. It kind of reminds you of the basics that you forget about. Where I used to run around the block to get yourself into a thing, you kind of get into a mode where you haven’t got to do that anymore and you think you can just switch that on because you’ve learnt how to do that. But sometimes you lose something by forgetting that and that memory comes back to you, so you start going back to your basic stuff and why you’ve gone on… they’re the reasons you went on. I’m not saying I do press ups and run a mile around the block, because I’d be too knackered to actually do the scene, but it’s just that basic technique you learned when you were a young man that stands you in good stead.

It’s really just about life, too, and the way the world works now. We sometimes get lost in a bubble… when you get to a certain age you’re always thinking about the old days and how it wasn’t like that then. Well, yeah, that’s great and it’s very nostalgic and all that, but actually the world has moved on. We had many times where we’d just sit down and have a chat about what’s happening in the world. I’m lucky enough to have a kid with me who is actually really intellectually up with what’s going on in the world and actually puts his money where his mouth is and goes and does something about it; he goes and talks about it. It livens you up a bit and it brings you into the 21st Century.

Q. How was shooting the Trafalgar Square sequence?
Ray Winstone: Well, playing with guns you revert to a little boy sometimes. But they’re not great things to play with, so it’s just making them look real. When it comes to shooting guns or using any prop, you’ve got to make it look like you know what you’re doing with them. It’s called acting. You haven’t got to be a gunslinger. The camera kind of does that. And you trust your director.

Q. You mentioned earlier that you were in an episode of The Sweeney as a young actor. Did you get to work with John Thaw other than that?
Ray Winstone: Yeah, I was lucky enough to work with John on four separate occasions. I did a short film with him called Masculine Mescaline. I was in Kavanagh QC with John. There was something else. But I liked him as a man as well as an actor. He was a fantastic actor and an icon. But that was one of the things when it came to doing this… I thought ‘how do you follow that’? How do you make it even as good? But you can’t, so you have to try and re-invent it and make it your own.

I remember realising something at that point. I was rehearsing Nil By Mouth at the time and I was doing a play at the Royal Court and I had a really bad day on Kavanagh. I had this long 15 minute scene and I couldn’t remember a line. My brain just switched off and I was gone, I was dead. It was my body saying: “I’ve had enough.” I remember the extras at the end of the night thanking me for giving them another four hours of work! It’s a confidence killer. I had a great director who said: “No, listen, you’re alright. Tomorrow is another day.” And John Thaw was terrific about it even though I had made the day very long. But the next day I came back and I was fine. It was probably one of the best scenes I’ve ever done as an actor. But watching him as a man who had so much dialogue every day to learn… he’d go to his Winnebago to do it and people would start to say ‘he’s not very sociable’. But I think that’s what happens when you carry a show or a film on your shoulders. You actually do go and lock yourself away because you have to, in order to be on the ball. But he was a complete and utter professional and I kind of learned something from that [and how he was with me]. He was a very special man.

Q. Would you be up for a sequel?
Ray Winstone: I’d jump at the chance, without a shadow of a doubt. I enjoy making films and some experiences are better than others. Most of the time they’re great experiences… but turning up to go to work on this every day was an absolute pleasure and that comes from the top. It comes from your director and your first assistant, right the way through the cast. You look forward to going to work in the morning. So, I’ll have it every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But don’t hold me to that because I like my Sunday dinner!

Read our review of The Sweeney

Read our interview with Ben Drew