View Full Version : A suitably terrifying encounter with Britain's hardest actor

11-30-2008, 01:36 PM
Ray Winstone unleashed: A suitably terrifying encounter with Britain's hardest actor

And the man who is as quintessentially British as a full fry-up from a greasy spoon is now considering the possibility that he may well pack up and leave these shores for good.

Drugs, crime, taxes, politicians, benefit abuse...and Amy Winehouse - just some of the reasons why Ray Winstone's leaving Britain (and we thought it was going to be just another celebrity interview)Friday night, and Ray Winstone has just spent several hours on a train and is on his way to ‘finish up a couple of jobs’.

But he’s knackered and the only place he wants to be is behind the wheel of his classic E-type Jag, pulling into the pebbled drive of his Essex home. So it’s no wonder that he’s having what he calls ‘a bit of a moan’.

But what starts off as a little dig soon turns into a veritable torrent. Ray isn’t happy with the thing he loves most in the world: England.

‘I mean, don’t get me wrong,’ he says. ‘This is not something you want to do. Every time I get on a plane the thing I love is that moment when the captain announces we’re flying over England.

'You open the shutters on your little window and you look down at all those miles of green fields and think: “This is it. This is England. This is the greatest, most beautiful country in the world.”’
He shakes his head and sighs. ‘But it’s just not great any more, is it?’ He pauses.

‘Let’s be honest. This country isn’t going to the dogs. It’s gone to the dogs. We’re a mess. And do I really want to live in this mess any more? I feel bad saying it, but I’m just not sure.’

At 51, Winstone – blissfully married to Elaine and proud father of Lois, 25, Jaime, 23, and seven-year-old Ellie – should be one of the happiest men in the country. He even has his own personal ‘boozer’ in his garden. But he’s not.
‘This is the dream, isn’t it?’ he says with his growly laugh that can switch from cuddly to menacing in a split-second.

‘You work your nuts off, you get to have a nice life. But the way the British tax system is, it’s like you work your nuts off and then they give you a big kick in them. It gets to the point where you start to think you can’t afford to live in your own country.’

'Britain's gone to the dogs. Do I really want to live in this mess any more?'

He pauses. ‘I mean, what’s going on? What is this congestion charge? So we get our road tax and then we get taxed again? It’s nonsense. The more you work, the more they get you. It’s like you get penalised for working hard.’

It should be noted that in the Eighties, Winstone was bankrupted for not paying his taxes. He smiles.

‘Yeah, yeah. I got in a mess. All my fault. Sticky times. But I paid all my dues. Worked my nuts off to do it. I’m not a bankrupt any more. So I know what I’m talking about.’
Winstone is one of Britain’s most successful actors. He has the voice, the presence, the experience and the skill to switch from villain to hero in a heartbeat.

Scorsese loves him (he cast him in The Departed), Spielberg raves about him (he has a big role in this year’s Indiana Jones movie), but what Hollywood sees in him is, as Robert Zemeckis, who picked him for Beowulf, says: ‘That tough, stripped-down sensibility that the great British actors have. He’s authentic, salt of the earth.’

The son of a black-cab driver, born in the East End of London, Winstone started out as a boxer (‘I won 80 out of 88 fights’) and punched and kicked his way into acting. Back then it was only prejudice he had to fight.

‘At acting school people didn’t speak like me. It was all received pronunciation – ’ow now brown cow.’

He set his Julius Caesar in an East End pub and got zero out of ten. Within a year he was expelled from drama school.

‘I didn’t fit in,’ he says. ‘But I just had something to prove.’
In 1979 came his breakthrough role in Scum (‘Who’s the Daddy?’ was his iconic line) followed swiftly by Quadrophenia. Gritty roles in films such as Nil By Mouth, The War Zone, Sexy Beast, King Arthur and, his personal favourite, the TV mini-series Henry VIII.
‘I was told by the director not to give any of the other actors eye contact because kings didn’t do that. I said, “F*** that. If I’m the king of England I want to eyeball everyone. I want to see my enemies, look right into their eyes, just like a boxer in the ring.”’
Right now he’s working on three projects – a remake of The Sweeney (he plays Jack Regan), Last Of The Ninth, a TV pilot of a police drama set in New York, and a film remake of the Eighties’ TV series Edge Of Darkness.