The Reluctant Hero – Paddy Considine
Paddy Considine, one of Britain’s most respected actors, is now a director. But that doesn’t mean he wants his picture taken
Paddy is fazed by Rankin’s studio, a vast white space teeming with mysterious activity that seems more like a small Hoxton republic than a photographic studio. Fashion here is both arch and effortless; everyone has a ‘look’, and the fact that it’s not uniform is initially baffling to the casual eye. In the middle of this hipster maelstrom stands Paddy Considine, the actor who broke out in his friend Shane Meadows’ dark drama Dead Man’s Shoes to become one of the major British actors of the 2000s. Now 38, Considine has a face that should be familiar, if not famous, to almost everyone, thanks to major roles in British indies and minor parts in Hollywood studio films. But the word that does not readily apply to the intense and oddly handsome Midlander is celebrity.
This is what the stylist discovers when she presents Considine with a rack of clothes for him to peruse. But today fashion is not weighing heavily on his mind. Some hours earlier, the Bafta shortlist was announced, and to many people’s surprise Considine’s debut film Tyrannosaur simply scraped a nod for Outstanding British Debut. Considine hides his disappointment well, but feels bad for his stars – Peter Mullen and Olivia Colman – who many feel gave two of last year’s best performances in the actor/director’s tender tale of a violent, dog-beating drunk who befriends a battered housewife, whose abusive husband (Eddie Marsan) leads a double life to his friends.
As we settle to talk, Considine admits that the promotional process is not something he readily enjoys.
“It’s just a bit of an alien world to me,” he grins. “I sit at home, and requests come through for things, and people convince me it’s for my film and all the rest of it. ‘Cos I’m not here for me, I don’t need to be in front of 20 people being photographed. So I go, ‘Yep, I’ll do that’. And then when I get there, I think, ‘What were you thinking? What were you thinking, boy?’ This is just so alien. So alien.” He laughs. “I wish I could just join the fun. But I can’t!”
Let’s start by looking back on 2011. Tyrannosaur premiered this time last year at Sundance, and now it’s out on DVD. Did you expect the time to go by so fast?
It’s flown by. My only regret is that I should have put a lot of things to the side and dedicated myself to writing, as opposed to being on the treadmill. But I don’t know. I think Sundance was quite significant, and getting the awards there was some achievement. The response has been, very largely, great.
A lot of people understood the spirit of the movie and understood that I wasn’t making some sort of torturous pornography for middle-class curtain-twitchers. I wanted to make a film about human beings in extreme circumstances. So it’s been good in that respect. The disappointment? Yeah, nobody went to see it. As predicted, really. Despite what you do to publicise it and all that stuff. People feel it’s so important but it didn’t really make a lot of difference, at least in my eyes, and we’ve really had some great will from people. But people didn’t go and watch the film. It’s a shame. It’ll go down in history as one of those films that people will discover along the way.
But the good thing about a film that takes its time to find an audience is that it never outstays its welcome.
Yeah. It’s a blessing. It’s OK. It’ll still be around in 15 or 20 years time, I think. Which is great.
What kind of reactions did you get?
Largely it was people who really felt quite a spiritual reaction. They understood what the film was. I look at my work, and I think if there’s a common theme then it’s about people in a state of… becoming, if you like. In a state of change. And that’s what Tyrannosaur was. It was about – well, one part of it was about – a man who starts to feel part of his higher self beginning to take over, because the hate is consuming him so much, while the loneliness and the depression is hurting him. It’s making him more and more destructive. And that’s not a place that you can live in for too long as a human being. And for me the film was about that spiritual change in him. Without being religious or anything. And a lot of people responded like that. One or two people tried to make a controversy out of the dog situation, when it didn’t really exist. Anyone with any intelligence would know we were making a movie. No animals were hurt, it’s just a depiction. You’re not going to arrest Eddie Marsan for rape. (Laughs.) Do you know what I mean? It’s been fine. Some people thought it was a kind of putrid movie that was created as some kind of pornography for people that daren’t leave their front gardens, which it wasn’t. If I’ve learned anything, it’s not about making films. It’s just that all that stuff’s out of my control. I can only make my films for the right reasons. I just hoped all along that I was never using the situations in the movie manipulatively, in a way that was trying to shock people. Or using them clumsily. Because it does happen. People use situations and circumstances clumsily.
On second viewing, it’s not actually a particularly violent film. It creates a violent impact but there isn’t much on screen.
Yeah, It’s not there. But that’s always how it works. It’s like the shark in Jaws – it works until you see it. But, yeah, it’s not. I never wanted to make that film, and I never spent a long time on those moments on set, directing. Two takes tops for some of the tough stuff, and I only went again if I had to. Which I don’t think happened.
It’s out of view. I’m not interested in someone devouring somebody else’s breast or ripping off their underwear. The power of what your mind does is always far more powerful than what you see. But let’s not mess about here. We’re not talking about a cool, good-looking lead actor, fast cars and an 80s soundtrack – Drive is the most violent film of the year that I’ve seen. I don’t know why it’s palatable in one sense and not in another. That’s a mystery to me. That’s not a comment on Drive, it’s more about what people are willing to accept and digest. People were quite willing to accept what they saw in that film. Which was pretty cruel, man.
So what were the reactions you had?
Well, on the one hand you’ve got the Daily Mail reviewer who’s basically repulsed by the film. But the victory for me is when you do a screening and a guy comes up afterwards and he says, ‘I work for the police force in Derby and I work for the unit that deals with domestic abuse. And we deal with that kind of situation – that kind of manipulation – all the time’. We did a screening in Manchester and a couple of women came up and said, ‘Can we show this in prisons to men and women who are victims and who have carried out this kind of abuse?’ It’s when people like that say, ‘You’ve got that dead-on,’ that you take something away from it.
How many times have you seen it now? Is it easy to watch?
No. I watched it before we went out to Sundance with the cast and crew. I loved it. I loved what we’d done. I thought it was just a simple, brutal, honest machine. And I said goodbye to it then, really. It was over then. And I haven’t really felt anything about it ever since.
You seemed to be on edge at the Sundance premiere.
I was. I was afraid. I was afraid of what the reaction would be. I was genuinely afraid of people hating it. And getting it wrong. I wanted them to… I dunno what I wanted really. I was just afraid. I should have said, ‘Fuck you I don’t care what anybody thinks’, but for some reason I really did.
Tyrannosaur went round the world after Sundance. Were you prepared for that? Because it’s the side of things you don’t like.
Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for it going on so long. (His phone pings.) Fuckin’ ell! Everyone’s going on about these Baftas. It’s like, fucking outrage!
Tyrannosaur as a British film and Olivia as an actress. Not even a nomination for her. Look, it’s not about that. I’m having to counsel people and go, ‘Look, it’s OK, it’s out of our power. Don’t worry about it. We’ve had a good year. Just… everybody relax.’ (Laughs.)
Did you deal with the whole promotional process by yourself? Or did you ask for advice?
About the press? The whole promotion thing? Don’t get me wrong, there’s people I don’t mind talking to, and I understand how it works, I just found a lot of it quite unnecessary. When we turned up at the Toronto film festival, everybody was packing up – we were literally everybody’s last interview. You feel like a second-class citizen in some way. Everybody just wants to go home. It went well, it seems. But… I don’t really know anything. I still don’t understand how all this shit works. I don’t know what’s a success – what makes a success or a failure. There’s films I’ve seen advertised recently with good reviews that still didn’t make a penny.
Like Kill List?
Kill List didn’t make it. Warrior didn’t make it. I don’t know what people want. Part of you thinks that our own industry doesn’t want our films! (Laughs) That stuff that’s come out lately, with the Tories talking about filmmaking, you feel like you’re being squeezed out. Nobody really wants us.
Perhaps people are in a climate were they don’t want to see movies about reality.
That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine! But that’s not a reason why films like Tyrannosaur shouldn’t get fucking made. People will start saying, ‘Oh no, we can’t go near this, I’m afraid. It’s too much.’
So how was the dayjob going during this time?
Fine, because, at best, it’s a six-week commitment or something like that. So it’s not too bad. That didn’t seem to be problematic. I just felt that, as a director, I wanted to get into that cycle of having a film completed, then getting into production on the next one. And last year left this great gap that’s here now, which means I’ll be lucky to get behind the camera again this year. Very lucky. I’ve got to move fast. It’s not easy balancing it all.
Do you ever ask Shane for advice? He’s made a significant move from film to TV…
I don’t really, no. But I totally understand where Shane is at. He’s made so many feature films. He’s gone on that treadmill. Y’know, you’ve gone halfway round the world, you’ve done what everyone’s asked of you – and you’re still struggling to get funded for your next movie. I totally understand the attraction of television. It’s quick, and you don’t have to do any work other than the directing and the editing. There’s a part of you that wonders what it takes to break in, in a way. You can be paranoid, thinking there’s some kind of secret society – the Illuminati of cinema – where some people are allowed entry and some aren’t. (Laughs) But at the bottom of it, you’ve gotta ask yourself, ‘What do you want? Do you want to be part of that? Do you want that? Really???’ Well, I don’t fucking want that. Do I want to make films like Tyrannosaur? In terms of brutally honest, pure cinema. Do I want to do that? Yeah!
So what kind of films will you make?
I’m not gonna make Tyrannosaur again. The next film won’t be like Tyrannosaur. I’m not recycling ideas. I’m not telling the same story using the same plots and twists. Tyrannosaur had to be what it was. It couldn’t be anything else. I do struggle. Do I really wanna do this job? Do I want this career? Tyrannosaur was the purest, truest expression. Eddie Marsan called it my testimony. And it kind of is. Part of me thinks, ‘Why should I make another movie?’ Because now it’s just about making movies. I’m just ‘making films’.
Did you feel exposed, promoting it?
It’s my own fault. The advice Gary Oldman gave to me was, “Don’t tell them it’s autobiographical, as they’ll think that’s your life up there.” And it’s hard to make that distinction with people. I say to them, ‘It’s my interpretation of life. Not the life under my roof, but around me’. I feel a fool for thinking I should have spoken about how personal it was. I feel slightly ashamed, for the reason that you shouldn’t give too much away.
So what did you do?
I did a film with Dakota Fanning, called Now Is Good. Don’t know how that’s turned out. At the end of the year I did a film called Honour. (Pause.) Who knows?
Did that keep your mind off things?
Well, you can’t take your mind off it. I was never so involved before. I’d go to film festivals with Shane, and he’d be on a knife edge with his nerves. I understood, as much as I could. It was never a problem. But it’s different when you’ve directed something. When I went out there myself, I realised how he felt. It stands and falls on your shoulders. When you’ve written it, when you’ve raised it, it’s a different experience. It’s quite a frightening one. I don’t really know why I’m doing this, really. Any of it.
I guess for money now. Which is horrible to say. But when I sit down and think about it, sometimes I think (sighs), ‘It’s just money. It’s a payday. It’s a living. It’s a better living that yer dad had or yer brother’s got’. But there’s a point where you go, ‘I’m not having this. I’m sick of the mediocrity. I’m sick of what people think is good.’ I honestly am.
Are you bothered by people’s assumptions about what success actually is?
For years I was tortured by friends saying to me, ‘You should be this as an actor, you should be in these movies, why aren’t you working with so-and-so? You should be a star.’ And I’d be going, ‘Maybe it’s happened. Maybe that’s it.’ I don’t wanna walk down the street and be mobbed. What more do I want? (Pause.) I’m just a load of contradictions, most of the time. (Laughs) In the past, I found a lot of my depressions came from what people have expected of me, and not what I expected of myself!
What’s happening with The Leaning, the script you were planning to follow Tyrannosaur with?
I’ve written it. There’s some good scenes. It was a ghost story. People who read it think it’s good. They know it’s not finished. I don’t think it’s that good. It’s got some great moments in it, great moments that make you go Ohhh…. (He mimes a shudder.) But I don’t think it hangs together. It could if I’d carried on writing it, but… (Laughs.) I don’t know any more. I don’t know anything.
That seems to be a recurring phrase…
It does, doesn’t it? Just call it that: I Don’t Know. But I don’t. (Laughs.) I know fuck-all, me.