As Paddy Considine promotes his first film behind the camera, he tells James Mottram he isn't always entirely in creative control
The last time I saw Paddy Considine, he was 'in character'. It was the Edinburgh premiere for Shane Meadows' low-fi 2009 comedy Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee, and at a suitably low-key church hall, the post-screening party was in full swing. Dressed in a beanie hat, with long hair and a snarl of his lips, Considine beetled around the venue as Le Donk, the rowdy roadie he first devised at college with Meadows. Singing, signing autographs (as Le Donk, of course), he was in his element.
Today, when we meet again at London's Soho Hotel, the mood is a mite more sombre. His hair slicked back and his chin covered in stubble, he's dressed in jeans, black motorbike boots, a white T-shirt and a charcoal jacket. A pair of glasses hangs from his top and, as he fidgets in the chair opposite me, he plays nervously with a comb. You can sense the discomfort; here to promote his first film as director, Tyrannosaur, there's to be no hiding beneath a wig and a comedy cap.
However awkward he finds the art of self-promotion, Considine (37) is honest to the hilt. "I don't get the buzz of acting all the time," he tells me, "and it's my own fault. I've got a mortgage and three kids, and I've chosen a life and it means I have to do jobs to get paid every year. It's a funny journey with me. I don't want to sound like the moaning guy. But I guess there's always been a slight disconnection with acting. I love certain projects. But when I've had to pay the bills, well, they just always seem to be the jobs that aren't particularly good."
Fortunately, there aren't too many of those on his CV. From his vengeful sibling in Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes to his criminal-turned-Christian in My Summer of Love and even his new-age mystic in this year's Submarine, Considine's cult following is considerable. There have been Hollywood excursions too -- as a loving husband and father in Jim Sheridan's Irish immigrant tale In America, as Russell Crowe's chum in boxing yarn Cinderella Man and a luckless journalist in The Bourne Ultimatum. But the past two years have seen his interest in acting give way to directing.
Thankfully, Tyrannosaur is no vanity project. A story of an unlikely friendship that develops between two battered souls, it's the sort of film that takes you by the scruff of the neck and doesn't let up. When it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, it won Considine Best Director in the world cinema category. Not only that, but his stars, Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman, deservedly took home a special jury prize for their performances. Both featured in Considine's Bafta-winning 2007 short Dog Altogether, which forms the basis for Tyrannosaur.
While Considine does not appear in the film, it channels the same intensity that he imbues in his characters on screen. Mullan plays Joseph, a violent, self-destructive widower who kicks his own dog to death before we're barely through the credits. Colman is Hannah, a Christian charity-shop worker who extends the hand of friendship to Joseph, only to receive a particularly unpleasant verbal pounding for her religious beliefs. Though, as it turns out, this isn't half what she faces at home from her jealous, abusive husband James (Eddie Marsan).
Tyrannosaur is ugly viewing at times -- in an early scene, James returns home to find Hannah asleep on the sofa and promptly urinates on her -- but it's also powerful, mesmerising and utterly convincing. I ask whether Considine consciously intended to travel down such a dark alleyway. "No," he says, sounding bemused. "Things just come out. I don't go to work going, 'Today I'm going to write a scene where somebody pisses on his wife'. You've got your characters, and they take you places and surprise you. It's you doing it, but you give your stuff over to them."
He's almost cringing as he tries to articulate his words. A few months ago, he admitted in the press that he'd been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome last year, a disorder that can often cause problems with communication and social interaction. But this isn't an example of that. Rather, Considine is merely embarrassed to talk about the process of writing in such a high-falutin' manner. When I ask Mullan later, the impression I'm given is of a "phenomenal director" who works instinctively from within. "He isn't ashamed to imbue his own work with his own life, his own beliefs, and the kind of cinema that he loved and loves."
Take the film's religious issues. "I can only imagine that Joseph has been seriously let down by religion in his past life, with the concepts of it," Considine tells me. So where does that come from? "I have a problem with religion. I don't with spirituality, but I do with religion. I have a huge problem with that." He starts talking about his mother. "She wasn't a religious nut. But she used a lot of the lingo -- 'It's God's will', but when your mum's eventually lost her sight and both her legs to diabetes, and it's God's will, it's kind of a hard pill to swallow."
One of six children, Considine grew up on a council estate in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire. Recounting his childhood, he curiously recalls Mullan's recent film as a director, Neds, which traced a young man's descent into gang violence on a 70s Glasgow estate. "I was like Conor [McCarron, who plays the film's lead] in the movie -- an unassuming kid from the other side of the estate. People who became my friends were middle class, the sort whose dad drove a car with crucifixes in and went to church every Sunday, and wouldn't open the door if I knocked on it to call for their son."
He sounds bitter. "Where does the kindness come from? Where does the community come from when you can't even be arsed to answer the door? When you tell your son, 'Don't hang around with that Paddy Considine, he's trouble!'" In truth, he wasn't. By the time he was 18, he'd met his wife and soulmate, Shelley. "She's been with me since day one," he says, "when I had a hole in my fucking boots." He met Meadows, arguably the second most important person in his life, around the same time, after enrolling in a performing arts course at Burton College.
With Meadows, he formed a band, called She Talks To Angels (named after a Black Crowes' song), playing on drums (and earning himself the nickname Bam-Bam). Ditching the performing arts course, he wound up at Brighton University, studying photography. After returning to the Midlands, he spent some time making photographic studies of fighters at his local boxing club, encouraged by Meadows. The director then cast him as the mildly disturbed man-child Morell in his 1999 film A Room For Romeo Brass -- and an actor, albeit a reluctant one, was born.
Since Tyrannosaur, he's shot one film, Ol Parker's Now Is Good, a sentimental-sounding story in which he plays a character whose leukaemia-suffering daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) constructs a things-to-do list before she dies. If it's one of those pay-the-bills films, he doesn't say. But at least it's given him the financial freedom to work on that 'difficult' sophomore film as director. He's planning a ghost story called The Leaning. "I've already written a version of it," he says, "and I'm going away in a few weeks time to have another blast through it." I'm left intrigued; as Tyrannosaur shows, Considine does monster movies like nobody else.
Tyrannosaur opens on October 7
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