The Big Interview: Paddy Considine

Paddy Considine and Peter Mullan.
Paddy Considine and Peter Mullan.
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The bad news is that British cinema may have just lost one of the brightest acting talents of a generation.

The good news is that it may have just found one of its brightest film-makers.

Paddy Considine’s debut film, Tyrannosaur is, in a word, staggering. From an accomplished film-maker like, say, Mike Leigh, whose films Tyrannosaur perhaps most closely resembles, this would have been impressive. But this is the first feature from actor, now writer-director, Considine, and that is a little difficult to get your head around.

The movie has already won masses of praise on the festival circuit, and was released nationwide yesterday. Not that Considine is ready to revel in the adulation coming his way just yet. He arrives for our interview at Leeds’s Hyde Park Picture House in a car with blacked-out windows.

It is the only suggestion of Hollywood about this impressive actor who has appeared in The Bourne Ultimatum, alongside Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man and Samantha Morton in In America.

Clad in heavy boots and jeans, he takes his seat in a tiny, hot office in the Picturehouse, and reveals a collection of large tattoos on his right arm as he takes off his jacket.

With slicked-back hair and several days of stubble, he looks like a man you might avoid in a bar, rather than a potentially brilliant new British auteur.

Last year he revealed he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. For Considine the revelation helped fit lots of puzzle pieces into place.

He was often uncomfortable in social situations, didn’t like being touched or having to touch people and avoided eye contact. In many ways it is remarkable that we have seen him play some of the great roles he has created in British cinema, given that he was battling those demons.

Here none of this discomfort is evident. But then he does have the advantage of knowing that downstairs his film is being played to a thrilled audience and it is a piece of work that is already being hailed as one of the most extraordinary debuts in British cinema.

Not that there is evidence of hubris.

I tell him that plenty of people have taken to the internet to suggest he clear a space for a Bafta on his mantelpiece.

“Oh,” says Considine, warily, trying to ward off any suggestion that silverware might heading his way.

“Oh, no, I can’t think like that, that’s for sure. I’ve been there with people who have been told they’d win awards and come away empty-handed, I can’t be thinking like that. For me the victory is the film.”

It’s hard to disagree. I saw it the morning of our interview, in an empty cinema and regularly exclaimed out loud at what I was witnessing. There were moments of the film that made me feel physically sick. Considine says it is a film where “you have to leave that (pointing at his head) outside and feel it with that (pointing at his chest)”. If that was the aim, he fulfilled it.

Tyrannosaur is a film about two lost souls, Joseph, an unemployed, lonely widower who is both driven and crippled by his immense anger and Hannah, a Christian charity shop worker.

Played by Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman respectively, it also features a breath-taking performance from Eddie Marsan.

“Peter is established as a great actor and he suffers from that, because people sort of expect it from him, but I think this is the best role of his career,” says Considine.

“For me Olivia is the revelation. It annoys me that people think she’s a comedy actress (she is best known for TV comedies Peep Show and Rev).

“When I met her I just had a feeling about her. Working with her was like a partnership. I felt that she was like the fighter and I was a cornerman and to see her go to some of the places she goes to in this film and surprising me and herself and surpassing what I expected was wonderful.”

To some the biggest surprise might be not just how good the film is, but that Considine has made it at all.

His film debut as an actor came in A Room for Romeo Brass, made by his childhood friend Shane Meadows. He followed this with the lead in Dead Man’s Shoes and parts in 24 Hour Party People, Hot Fuzz, Red Riding and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.

Whenever he was on screen, he seemed to demand the attention of the camera, pull the viewer in. He was one of our best screen actors – so why move behind the camera?

“I always knew that acting wasn’t enough, that’s for sure. Over the years I’ve been in films and collaborated with directors and along the way I realised I was giving away pieces of myself and although it was all worthwhile, I just thought that... it was time to let people hear my voice. I thought I was getting lost in all this work and I have a voice of my own and it wasn’t properly being heard.

“I knew I had to write and direct my own films in order to have that voice heard.

“I’ve been on enough film sets to have good and bad experiences. I have always stood on film sets and thought ‘I could do this’.

“I became a writer-director because it felt like something I couldn’t stop, it felt like something I had to do, inevitable.”

Born, raised and still living in Burton-on-Trent, Considine met his future regular collaborator Shane Meadows while studying drama at college. He went on to Brighton University where he emerged with a first-class honours degree in photography.

Ever since then the world has made sense to him “through a lens”.

“If I could chuck paint at a wall and get all the stuff I need to say out of my system I would do it quite happily. But cinema is my outlet and I guess Tyrannosaur just came out.

“Like anyone writing their first novel or making their first piece of art, you are trying to make sense of your place in the world and your history and the place and people around you.”

There is no doubting that Tyrannosaur is one dark, dark, film – but it is not unremittingly so.

Considine clearly isn’t about to go off and make a knockabout comedy – his next movie, currently called The Leaning, is a horror – but there are moments in the film that bring brief levity. It is, ultimately, about redemption.

The idea that it is in anyway autobiographical might be disturbing to audiences. Considine says people shouldn’t mistake this for some kind of confessional about his traumatic life.

“A film from your core has to deal with a lot of your fears and anxieties and hang-ups and that’s what I’m dealing with here,” he says, adding that making the film was the only way for him to say some of the things he needed to say about the world.

“For some actors, the acting is the expression for them, it is enough to play other people. I couldn’t rely on scripts through the door – I needed something more. You’re either an artist who has to express himself or your not.

“If you’re not, you’re an actor waiting for a script to come through the door and I’m not that.”

When you see Tyrannosaur, you will understand why, as compelling as he is as an actor, losing Considine from the screen to allow him to keep creating the pictures on it, is a trade worth making.

However, he then adds that he is due to appear in a movie about honour killings, having met with the director just last week.

A bright new hope for British cinema behind the camera and one of our top actors still appearing on screen?

Looks like there’s only good news after all.

Tyrannosaur is on general release now.