‘Big movies aren’t satisfying – that’s why I make my own films.’ Paddy Considine on boxing, rejecting Hollywood and staying true to Burton
“I’m not going to sacrifice my family to go and do a film in America. [I’ll] come back, and my kid’s teeth aren’t the same anymore.”
Out of everything Paddy Considine says to me during my time with him, this probably sums up his attitude the best.
Considine is one of the most respected British actors working today. He is extremely talented. He is smart, and handsome. If he wanted to, he could easily be in Hollywood, appearing in superhero movies.
But he says he’s never really chased American success. It’s not him. “Hollywood has never beckoned. I don’t work hard enough at that to be recognised there, do you know what I’m saying? I’m around other actors, who say how heavily they pursue certain things, and it is just not in me to do that. Hollywood is not a nurturing ground for talent".
Instead, he still lives in his hometown of Burton-on-Trent, writing and directing small British movies that in his words, “No one is going to and see it in the cinema” - the latest of which is his boxing drama Journeyman.
“I’m an actor. If something comes up I’ll act in it, but those big jobs I’ve had, have they been satisfying creatively? No, not in the slightest. That’s why I make my own films.”
I’d been warned that Considine could be ‘difficult’ in interviews, but that wasn't to be the case. I'd heard horror stories of him rowing with journalists, but with me he was great.
You could maybe describe him as a bit of a handful though. He swaggers in like a rock star, in a denim jacket and sunglasses (to be fair, he actually is a rock star, splitting acting with performing lead vocals with his indie rock outfit Riding The Low).
He's friendly and funny and I bet he's a hell of a lot of fun to have a night out with, but you can tell he's also the sort of guy who won't take any shit, especially from journalists who ask him stupid questions.
In 2011, he revealed he’d been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, and in 2014 told The Guardian, “I was always portrayed as angry, but I was just ill”. Whatever he was like before, he definitely seemed like a happy guy in 2018.
By anyone’s metric, Considine’s career has been a success. He grew up on a council estate in Winshill, a suburb of Burton, and went to Brighton to study photography.
Upon graduating, he began appearing in shorts for his friend and future This Is England director Shane Meadow, who he’d met studying for a National Diploma in Performing Arts at Burton College (both of them dropped out).
In 1998 Meadows cast him in his second feature, A Room For Romeo Brass. Despite being his first ever proper credit, it is a remarkable performance from Considine. He plays an awkward young man who befriends a couple of 12-year-old boys, trying to chat up the older sister of one of them (Vicky McClure, also in her first role).
Initially seeming like a charming oddball, Considine’s character (and the film itself) takes a dark twist, and is an incredibly assured movie for such an inexperienced director and cast.
The film received much critical acclaim, and Considine was soon working with respected directors like Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love), and Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People). He would co-write his next film with Meadows, the superlative, shocking, Derbyshire-set revenge movie Dead Man’s Shoes, which remains one of the most unique British genre movies of all time. He’s done comedy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. He’s done Shakespeare, alongside Michael Fassbender in Macbeth. He’s been in Peaky Blinders. Most recently, he appeared in as part of the ensemble in the brilliant The Death of Stalin.
But if you look at the contemporaries who he has worked with – the likes of Simon Pegg, Martin Freedman, Eddie Marsan, Rafe Spall – they have all gone off to America, balancing Marvel movies or the like with British films. But outside on an early appearance in the Ron Howard-Russell Crowe period boxing drama Cinderella Man and playing a Guardian journalist in The Bourne Ultimatum, he’s largely remained in the UK, in Burton, and turned his hand to writing and directing.
And it is those films that have made him one of the most interesting voices in British cinema. In 2007, he shot his first short, starring Peter Mullan as a depressed widower, filled with rage at the world, and Peep Show's Olivia Colman as a charity shop worker who offers him solace. After being well-received on the festival circuit, and winning a BAFTA for Best Short, Considine expanded it into his debut feature, 2011's Tyrannosaur.
The full-length version expanded Mullan's relationship with Colman, revealing she is suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her husband, a quietly terrifying Eddie Marsan. It is by no means an easy watch - in the opening scenes, depressed widower Mullan kills his own dog in a drunken rage, and it only gets bleaker from there.
It would be easy to paint the film as cliched piece of British miserablism, but a real sense of hope and humanity shines through it, and Considine gets incredibly powerful performances out of his two leads. It went on to win a host of awards, including a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut By A British Director for Considine himself.
This year, he returned with his second directorial effort, Journeyman, which has just come to DVD and VOD. Considine now acts as well as directs, taking the lead role as Mattie Burton, a veteran middleweight boxer whose life is torn apart after suffering a debilitating brain injury in a title fight. He retains his title, but loses himself, and his family.
Just don’t call it a ‘boxing movie’ though. “I don’t even watch most boxing films,” Considine is quick to point out. “I like Rocky I like Raging Bull, but I don’t rush out to see the latest boxing film. You feel like you’ve seen them all. With Journeyman I wanted to tell a side of the story that people hadn’t seen.”
Something Considine does really like is boxing itself, and that is really ingrained in the film’s DNA. What makes it stand out is the boxing world it depicts - one, as Considine says, that is rarely shown on screen. There are plenty of boxing movies that show the glitz and glamour of a Vegas title fight. And there as equally as many that are about seedy figures throwing fights in dinghy cesspool. But Journeyman is about the middle – the pro fighters who aren’t household names but are watched by fight fans up and down the country every weekend.
It’s a world Considine knows well. He spent his teens hanging around boxing gyms, and while he rarely got in the ring himself, he was good friends with professional fighters. He says the community around it was special, and he is still in touch with the friends he made there to this day.
“There’s a side of boxing I’ve seen that in general people haven’t. Even some boxing fans haven’t seen it,” he says. “I knew a bit more about behind the scenes. I knew more about the camaraderie and the friendships, the positive aspects of the sport. We all know it’s a dirty business, we don’t need to see another film about boxing being a dirty business.”
And the little details come through. The BoxNation branding all over the press conference, the Rainham Steel branding on the ropes. The fight was shot at the Barnsley Metrodome, an authentic venue that regularly holds pro bouts. The boxing scenes are littered with real-life journalists and trainers, and several familiar faces pop-up, including legendary pundit Steve Bunce, and veteran MC Mike Goodall.
Considine says getting all these things accurate was vital for the authenticity of the film. “When the journalists arrived, a lot of them commented that they felt like they were at a real press conference. That’s what I’d created for them to step into. I wrote a history of both fighters for them, so they had their notes in front of them. All they had to do was ask the questions [he'd written]. And when I come out of that ring, when Steve Bunce interviews me - all he’s got to do interview me like any other fighter”.
In Considine’s eyes, depicting a boxing world different to one normally shown on screen may have alienated some who were expecting something more like Rocky – in particular film critics, who only know pugilism from the movies. “One critic said ‘Paddy Considine is unconvincing as a boxer’ – and that’s because number one, you don’t know shit about boxing, and number two, you’ve never met a boxer like him. You don’t know who Andy Lee is, you don’t know Darren Barker. These guys didn’t get into trash talking. They just used to sit there and gentlemanly do their thing. They’re just used to seeing two guys at each other’s throats. So that was important, to show a different type of fighter.”
“It is a version of boxing that they don’t understand, because I’m not presenting a character with half his nose splattered across his face,” he continues. “I’m talking about an articulate guy – there’s actually fighter out there who were educated – Nicky Piper, Nathan Cleverly. This portrayal of fighters as dummies is patronising.”
The actual boxing though, is only a small part of the film. The real meat of Journeyman comes after the fight, as Matty experiences life-changing brain injuries. The ‘journey’ of the title truly relates to his struggles to regain his speech, his memory, and his sense of self. His personality changes, and it shatters Matty’s relationship with his wife Emma (the always excellent Jodie Whittaker), and his baby daughter. The film goes to some genuinely dark places, but it is Considine’s performance that really anchors the movie.
Depicting any sort of mental impairment on-screen is one of the riskiest things an actor can do – get it wrong, and you can very quickly end up as Simple Jack. “You just can’t patronise anyone. You’ve got to do it right” Considine says. He read books, he watched documentaries, he studied the development of the brain, post-injury. He went to the brain injury charity Headway UK's centre in Henley, and spoke with people who’d suffered similar injuries in car accidents. And it shows – his performance is measured, controlled, and feels painfully real.
Which makes it all the more surprising that he never intended to star in the film. Considine says he looked at several different actors, but none of them felt right, and he eventually realised he'd subconsciously written it for himself. It was only fear holding him back from playing the part.
“Journeyman for me is about the pursuit of glory, the pursuit of these title belts. We think these things are going to make us feel some kind of fulfilment,” he explains. “In Matty’s case, he’s a world champion. So he decides to fight – he doesn’t have to – and he gets injured. And then it’s about the things that are important. Are these baubles worth sacrificing everything for?”
Is that something he’s ever experienced? If he was writing it for himself, even subconsciously, there must be something autobiographical in the story? “I haven’t lost the people I love the most, but I’ve certainly lost myself”.
Living in Burton seems to keep on the right track. “I’m alright there. I grew up there, I live 15 minutes away from the house I grew up in. It’s quiet. I’m quiet. I have no desire to live down in London. I love London, but Burton is home. You have to be careful with what we do. You have to keep a foot in the world, still - do you know what I mean by that?”
Was there ever point in his past where he lost that foot in the world? “Nah man, not my path.”
No more is this part of his personality obvious when I ask him about that throwaway comment he made earlier – that “no one’s going to and see [his films] in the cinema”. The realities of current UK cinema distribution does mean it is very hard for homegrown indies to cut through amongst the Infinity Wars and Mama Mias. But isn’t this an incredibly negative, resigned attitude to have?
“I don’t think it’s negative at all. It’s true. People told me that they couldn’t find Journeyman in cinemas. It wasn’t even on in my home town. People had to travel to Nottingham to see it. You make a film, and you put it out pretty much knowing that is not going to have any resonance in the cinema whatsoever. You think ‘Why did I not just make this for television?’.
He’s getting animated and passionate about it, and you can see how some interviewers might take his comments the wrong way, and perceive him as moaning. Filmmakers aren't supposed to admit cinema distribution in this country essentially broken. But he's just a guy who is proud of his film and wants people to see it.
“You would hope that you would have a tiny bit more impact, and when you see the numbers, you go ‘Shit’. You think people know about it, but very few do. No trailers on telly, no big adverts. So you go, why am I doing this? Tyrannosaur went to festivals and won awards. Journeyman didn’t even get into festivals. And then you think ‘Maybe I just made a pile of shit?’”.
But Journeyman did get very good reviews, and people are continuing to see it. Considine knows that it’ll take time to reach people, on DVD, on TV, on streaming. Just looking at the reaction on Twitter, it is reaching an audience that really gets it – boxing fans, especially. And Considine is excited for them to see it.
“I said to my producer on set ‘This film is for the people’. I even said then, ‘this film isn’t going to go the same way as Tyrannosaur’.
“It’s the people, they’ve made it. If I’m not making this for the people, what am I doing?”
Journeyman is on Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and VOD now.