30 March 2018 | Cath Clarke | The Guardian
Paddy Considine is suffering. He put his back out the other day, lifting a basket of groceries at the Co-op down the road from his house in Burton upon Trent. He is clearly in a bit of pain but is seeing the funny side.
“A lovely lady carried my shopping to the car for me because I was in such a bad way. I think she was in her 70s,” he says, grinning. “Not that age matters.” As she loaded up his bags, Considine, bent double, thanked her. “She hurled my shopping into the boot and said: ‘I’m a tough northern woman.’” That cracks him up.
Actors talk a lot about keeping it real, but I don’t suppose many of them do their weekly shop at the Co-op in Burton. Considine’s realness is perhaps the essence of his quality as a performer. He is not the most famous British actor, or the richest, but he is one of the most respected.
“The thing about Paddy is that he can’t lie,” said Olivia Colman, who starred in his 2011 directing debut Tyrannosaur, talking to the Guardian last year. Watching his films back-to-back I actually find the rawness of some of his performances almost unwatchable. He doesn’t scrimp, putting all of himself into every part, dragging it up from somewhere.
The funny thing about his supermarket injury is that Considine has never been in better shape, physically or mentally. Six or so years ago, he was diagnosed with mild Asperger syndrome, which he says made sense of behaviours he had been struggling with for years: difficulty with eye contact; intrusive thoughts that something bad was going to happen to his wife and kids; hypersensitivity to light.
Back then, he hated doing interviews (and had a reputation for being angry and difficult). Today, he is relaxed and funny. And he is in great shape, lean and chiselled, having just played a boxer in his new film, Journeyman, which he also wrote and directed. If you didn’t know better, you might think that with this buff new physique, he is angling to get in the door of Hollywood. (Considine had roles in Cinderella Man and as an ill-fated Guardian reporter in The Bourne Ultimatum, but says he has never actively gone looking for work in the US.)
It was never part of his plan to appear in Journeyman. “I did everything I possibly could not to act in it,” he says with a grimace. The film follows a middleweight boxer at the end of his career, defending his title against a cocky, trash-talking young upstart. Considine has a difficult relationship with acting. “When I directed Tyrannosaur, I thought in my head: ‘If this works, I’m probably never going to act again. I just want to be a director, I don’t want to act.’”
Had he fallen out of love with it? Considine shakes his head, and takes his time. “I think that what happened to me was that I never fully believed that I was any good at it,” he says earnestly. “I still don’t really know. That tortured me for a long, long time.” His stage fright got so bad in the middle of filming the London cop thriller Blitz in 2010 that he hired an acting coach, who popped round to his digs in Covent Garden. “I had a scene to shoot later that night. And the words wouldn’t even leave my mouth. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t physically say the words. I couldn’t move. I was crippled by acting.” His coach became a mate. “Years later, he admitted to me that [in his head] he was thinking: ‘What the hell is wrong with this guy?’”
Considine more or less fell into acting, after his friend from Burton College, the director Shane Meadows, cast him in 1999’s A Room for Romeo Brass. “I would say that I had a lot of natural talent. You know, it’s hard to sort of say that. But there is something there. But what I didn’t have was any sort of craft.” For years he resisted any kind of professional training, anxious he would lose his edge. “I think it’s something that a lot of working-class kids who come into acting are afraid of. They’re afraid they’re going to lose a bit of themselves, that they’re going to look stupid. But if you’re good at something, learning a few techniques isn’t going to make you any worse. It’s going to make you stronger.”
What keeps him coming back to acting, I wonder? “There’s a part of me that’s going: ‘I haven’t touched it yet.’ I haven’t touched that exquisite thing, a really great performance. I don’t think I’ve done it, yet. What I’m looking for is that bit when it transcends acting. Where you feel like you’re literally looking through a window at someone else’s life.”
Last year, at 43, he made his stage debut in Jez Butterworth’s play The Ferryman as a soulful County Armagh farmer impossibly in love with his sister-in-law. He was bricking it, says Considine.
What scared him most? “Looking ridiculous. In theatre, you’ve got nowhere to hide. And all kinds of little demons [come out]: you’re going to mess it up. You’re going to forget your lines. My ego gave me every reason not to be there. But I did it.” He didn’t miss a show, eight shows a week, six days a week.
Moreover, Considine suggests that, subconsciously, he was always planning to play the lead in Journeyman. He has been a boxing nut since he was a kid watching Barry McGuigan fights on telly. In his teens, he studied photography and started hanging around boxing rings, snapping fighters.
After considering other actors for the role of Matty, who suffers a brain injury in his last fight, Considine finally came to the conclusion that the part was for him. First, he called his producer to ask if he thought he was right for the part. Like, yeah, said the producer.
His next worry was that the financiers would say the film wasn’t bankable with him starring in it. “It could have been embarrassing, if I couldn’t get cast in my own film.” Next he auditioned himself. Come again? “Well, I got a camera set up and I got Paul Popplewell in with me, who’s in the film, and I did a little workshop with him. It seemed OK.”
The most challenging scenes to shoot weren’t the boxing ones, he says, but filming in a brain injury rehabilitation unit. “There were real people there who’d suffered brain injuries. I felt weird because I was pretending to be one of them. I couldn’t even look at anybody on that day. That was the worst. I felt like an impostor. I just thought: what are you trying to achieve here?”
Considine lives in Burton with his wife Shelley – they have been together since he was 18 and have three children. Although he works in London all the time, Considine has never felt the need to leave the Midlands. He wanted to raise the kids close to his in-laws and his family.
And part of him thinks it’s important to keep a foot in the real world. “When your group of friends are just people in the industry, it’s dangerous. I’ve met very successful people and they start to exist in the stratosphere. I find that strange. I think you’ve still got to get out on the street and have a sniff around. I live a pretty quiet existence.”
But it does surprise people, doesn’t it, that he still lives in Burton? Considine shrugs. “I never wanted to sell my soul for this. And maybe I’m very lucky. From the off I just lived up there. It never seemed to affect me getting work.”
For years his kids didn’t know what he did for a living – they thought he was in a band. Considine grins at the thought. He is in a band, Riding the Low; they make the odd album and play at festivals.
“I wouldn’t earn enough money to buy a can of beans from my band, never mind a holiday.” Does he ever take the brooding intensity about work home with him? The question makes him laugh. “No, I’m a total wally at home. I’m the fourth kid.”
The irony of Considine living in Burton is that as a teenager, all he wanted was to get out. At school he would look out of the windows at the factories in town. “I remember sitting there at around 14 thinking: is that it? Is that what I’ve got to look forward to? Because as far as I knew, people left school and went to work in factories, or they got labouring jobs. That was what I was facing. I just kind of knew that this wasn’t everything. It’s no disrespect to my hometown to say this because I still live there.”
For most of his childhood, neither of his parents worked: “We were the benefits kids.” One of six siblings, he describes himself as a dreamer and a natural born performer. “There was definitely something within me. I think I wanted to be seen. I wasn’t a show-off, but I wanted to be seen.” After school, he would run home and blast Adam and the Ants on the record player and dance in front of the window as the other kids and parents walked past.
What did his own parents make of him? Another shrug. “I could’ve done anything. We had nothing to lose. I was never judged by my parents. They never, ever told me: ‘Get a job.’ There was always this air about me. Let’s just say that I was cut a little differently from my brothers and sisters.”
Funnily enough, it was teachers and later, lecturers who told him he would never amount to much. “People think you’re talking out of your hole when you say you want to be in films, make films. I was like: ‘You’re supposed to be inspiring me here and you’re telling me I can’t be anything.’ That kind of shit.” He is rubbish at badgering his own kids to get on with their homework. “The one thing I tell them is not to dumb down. Don’t sell yourself short. Have self-sovereignty. Nobody owns you. You are who you are. I just try to instil that in them, to use their creativity. To not be ashamed or afraid of it.”
What life and work has taught him is that you just have to get on with it, he says. He is just about to start writing a new film – he won’t tell me what it’s about. The fear of falling on his face never goes away. “Everything in me is telling me that it’s going to be terrible. I find myself in trench after trench buried under this doubt. The way out is always the same way out, just to let go. The tighter you hold on to the ride, the more terrifying it is. But when you let go and just throw your arms in the air, it’s like: this isn’t half as bad.”
Journeyman is released on 30 March