Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Interview with Paddy Considine
an interview with Paddy Considine, star of Jim Sheridans In America, at the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival
The character is based in part on Sheridan himself, which must have made it a little tough to play. Or is it wrong to say that its to some extent Sheridan youre playing.
Er, Its ok to say but I had no idea that it was about Jims life, so I just read it, and loved it as a script, and thought I wanna play this, Im gonna play this. But when I met Jim he filled me in on the family background and what it was about, and he said, straight away, Youre not playing me and it was never an issue for me. I never felt that I was playing Jim Sheridan, I felt that I was playing this guy, and I brought certain baggage to it, and Jim brought his thing to it. When I see the film I see my dad in it, and Jims commented that he’s seen his father in it in some of the scenes. Jim turned to me at one point and said I had one idea about this character, but youre playing it more as a kind of Jimmy Stewart character. It seemed to work, there was always surprising things popping up.
So it wasn’t like when you played an explicitly real person, Rob Gretton, in 24 Hour Party People?
Not at all. Nothing like that at all. To me, Johnny was just a character, and Jim was treating him like he was just a character.
Did you get to meet Gretton before he died? Was there any effort to make the performance a kind of impersonation?
Rob died before the filming. I didn’t meet him. I got sent the script and read it, and I thought What the fuck is this all about?! It was thick, like the fuckin bible, man! I thought, What is this about? Id never read one of Franks scripts before, and I thought, I don’t know any of these people. Then I met the casting-director Wendy in Manchester, and she reeled off all these names: Id heard of Tony Wilson. Then she’s mention Rob Gretton and these people, and I thought Who the fuck are these people, Ive never heard of them. I just nodded my head anyway, and carried on and went Yeah, yeah because I just wanted to work! And then I met Michael Winterbottom for 15 minutes, and that was that, off went Michael. I got sent a video to see if I thought I could play it or not, so I watched it, rang them up and said Yeah, I can play him.
Gretton was much more of an edgy character than Johnny in In America, who’s fairly easy-going for the most part.
Yeah, very edgy, Rob I think he was on a few different substances that didn’t help his disposition much. I liked him a lot, from this interview that I saw on video, he was very dry and to-the-point?
Very Manchester I thought Hes great, yeah.
Rob is a little volatile in 24 Hour Party People, and here you have a two-hander scene with Matteo [Dimon Hounsou] that gets very intense. What was that like to play?
I watched that scene back and I thought Im an actor! It was one of the them things when I thought, Thats a movie. We worked on that scene, we just kept going and going, and banging at it, and Djimon had just come off the plane straight from LA and was completely off his head, knackered and jet-lagged. It was great within the context of the story this guy has got all these emotions with nowhere to go, so he’s just venting them at this man.
Were there lots of takes?
We just kept going, ploughing and ploughing, loads of variations.
So you didn’t have to stick to the script?
No but I wouldn’t say we improvised because Jims very on the ball, hell come in and tweak, and he gets involved in the scene like no director Ive ever worked with before.
Was he ever an actor himself?
I think he might have tried to be he’s a frustrated actor! He was a theatre director. But those scenes you just get yourself up for Johnny was never gonna hit Matteo its quite cowardly, in a funny way. Johnny was going to walk out the door he can’t punch this guy, he’s about six foot six, probably knock his fuckin head off! At that point, Johnnys like I don’t care I don’t fuckin care! I don’t care if someone sticks a knife in me, because Im just going off my lid! And its Matteo that challenges him just as he’s about to walk out the door, and its Matteo who says You don’t believe and Johnnys like What did you fuckin say to me? How dare you, man! Matteo just pressed the right buttons, and opened him.
Which is what he does for everyone in the film.
For everyone, yeah, and he needed opening up, and that’s Johnnys first step to recovery that scene is his first step back to being himself.
One of the best scenes is the fairground, where Johnny nearly loses all the familys money when he’s suckered into a con-game.
It was great. Some people think he’s doing that out of bravado, that its a Dad thing to do, Im gonna win the teddy it aint that. Its about my kids I want my children to believe in me. I don’t believe in me and Im not going to fail in front of these children. And it was all about that your parents are such a pillar to you, you need them to be so strong. So if your dad break down and cry its probably one of the most disturbing things you can ever see. Its like, parents shouldn’t have them emotions they’re stable. From his point of view it was a matter of, Ive got to do this, because if I don’t my kids will think I am a total loser, and I need them to believe in me. Because Sarah and Johnny would have gotten over it if he’d lost the money they would have gotten over it, cause that’s how they are as a family, but for him personally he needed that ball to go in, needed to do that again. Otherwise, Daddys a loser, he’s lost the rent money.
The two children give terrific performances you’ve worked with some remarkable young actors like Andrew Shim in A Room For Romeo Brass and Artiom Strelniakov in Last Resort. Now these two is it just a coincidence?
Ive always been around kids Ive got all these nieces and nephews, there’s about 17 or 18 of them, and two others coming this week, then there’s my kid coming in five weeks time, my first kid. Ive always been around kids anyway, and I find them just incredible they’re amazing.
Do you treat them as adults, what is it?
I just see something in them its not a Michael Jackson thing, you know. Its not that kind of wonderment, its something that’s very hard to describe. Theyre just great to bounce off all the young people Ive worked with they’ve been their first films. Its not like working with a precocious kid who’s been mollycoddled to death. The kids in this film I just think they dropped out the sky, I don’t know where they came from. I know they’ve got a mum and dad, but I think they’re made from special dust or something! Incredible!
Does it involve doing lots of takes?
Its like everything, you’ve gotta work at it Im a worker, and you’ve gotta keep working at a job. I don’t believe in all this bullshit: where actors fall down on themselves is that they think they’ve got to be great all the time. Well that’s fucking impossible. You cannot be great all the time you do good takes, you do bad takes, you do half a good take on one, then you’ve the good bit on the other take so you chop between the two. Its a process you keep working and working. If youre doing an accent in a film, and its slipping, you keep working. Everything to improve the film. Im not one for making a film and doing it for kind-of personal gains while Im making it. I hate this mentality of scene stealers because I know people do go into scenes, thinking, I can get this scene. I hate that were making a film, do a great performance and youll walk away with it anyway. Just do what you do!
Do you turn down many films? You always seem to work with a particular kind of director you don’t seem to do many bad or overtly mainstream projects.
Well Ive tried those other kinds of films. Ive done them, and Ill never do them films again. Theyre only small roles, but I did a film before I did In America, and if you put the films back-to-back you think fuckin ell how did he make that and go on and do that. Its like the worst of acting, then the best of acting, in some respects.
Youve worked with the likes of Chris Morris but how easy is it to resist the temptation to work with lesser talents for more money?
Its easy to do, its easy to say Ill take the cheque, Ive got a kid coming, and hows that going to be, when we get to Christmas and there’s only a couple o Gs in the bank, are we just gonna have a few fuckin roasted horse-chestnuts this year. Its hard. The gift of love will get us through! God will provide!!
In America is your first film made in America do you want to do more?
I don’t want to limit myself to just making films in England, or with British directors, thatd be stupid of me. I want to work in America, but whether I want to work in America and play Spidermans arch-enemy is another thing altogether.
There must be American directors youd be keen to work with.
Paul Thomas Anderson Id die to work for. The Coens, they’re the wish-list.
Did you feel pressure because in three of Jims previous four films the leading man was Oscar-nominated: Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father, and Richard Harris in The Field?
My biggest thing was like, Jim Sheridans picked me to do this, okay, he’s seen a couple of my films, he’s obviously seen something, don’t worry, just go on but he’s worked with Day-Lewis! What can I show this guy that Day-Lewis hasnt shown him, tenfold! What the fuckin ell am I gonna show this guy? I realised that you provide him with whats necessary and don’t try and be anything, don’t deviate from what its about, don’t try and do anything extraordinary. Just go in and let your head and your heart lead it, that’s how you’ve gotta go about these things and forget all that stuff. If you make a film to win an award youre dead. Its nice to be rewarded, but don’t make films with that intention, make films to make films. Everything else is just fuckin icin on the cake the film is the thing that’s important.
At one point Johnny remarks that there’s a lot more to acting than just getting the accent right how important was getting the accent right in your performance?
Some actors do get an accent and think they’ve cracked it, but its not about that. Its like Look, if I stand up there and do the performance nobodys gonna give a fuck if Im talking Swahili because you’ve got that audience caring about you. Its obviously got to be an accent of sorts but, you know.
So you aren’t one of these actors who goes into deep research?
Get the accent generically, get the accent and do it, don’t get bogged down in it, and go and perform. The accent is not the be-all and end-all, it should be like a bit of your costume.
Whats coming next?
I did another film with Shane, something that we wrote together and made in three months. We wrote it, raised the money with our producer Mark Herbert, and shot it all in three months it was an experiment in that way, to just go out and do it.
Then this long-awaited project King of the Gypsies
Hopefully yeah. It could end up being like a Gangs of New York, where were always saying well make it, then well end up 50!
Your relationship with Shane is sometimes spoken about in terms of a De Niro / Scorsese partnership.
Its nice isn’t it. As long as we can keep surprising each other well work together. Were very honest with each other we didn’t work together on Midlands because it wasn’t right for us, there wasn’t a part for me.
And will the next film be made on film or video?
Film Optimum are distributing it. When we started in the early days we did them on video. We didn’t make them for anybody, its not like we sat and studied, we just literally would put a wig on and go out and make films. Shaned ring up and say What you doin this afternoon, lets go out with a camera. Id turn up and he’d have some teeth and that, and Id say come on, lets get the kids involved, well do a football film. And it was just for us then somebody said What a great idea, you should show them. To me, they’re just like little snapshots in a photo album, little things that me and Shane do for fun. I sometimes think they should remain that way.
Whats the difference working with DV as opposed to film?
Its quicker. The film looks fantastic, cause Declan Quinn did a wicked job lighting it. DVs quicker, that’s all it is. When we were shooting Party People there was no hanging around, it was just in, out
Does it change the acting technique you use?
You just keep riffing all day on DV. It only suits a certain aesthetic we couldnt have shot In America on DV the film was movie, it wasn’t supposed to look like a dogme film.
So if somebody sees this films coming up, just the title and the fact that youre in it with Samantha Morton, how would you sum it up?
Fuckin ell! I don’t know, mate! Im terrible at things like that Im not good at summing up. Id say its a human story about a family rediscovering I don’t fuckin know!!!
For the review of In America click here.
by Neil Young