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|Interview: Paddy Considine (Tyrannosaur)|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Tuesday, 27 September 2011 11:04|
Sitting down in the Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, Paddy Considine is an interesting figure to behold. His tattooed arms and slicked back hair are almost intimidating, especially when he vents about the frustrations of acting on films with "the biggest assholes out there", and the ferocity with which he talks about his directorial debut, Tyrannosaur.
You almost wonder how much he's got in common with Joseph (Peter Mullan), the angry, misunderstood man at the heart of Tyrannosaur's monstrous story. Then you see him smile before he sits down and those thoughts disappear instantly.
"Let's just get a kebab and stroll around the town!" he laughs, debating with his people what to do during the UK premiere of his film.
The intensity he gives off isn't anger; it's a passion for what he's created. And given the emotional beast he's produced, you can't really blame him.
The film follows Joseph and his relationship with Hannah (Olivia Colman), a kind-hearted charity shop worker who is ritually beaten by her husband. They first met in a short film, Dog Altogether, which won Paddy a BAFTA four years ago. So where did the characters come from initially?
"Like any writing, they are a sort of amalgamation of different people. That’s what you do. You soak things up. I suppose the whole of the film is a bit of a sort of trying to make sense of the things I grew up around – even if they didn’t go to the extremes of this film. A sensibility, a rage of things unresolved. And this was my outlet of expression, if you will. It’s not autobiographical; it's fictitious. But it is set within a world that I understood and grew up around."
He speaks with the conviction of a man who knows what he wants. Did he always plan to direct his own films? "I knew I wanted to write and direct my own films. Over the years, I had contributed to other people’s films and I knew had stories of my own to tell. I felt I’ve collaborated enough now, I’ve got to separate and let people know that I’ve got my own things that I’ve got to say. I can’t wait for other people to give me my outlet. I knew I was going to write and direct something. It was inevitable."
So what pushed him over the edge? Was there a moment that caused him to take the jump behind the camera?
"I just realised. Sometimes you do things and it’s because of what you don’t like. I’ve been on enough film sets to not enjoy the process of how some films were made. The mechanics, the decision by committee or creativity governed by lawyers. It was an odd environment to be in and I felt I could do a better job, frankly, than some of the people I’d worked with. I felt I was killing myself. Standing in front of the camera and not getting behind it. I just felt the need to break out."
Shane Meadows is normally mentioned around this point, but were there any particular directors that influenced him? "Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with some good directors. Shane set the ball rolling in this territory for me, without a doubt. But there comes a time when you’ve buried your voice a bit too deep and you feel you’re getting lost."
Paddy speaks forcefully. He looks me in the eye. "Tyrannosaur is my expression. This is purely me. It’s not me in anybody else. It’s not me and another director. It’s myself. It’s the purest expression I had. And I felt that I needed to do that." He adds, as that intensity returns: "And it will happen again soon."
You can tell he means it. (He is, in fact, already working on a second film, a ghost story called The Learning, about a woman who struggles to form meaningful relationships with others.)
Does he find directing more satisfying than acting? "For some people, the art of acting is their purest form of expression. And I never felt that way, which is why I was never able to fit in as well as an actor as some other people can. They can go from great work in a great film, to a not-so-great film but still being great in it. I was never that. I was either in good work and I was good, or in not-good work and I was bad, you know. I couldn’t figure out why that was. But I realised that’s it a strange application, acting, and I’m not waiting for someone to give me the cue to act and express myself. It’s easier for me to be the conductor and be the person creating the drama and creating the story."
He adds, perhaps tellingly: "It’s a much safer place for me to be than being vulnerable in front of the camera."
So he would never direct himself in a film then? He laughs. "No. I can’t watch myself act anyway! I don’t know how I could get behind a monitor and watch myself all day." Then the thoughtfulness returns. "I admire people who can. You could say it’s incredibly egotistical, but I think it’s an art and I don’t think at this stage in myself, I don’t think I’m that equipped."
After the success of Dog Altogether, what prompted his decision to expand the short into a feature film? "I thought Dog Altogether was the start of a bigger film. At the time, I didn’t think that - the story blasted out of me in a couple of hours." Paddy absent-mindedly fiddles with the wedding ring on his finger as he talks. "I got to a desperate point with it all. I was doing a job, I was in Spain, I was missing home, and I went to my hotel room and wrote Dog Altogether. It just blasted through." He pauses. "Writing’s a weird one. If you let them do the job instead of you, they’ll tell the story."
This raw creativity is only matched, it seems, by his determination. "I thought if I’m going to direct, I have to prove it in some way. I had to just get on with it. So we raised the money and I didn’t think about the aesthetics, or how I wanted it to look, I just said to myself 'Can you tell a narrative within 15 minutes that opens with this destructive scene? Can you get to some conclusion?'"
"After Dog Altogether, I wrote another short for Olivia’s characters and I got responses from people wanting to know what happened to those characters, so I went away and started writing from that point. We re-shot and retold Dog Altogether in Tyrannosaur, because aesthetically I didn’t want it to be the same film. I wasn’t totally happy with the way the short looked – I was trying to get away from that. I didn’t want handhelds or any of that."
He answers each question in full, with a honesty that impresses. It's easy to imagine Paddy directing quietly from behind a camera. "I wanted really structured frames and performance to make it look like cinema, as a big format, not this style we’ve gotten used to with this British low-budget docu-style improvisation. I don’t want any of that. I want cinema."
When it came to returning to these characters, Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman both continued their roles. Presumably they were never going to be replaced? "Nobody else could have played it. When I wrote the short, I said I wanted Peter Mullan for Joseph. And luckily he did it." Again that determination surfaces, accompanied by a sense of patience. "There was a point when I wasn’t going to get Peter back for Tyrannosaur and I just said 'No, I’ll wait a year'. Luckily, the scheduling worked out, but there’s no-one else. Nobody embodies what he’s got."
Paddy himself has had some dark characters in his career. You'd expect him to know what it's like for Peter to play Joseph. Does he think he's had a difficult role like that? Perhaps Romeo Brass? "No, not at all. That was the first time I’d acted – strangely enough, these characters give you the energy. And remember, my pal was directing. I was just entertaining him for two weeks. I did this gypsy character thing, and Shane find it dead amusing, so I just stayed in character all day because it made people laugh."
He smiles, and you get a feeling once more for how connected he is with certain characters. "I didn’t understand all this method, 'Do you stay in character?' stuff. I just enjoyed being him. I’d sit in the bath and think of stuff for the next day. I don’t think I’ve ever been as charged as that on a role since. It’s a strange thing, when you’re filming. You see all the brutal bits, but not the parts where we’re falling around laughing in between."
Is that true for Tyrannosaur as well? Given the harrowing nature of some of the scenes, particularly Hannah's abuse, what was the atmosphere like on set? "We had a great time! You can’t do it unless that’s the case. I’ve been on films where you’d think it’s all happy families, but you’re working with the biggest assholes out there. On Tyrannosaur, we all respected each other and it was a great creative experience. People want to say it’s a dark experience, but you can’t do it unless you’re all in it together and trust each other."
As an actor, how hard was it to draw those sensitive performances out of his cast? Was it tough to direct? "You have to make sure everyone felt safe, and that Olivia Colman was safe. And she did. If anything it was me – I was shooting certain scenes and wanted them over quickly. I think the actors would have done 10 takes, but I was like, three takes I’m done, I don’t want any more."
Does he worry that people could be shocked by what's in the film? "I never thought that way about any of it. I never thought I’d put something in to shock people." Paddy shuffles in his seat, keen to explain himself. "There were some moments that I wasn’t sure about, and I would hate to think that people thought I was interested in shocking people. I’m not interested in that. It’s not a triumph for me if someone walks out of my film."
He looks up. "It is what it is. This is Tyrannosaur. There’s no apologies. It works on a few different levels, you can take what you want, but I made a love story. I made a film about souls, and people who fall in love despite these really severe circumstances and how these people become companions despite being from different sides of the spectrum. That’s fascinating to me."
It may seem an odd way to describe his film, but it's absolutely true. The tender balance between Hannah and Joseph's vulnerable emotions and battered lives is what makes it such a heart-wrenching, unflinching experience. And it's that honesty that emanates from Paddy Considine as he discusses his work. But now I'm curious: out of all the emotional scenes in the film (and there are many), which part does he find the most moving?
"The one I find the most moving, and I always did – I had to tell me editor off because she kept crying – is the wake after the funeral." I smile and point out it's the happiest part of the film. He nods. "Exactly. I just kept the cameras rolling on everyone and created an atmosphere. They were having a party. And Hannah's there in this community with her bruises and she’s safe. No-one’s questioning her or judging here. She’s free. And he’s free."
He pauses, completely engaged. "They lose all the acting, all the weight, they’re laughing, and that’s them. How those two people could be so free in each other’s company against all these circumstances – that’s what cinema should do. It should challenge your perceptions. It’s great entertainment and the rest of it; you’ve got your aliens and your cars that turn into robots and all that, and then you’ve got Tyrannosaur. And it’s got it’s place in the world."
He's animated again now, passionate but never raising his voice. "I remember the editor asking if I was OK with it, because they drop character. She said they looked like Peter and Olivia, not like Joseph and Hannah. And I looked at her and said: 'That’s the fucking point.'"