The Tyrannosaur writer/director discusses life, location filmmaking and why social realism is like Britpop.
A swanky Soho hotel feels like a contradictory place to meet Paddy Considine. Here is an actor whose career has been defined by the unglamorous side of British life, by the tough urban landscapes presented ever so poetically and matter-of-factly by Shane Meadows. Now, sat in a deep silk-upholstered armchair and despite clearly being in some discomfort at being placed in such gourmet surroundings, he seems enthused. He's every reason to be, his debut feature as a writer/director, Tyrannosaur, has been steadily gathering steam since bagging the Special Jury Prize and Directing Award at Sundance back in January. As LWLies gets the conversation going, Considine settles into an animated mood.
LWLies: The last time we spoke to you was very...
I'll try and keep it clean this time.
Don't censor yourself for our benefit, we don't mind a bit of vulgarity. Anyway, you started writing Tyrannosaur...
...I think it was two years ago. Yeah, possibly. I wrote it after I did Dog Altogether, then I wrote another short for Olivia [Colman] and I was ready to make another short and I sort of jumped ahead and did the feature. But it developed from the short film, you know, the story. I think about two years ago... It could be more, man. I thought I was going to make more shorts, just to test it out and see if I could do it, if I could put a narrative together in 15 minutes that would get people's attention and make them care. I knew when I'd shot it that I didn't want it to look the same, with the same camera work, you know... So yeah, it all came together and I think the timing was right.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
Well Olivia's character, Hannah, really. It's her... not her backstory as such, but just circumstances going on within her life.
Did you find making Dog Altogether set you up for Tyrannosaur?
I wondered with my first feature whether it would benefit us, but I think people at least understood what I was trying to do with it. At this stage though I don't think anyone would give me money to make a sort film, you know.
Because it's a step back, from a commercial point of view?
Yeah I suppose. Well, Tyrannosaur has to be the way forward now, really. I think after that we'd be looking to get whatever money we can get into making a feature. There's one or two things I'm going to be using effects for in my next film, so we'll need all we can get. I'd rather put the money into that. So yeah, yeah, I think it's features from here on out.
How did you find the jump from short filmmaking to feature filmmaking?
Seamless. Effortless. Probably more rewarding, more natural than anything I've ever done as an actor. It just felt completely right, you know. There was no doubt as to whether it was the right thing, I was just really focused. And you have to be, you know, it's a strange process because you spend all your time trying to raise the money and people drop out and we were left with £750,000 and it was now or never. So we just went for it. You know, you're on the first day and it's time to go and you just get into the process of it. I loved it, I absolutely loved it.
Is it more pressure having onus more on you as the director?
No, it's more liberating. Yeah, more liberating. You know, if you've written it too, and it's a passion project, then it's your baby, and the blessing is when you find people who are as driven and committed as you are. Luckily I got that with the cast, and I got that with about 95 per cent of the crew. I felt very comfortable working in those different departments, they were there because they believed in the project and many of them were cutting their teeth on it. So everybody got on with it. The only people who didn't were the ones that I'd never ask back again, the ones who complained or didn't commit themselves fully to the project. Sometimes you'll be on a five million quid movie and you'll think the director is autonomous but they aren't, there's other people making decisions and a lot of the time you get people who are just there to work. It's like packing boxes, you know, fucking custard. It becomes a chore.
How do you make it un-chore like?
You bring passion to it. Simple. You get to a certain level of production where some people are just there to cover their ass, you know, and I made it clear that there was no money. We had £750,000 to make a movie, to put 'em up, feed 'em, pay 'em, rent equipment, it's not easy. I don't know, I guess it's different for every filmmakers, and I guess there's some filmmakers people would chop their arm off to work with, maybe they have it different. Luckily I had some brilliant and committed people on my film. They really come of age mate, you know.
When did you know you wanted Olivia and Peter [Mullan] for the lead parts?
I didn't really know Olivia before, I knew Peter from years back and I couldn't stop thinking of him from when I first wrote Dog Altogether. Luckily Peter agreed to do it, the trick was finding the actor for Hannah. I met Olivia on Hot Fuzz, that was the first instance that I met her and I instantly rang my wife and said, 'I've found her.' She was the one.
And you worked on Le Donk together as well.
Yeah, that was just a bit of fun mate, you know. That came after Dog Altogether so it was already a done deal. She was just right for the role, the perfect spirit for it. And no baggage. All she had to do was deliver, and I'm very proud of her because she transformed and everyone thinks she's a revelation, which she is.
Most people will know her best from her comedic roles...
That's right, but you've got to see it and be sure in your own mind that it's worth taking the risk on someone. All her acting life she was waiting for a moment like this, and luckily in this crazy universe it all worked out for her. She goes on a proper journey, so why would people see it in her? People don't have the imagination. I'd like someone to give me a great role, I don't happen all the time mate. You need someone to bring it out of you. Did I think she could go to those darker places? Of course I did, but I had my doubts at times as well. You've got to. But I'm so proud to have seen that transformation.
There's some pretty heavy going stuff in there, you've really would have to believe that she could pull it off.
Absolutely. There's a great line she has in the film, I think it's one of the greatest pieces of acting I've ever seen, where Peter tells her that he's been to her house and seen Eddie [Marsan]'s character and she says, 'Oh, was he there was he?' The way she holds on to that last bit of the lie is astounding. It's up there, man, it's up there.
Where did the darkness of the story come from?
It's just storytelling. It's my canvas if you like, and that's it. It's not any more complicated than that, it just comes from within you. The thing is mate, the film isn't trying to be kitchen sink this or social realism that, which is what a lot of people have lazily described it as. Social realism, what the fuck does that mean? It's just a label, you know, like Britpop. It's just a story, it's a narrative. It's not even reality, especially towards the end where I think a lot of the story steps off the canvas and becomes very gothic. It goes mad after a while. It goes native, like Joseph says. It's truthful, that's what it is. I'm not trying to lie to anybody about these people. These people are out there, they're fucking out there mate. People are living like Hannah and Joseph, you know, it's just truth. At the end of the day it's just a film, it can't be real, but sometimes storytelling can tell you something about your own life or introduce you to a whole new world that you can have empathy for or relate to. The worst thing is when people don't believe these things happen.
Did you experience anything during the shoot that informed the direction of the film?
Every day. The boy and the dog: the newsstands would come out in Leeds and they'd be written in big black marker on a sandwich board, 'BOY OF SIX SAVAGED BY DOG'.
There's the bit where the guy comes out of his house with his dog chain round his waist. That's fucking terrifying, but it feels genuine, even though it's something we've never witnessed first hand.
Where I grew up in Winshill recently somebody was stabbed. Stabbed to death. A woman. I tried to get information and all I got back was apparently she was really annoying and her dogs wouldn't stop barking. What? What do you mean? She was annoying and her dogs wouldn't stop barking. Fuck! It's that, and people don't think it's that. It's life, it's society. And if any critic doesn't think it exists I'll happily take them to the estate where we shot the pub scenes and plant them there at eight o'clock and say, 'Right, I'm two miles down the road, I'll meet you at two in the morning.' Don't fucking tell me that these worlds don't exist.
What was shooting on location like?
Parts of it were fantastic. Leeds was great, the people in the community were great.
You've got to be respectful of them, mindful that you're on their turf.
Oh, absolutely. You'd be shooting and you'd get people coming up to you, half of them out of their heads on god knows what, and all they'd want to know is what you were doing. All you've gotta say is, 'Mate, we're just making a film', engage with them. Sometimes you'd get someone worried we were making their estate look bad but they were doing a very good job of that themselves. Just be respectful though. Some chap came up to us and asked if he could see what we were doing and I said, 'Of course, come and have a look.' That's all you've gotta do. One of the crew turned round and tried to be arsey to a local chap and nearly got his jaw broken. You've just gotta show 'em respect and you'll get respect back.
And a lot of the locals ended up being in the film. The chap who plays guitar in the wake scene was pestering the crew busking and I said, 'Write us a song and you can be in the film mate.' You mentioned that scene with the dog, right? Well Paul and I were having a conversation one day about that very scene and we weren't quite sure what to do, but we wanted it to be memorable without being laddy. Every lad these days gets their top off and it's all two guns and all that and I hate it. Every other guy's getting ripped in the gym givin' it the big 'un and it's bollocks, man. The beauty of that scene was that Paul was brave enough to get his top off even though he's not comfortable about his body, I thought that was wonderful. These young guys are so body conscious.
I was having a conversation with an actor about this Charles Dickens piece, I can't remember the one, but this master was supposed to whip this young lad and this young lad's got his top off and he's ripped up like Fight Club. So anyway as Paul and me were having this conversation there's this guy coming up the road and he's got his dog pulling him along from a chain from his waist. He was just walking along casual like and I said, 'Mate, is that how you walk your dog?' He said, 'Yeah', so that's what we did. It's about soaking up your environment and just being apart of the community. That's one thing I really learnt from working with Pawel Pawlikowski; your location is really important.
Do you think some British films in recent years have been guilty of romanticising the working class?
Um, what do you think? Give me an example...
Okay, well to name names we're thinking Paul Andrew Williams, Shane Meadows, Danny Boyle, Peter Mullan. Not to point to finger, or to say it's conscious, but there seems to be this romantic image of British working life in cinema at the moment.
I could give my view about Shane's work, but I think that it's not so much romanticising but I think there's more of a kind of need to make sense of things in a way. They may be slightly autobiographical or not, but I think there's great poetry in some of those films. The big problem with British film is the class system in it. People say, 'Why can't someone make a film about the north that's happy?' but they have done, you know. Billy Elliot's one, it's not my cup of tea, I think it's terrible to be honest with you... The Full Monty's another.
That's two in the last 15 years.
Yeah, I see your point but I still think the real problem is how much class separates British film. It gets in the way of our filmmaking. With this film I've made a film about the terrain that I know, about the people that I know and the world I grew up in. It's an extreme version, it's a movie version, but this is what I know. But the film after the next one I'm going to make is set in Miami in the '90s about a corrupt boxing promoter, so as a filmmaker I'm not set on keeping it local. To begin with you write about what you know, about the things that trouble you and compel you. If Tyrannosaur does anything it sort of blurs that line a little bit in that we make huge assumptions about this woman who seems to live a middle class existence, but is living with terror herself, you know. Tyrannosaur, at the end of the day is about these two souls meeting, and it's about life, you know, how we find this salvation in unlikely places. I didn't write a film about class but it is in there. I certainly felt like I wanted my characters... to me they're warriors, soldiers, and I wanted to them to be able to show their scars and still find companionship and love. There are middle class writers and critics that hate films like Tyrannosaur and This is England, they just think British film's in this horrible state where we can't escape this terrain. And I guess we can't, you know, it's what we know. Am I making sense or is this all bollocks?
It's making sense. What have you learnt about yourself from directing?
There's things I've picked up that further down the line I hope will make me a better actor. I think people can take the craft of acting a bit too far, you know, the whole method acting thing. Someone was telling me the other day about a method actor who was doing a drunk scene and he came in legless, right. If he's a method actor he wouldn't have to get drunk, he's just remember what it felt like to be drunk. I've met a few in my time, mate. I did this fight scene with this one chap who I basically had to threaten because he thought we were actually going to fight and after 20 takes I had to tell him I'd give him a slap if he tried it on again. I hate people who indulge that kind of silly behaviour. Some of those scenes that Olivia had to do with Eddie, it was paramount that she and he both felt safe. It wasn't a great frame of mind to have to go to those dark places. It was a very tough scene but nobody felt vulnerable, I won't have that. You're actors, you can act. Only idiots become too engrossed and act like it's reality. You're not a big boy.
What do you love about movies?
To me great cinema is a window to a world I'm not privy to. I like being shown different terrains, it doesn't matter where films are set, for me it's about discovering new worlds. City of God, I'm never going to walk those streets, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to see that and to be taken there. The rest of it's quite unappealing and disappointing. Especially the state of big movies. Superheroes. That's what people love, isn't it? The kids eat it up. They buy their candy and off they go. Idiots.