With the harrowing drama Tyrannosaur, acclaimed actor Paddy Considine goes behind the camera. Paul Byrne digs deep.
Long before Paddy Considine found himself being dubbed the new Robert De Niro, long before he even thought about becoming an actor, he popped along to see Gary Oldman’s directorial debut, Nil By Mouth, at the Duke Of York in Brighton.
Approximately 128 minutes later, the poor, unsuspecting photography student sat in stunned silence. As did the rest of the cinema.
“You could hear a pin drop,” says Considine today, looking back to that faithful day 14 years ago. “And people talked about how tough it was, but also, I thought it was one of the most beautiful films I’d ever seen. And I sat in the audience, going, how come this guy knows about me? You know? And that’s a bizarre thing to say, because, on the face of it, we’re from two different worlds.
“It just blew my mind, and it was an important thing to learn about expression. And that’s when I started to look at my own life, and assemble bits and pieces of that, and put it into my photography work, to begin with. It just opened that door. I guess we’re from those places, and I know Tyrannosaur, it’s fictional, and sometimes it’s very extreme and gothic, almost, but there’s a definite line between the two films.”
A very definite line. Oldman’s award-winning, 1997 semi-autobiographical Nil By Mouth dealt with an extremely violent and often drunken father and the havoc he wreaks upon his working-class London family. Paddy Considine’s award-winning Tyrannosaur may be a love story, of sorts, dealing with two lost souls from two very different parts of town – but one is the violent, drunken, widower, loner Joseph (Peter Mullan) and the other is middle-class charity shop owner, Hannah (Olivia Coleman), the latter married to a dedicated bible-basher (Eddie Marsan). And, as we all know, dedicated bible-bashers make the best wife-beaters.
Both films leave you a little emotionally battered and psychologically bruised. And realising that most fierce creatures are just frightened animals.
“Again, although it wasn’t autobiographical,” continues Considine, “Gary was definitely telling a story about a world that he understood, and that he grew up around. And that’s my approach here. This is a story that I had to tell. It’s been fermenting away inside of me for quite a few years now.”
It’s Tuesday morning, at Dublin’s Residence Club on Stephen’s Green, and Considine’s still chucking about his public Q&A the night before at the IFI, with his old buddy, the ramshackle Jim Sheridan (the two having made In America together back in 2002). The conversation wasn’t so much film appreciation as word association, but the respect on both sides was obvious.
Having made his big screen debut in 1999 with Shane Meadows’ A Room For Romeo Brass (the first of many collaborations between the former college mates), Considine has won acclaim for his roles in such films as Last Resort (2000), 24 Hour Party People, In America (both ’02), Dead Man’s Shoes (’04, with Meadows) and last year’s Submarine.
When it came to his directorial debut, Considine claims to have been confident about Tyrannosaur, from script to edit suite. Based on his 2007 short Dog Altogether, and shot over four weeks, with the halving of the original £1.5million budget moving the production from Glasgow to Leeds, Considine, Mullan and Coleman picked up an award each at Sundance earlier this year. So, is that confidence still flying high? Or is Considine worried about the critical reaction, and the commercial reception?
“It was something that I’d never experienced before,” he says, “because, you know, I think there’s a big difference between going through the process of actually making a film and being an actor in one. When we were at Sundance, I felt really apprehensive, and I definitely didn’t go there thinking, I don’t give a f**k what anyone thinks about this movie, I know what I’ve made. There was a definite fear, because I did think, this is my baby, and if they start kicking it about, I don’t know how I’m going to feel about it.”
Initially, Considine even fretted over the title. Let’s not forget, The Shawshank Redemption bombed in the US largely because people there didn’t know what to make of the title. Or how to pronounce it.
“The early stuff that came up online, all the stuff I feared about the title – people thinking they’re going to see a dinosaur movie – I entertained it far too much. And I think the way I feel now, I don’t read any reviews, even if they’re good. I stay away from it all. I know what I’ve made, I won’t change anything now, and I don’t want to change anything. I’ve made my film, and I love my film, and that’s it. On to the next one.”
Having expressed his desire to keep the autobiographical elements of the film close to his heart, the fact that Tyrannosaur is dedicated to Considine’s late mother, Pauline, suggests some of the wounds in the film run deep. “I just had to make sense of a lot of stuff, for myself,” says Considine, who also lost his father ten years ago, a week before In America began shooting. “It’s profound enough, when a parent dies, but I was a long time trying to come to terms with things, and trying to reach people, in some ways, although they’re gone.
“They’re not here to answer any questions, and I didn’t ask the questions while they were alive. And in some sense, I guess I was making sense of a lot of stuff about my relationship with my father, my relationship with my mother. You know, I guess in some ways the ghost in the film is my mum. A lot of things in Joseph’s dialogue, about his dead wife, where he says, you know, ‘She was beautiful. I thought she was dumb, but she wasn’t – she was beautiful. She had this huge forgiveness, and I hated it’ – I felt that way. Because I thought people abused my mother’s good nature.”
We talk about Considine’s favourite line in the movie (“My friend died yesterday – I miss the c**t”), the fine line between tragedy and comedy (as exemplified by that loved line), why acclaimed young British actors are drawn to dark tales of domestic abuse for their directorial debuts (Tim Roth opted for grim incest drama in The War Zone), and how audiences “can smell bullshit” when you’re not being true.
Oh, and the relief Considine felt last year when he was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder.
“It was almost like this condition was hammering at me, saying, ‘Hello, I’m here’,” he says. “And I just went about living what I thought was a normal life, being more and more uncomfortable in situations, and what that represents. Social situations – acting, film sets, everything. This façade I was putting on for everybody was destroying me, because the energy it took to be around people was taking its toll on me.
“Part of this condition is that you live in a state of hyper vigilance really, and anxiety. The fear that something bad is going to happen. I’m not like other people, who can read a review and say, it should ruin your breakfast, not your dinner. Well, it can ruin my year. Not because I care so much about what they say, but stuff like that just doesn’t process itself through my body the way it does with other people. So, it stays with me for a lot longer than it should.”
Such self-torture can feed great art though. Look at De Niro, look at Bowie – once they got comfortable, they got bland.
“Yeah, you’ve always got have some hunger in there,” nods Considine. “Don’t think I’ll ever lose that. You can’t get too f**king well fed.”
Tyrannosaur hits Irish cinemas this Friday, Oct 7th