Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
November 25, 2007.
With his gruff,
hardened voice, and a face that shows the scars from his early years as a
boxer, 50 year-old Londoner Ray Winstone hardly seemed like the perfect
choice to play the Adonis-like, all-conquering Norse hero Beowulf.
But thanks to Robert Zemeckis and his love of motion-capture animation,
Winstone gets transformed in this flawed hero through the wonders of modern
technology. Written by author Neil Gaiman and screenwriter Roger Avary, the
warrior Beowulf fights and defeats the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) who
is terrorizing a Danish kingdom ruled by Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), and
later, grapples with Grendel's bewitching, beautiful mother (Angelina Jolie),
who is the real monster and slayer.
In a way it's a wonder
this hardscrabble working-class boxer became an actor but he a natural for
starting his career through the part of boxer Kenny Fox in the British TV
series Fox. Ray appeared in a lot of other UK TV series and such
English films as Quadrophenia, Nil By Mouth, The War Zone and Sexy
Beast. Winstone then played in such higher-profile film as The
Departed, Breaking and Entering, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe, King Arthur and Cold Mountain.
What was it like
seeing yourself as a 6' 6" tall Norse god-like figure?
It's like my alter-ego
isn't it? I thought it was fantastic, I didn't have to train; I didn't even
have to eat the right foods; I didn't have to go running. I just ate cheese.
My jaw hit the floor. You go in and see the artwork. The only way I can
explain this, is when you make a film, you get a feeling for the set, you
put your make-up on, you put your costume on and you perform. With this one,
you perform, then they put your make-up on, then put your costume on and
then they make the set. What it does is, it makes your imagination explode.
You are performing
with the greatest actors of the world, and performing you are. I couldn't
comprehend the look of the piece. So I sat down in the cinema with my
brother-in-law and my jaw hit the floor. I mean, I'm working with Robert
Zemeckis, and he's a genius, but even I don't think he meant for it to look
like that. And that's like Polar Express. It's all that work that
they did on Polar Express, that's where they learned all that. That's
where the word "computer" gets confused with us. That's us. We're acting. I
think the word "computer' confuses people, because they don't know if we've
done that or not.
But its the most
physical job I've done, especially at 48, which I was at the time [of
shooting]. There were stunts, you have to walk like you're 6' 6" warrior. At
the end of the day, you're knackered. I've never been so tired in my whole
life. It was the purest performance you can have.
Were there different
challenges for you as an actor?
Well yes, acting like
a 6' 6", 20 year old with an eight-pack was a real challenge because you
have to move like you're 6' 6" with an eight pack. If you move like a
50-year-old man, then that's what it's going to look like. And then when you
play the dragon...[it's another thing]. I am in there, hung mid-air, my arms
are the wings, my face becomes the face of the dragon, the legs become the
talons, your ass becomes the tail and away you go. It all becomes about the
body. It was fantastic; you can play King Kong like that. I appreciated what
Andy Serkis [who played Kong in motion-capture suit] went through. All of a
sudden you're propelled into another world. It was a good feeling. You can't
really ask for any more than that.
Did you think that
one day you'd work with a great actor like Sir Anthony Hopkins, but there
you are with blue leotards and...
Yeah, I thought I'd
love to play a Viking ever since I saw Kirk Douglas do it. It's part of our
history: Vikings. They are them and we are us. It was a fantastic thing at
48. I thought I would play the top Viking's grandfather or something. But to
play Beowulf, which by the way I knew nothing about before I read the
script, it was something really special.
What do you think
about a film like this where you play such a macho warrior but the only
person you cannot defeat is a woman?
I think that's right.
It's funny how women always betray [the men] like how Angelina [Jolie] is in
the film. And this goes back through time. To me she was ambitious as his
greed. It's funny how women, especially sexy women, are always portrayed as
a man's downfall. They are, aren't they? Even for Adolf Hitler, [he had] Eva
Braun. Your mind goes somewhere else. So women have a lot to answer for
Were you a fan of
science fiction/horror films?
Not really. Not as
much horror films, I'd always wanted to be in a horror film. One of the
greatest horror films I'd ever saw is Alien that sort of waiting to
see this monster in an enclosed space, floating about. And The Exorcist.
Batman and Robin and Spiderman were there when I was a kid, but it never was
my thing, comic books.
You're playing the
original mythic hero though.
The original one,
that's right. I wasn't interested in them, Batman and Robin... I was doing
Were you doing
when you took off to do this? What did you think when Robert Zemeckis chose
you for this role?
Well when the script
is great and portrays a character that is 6' 6", eyes are blue, koochy
koochy koo. You go, there must be another Ray Winstone. I'm 5' 10" and I've
got a one-pack. I'm 50. So I thought, "He's made a mistake here." I met him
and admired what the story was about. It's about ambition and greed. It's
timeless. It's stuck in my head that man never learns. We talked about that
and he told me how he was going to do it, which makes sense because I was
still thinking he was talking about someone else. And I was surprised I got
the part. He was surprised that I was surprised. He'd seen me in Henry
VIII playing Henry. That's where it all came from. But I still wasn't
ready for the final assault in the cinema it blew me away.
Now that you know
about this technology, are there parts now that you think you can play?
I haven't stopped
thinking about it. [laughs] Honest to god. Yeah, of course. I'm too
old to play somethings, but with this technology, I can play Marilyn Monroe.
If I was Marilyn Monroe, I'd never go out. I'd stay in with myself.
It's funny you
mention Shakespeare. You're working with some of the greatest theater actors
doing this animation.
And great cinema
actors. I've never had a classical background. I started that late. I did
TV. I started that kind of late. Theater is great, but after two weeks, you
think, "God, can't we do something else?" And I think Anthony feels like
that and he's quite right. They are really brilliant actors and to be
opposite of them they're there looking after you. To be cast with these
people flattering. As long as you don't become like Beowulf and start
believing into the publicity.
It's nice to hear
your accent in the movie.
This is the great
thing about this as well. You've got Brendan [Gleeson] playing an Irishman
and he's from Ireland. You've got Anthony playing Welshman. Then I come
along with a bit of London. They say, "Oh, he's coming on a bit strong with
his accent." But what would Beowulf sound like? He's Danish. Nobody would
understand what I would be saying.
When there's a movie
with new technology like this, and it's
continually progressing, how does it feel to be part of
It feels like being in
the first moving picture. It's a bit far, but its like from talkies, to
black and white to color, smell-orama, earthquake vision [Sensurround], CGI
and then this. Where is it going next? It's all part and parcel, taking
cinema on. People always innovating film, otherwise we'd be bored. I've
spoken with a couple of journalists who think, "Oh this is the downfall of
cinema." But you know, it's just another form. You got to experiment. You
try different things. You do it as an actor, a director, as a writer, as a
cinematographer. People seem to want to analyze it so much that it boils
down to the word computer. But what it comes down to is, "Do you like it?"
Yes, or no? Not everyone's going to like it, but some people will love it.
That's what film is. It's like having a famous actor. Not everyone's going
to like him, but it's your tastes.
How did you feel when
filming was over?
I actually didn't want
it to end because I loved it so much. We were filming for six weeks, and it
took two years for them to put it together. I was in a run of it. I was
feeling good about it. You come down and feel tired after because it was
very physically demanding. I went to Hawaii, I took my family there, but I
didn't really enjoy it because I really wanted to go home.
Is it tough waiting
for that two-year post production time to see the result of your work?
I guess so. You kind
of forget about it a bit because you're doing other things. You lose the
idea that it's an epic because you're filming it in four walls of white.
Your imagination is going while youre doing it, but after, you just
remember four walls of white and being in a blue suit. In a way that gives
you a big shock when you sit down and watch it. These beautiful effects, 3D,
and then you come on the screen and go, "My God." You lose touch with it.
What was it like
playing a romantic lead as well as a hardened warrior?
I love it. I'd rather
be kissing than punching them. Wouldn't you? I'm too old for that jumping
Usually they give
the love scenes to the younger actors.
Yeah? Well, tough.
Move over. [laughs]
Beowulf in his youth
is a very cocky bastard. What was that like for you to play as an actor?
I found that very easy
bit to do, being a cocky bastard. It's me being nice [laughs].
Have you seen your
Gladiator and epic sword-play films?
I loved Gladiator.
Russell Crowe is tremendous in it. Or take Kirk Douglas in Spartacus.
I watched 300 in a hotel room in Santa Monica, and it was blinding.
Old war films, they are fantastic. But when you're 50, you never think
you're going to be in one. I was up for Troy, and I didn't get the
part, I lost that one. But I went on
and did King Arthur with Antoine Fuqua [as Bors], who's a brilliant
guy. We had fun. There was a huge set that they built; it was 3/4 of a mile
long. Its fabulous when you have a huge set that you're working with. It's
like being a kid again. It's like playing soldiers. That was wonderful to
When you think of
war films at your age, do you think you can only play restricted roles like
Yeah. Do you know what
I mean? But you can now. That's my face at 20. I got pictures of me at home
when I was boxing at 20. The body ain't. I only
had a three-pack then. But with the film, they pick up everything and you've
got to make sure you don't over do it because it picks it up.
It was like CGI
I guess so. I don't
know the terminology of it. When I watched it, the performance that Anthony
Hopkins gives on the screen is what he gave in the studio. And I felt that
was mine as well, and likewise with everyone else. It's just this word
computer that freaks people out. It's a performance. Putting three of the
takes together, messing them around. In theater it's different, if you mess
up and they don't like you they boo you and quite rightly so.
Did you see the film
in the IMAX 3D format?
I haven't seen that
yet. I've only seen normal 3D. It blew me away. I'm going back to England,
rest a bit and book it.
What was your reaction
to see Angelina in 3D?
Well, there'd be
something wrong with you if you didn't think she was beautiful. She's an
absolutely stunning girl as is Robin Wright Penn. They are two of the most
beautiful women in the world. You get that impression when you meet them
anyway. They're just stunning and fantastic actresses as well. Which makes
them sexy. Doesn't matter what they look like, but their acting makes them
sexy. They're beautiful women. They're really good girls. And I had fun
working with them.
Do you have films you
want to produce, films you want to make?
I don't have the money
to produce this. What's this cost? 140 million dollars? I'm lucky if I've
got 40 pounds. I do have my own company and we've made several small films
that I'm proud of and we're making one after Christmas. We're just jumping
along and working with people. I'm doing a film with people who've done
Sexy Beast, with a new director Malcolm Venville called 44 Inch
Chest. It's about a man who loves his wife too much. It's very well
written. I'm doing another film in Brighton with [writer/rock musician] Nick
Cave who wrote The Proposition with the same director, John
Hillcoat. It's called Death of a Lady's Man. It's very dark, funny,
and it will break your heart. It's a really great script. That's me. I'm
back at work.
[playing Captain Stanley] though it was set in Australia, it was a chance
to do a western.
That was one of the
reasons I loved it. I loved Australia and went straight to the outback. It's
like London was 40 years ago. They are very direct and open there, like New
Yorkers as well. You got to be abrupt here. I was lighting a cigarette
outside the hotel here, and I asked a person if they've got change and they
said "No! Have a nice evening." But that's the vibe in doing a Western, all
the ranches and aborigines... like New York. I love it.
When they yelled
"cut" on the set, I can just imagine you, Brendan, and Anthony going out to
a pub. Did you guys do some damage?
Me and Brendan did on
a few occasions [laughs], but Anthony doesn't drink and hasn't done
so for years. He's the funny one; he'll keep you laughing all day long. He'd
be doing Tommy Cooper [a famous British comic] impersonations and he'd
impersonate you. He's a ball. He's a pleasure. Me and Brendan would have a
beer when we felt like it because at the end of the day you were knackered
and wanted to go home and do work the next morning. It depends on what kind
of day you had the next morning. We were very professional about it as you
can imagine. [laughs]
What about your
experience filming in New York?
We did The Departed
here and also in Boston. I like this place. I've been here many times, and
it's always been the same way. It's been a ball. But I've only worked here
Was Anthony jealous
that you looked better in the nude than he did?
Yeah, but you didn't
see that, it was all covered up. You don't know. The funny thing about that
is, when you look at it in the theater, people kind of swerve to one side to
see if they can see it [laughs]. They want to see what it looks
The animation people
could extend it if you wanted them to.
I've never had that
problem, to be honest with you [laughs].
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