Ray Winstone does not want to discuss acting.

Estimated read time 13 min read


Actor Ray Winstone is famous for portraying tough, criminal characters and has a unique physique with a large torso and thin legs. At 67 years old, he resembles the personas he has played on screen and maintains his childhood accent from East London. He is known for his frequent use of profanity and jokes about being voted as a specific type of actor in the film and television industry. When asked about being typecast, Winstone responds with a humorous comment about being willing to play a female role, but jokingly acknowledges that his legs may not be suitable.

Winstone and I have convened to discuss three fresh projects: The Gentlemen, a series by Guy Ritchie, where he portrays the leader of a criminal family in danger; Damsel, a Netflix production where he plays the head of a family dealing with a regretful choice; and A Bit of Light, an indie film where he portrays the patriarch of a family struggling with emotional turmoil. (A Bit of Light is adapted from Rebecca Callard’s play of the same name, described as “like Mary Poppins with trauma”.) Winstone’s reasons for working remain the same since his first major role in the 1979 film Scum, where he played a rebellious teenager fighting for social dominance in a youth detention center. “You go have fun for six weeks, see how it turns out,” he explains regarding filming. “If it turns out great, that’s a bonus. If not, well, you’ve still had a great six weeks.” And then, you settle your debts. “There are films you may not want to do,” he adds. “But you have to do them because you haven’t worked in a while and you need to pay your bills.”

‘Most really good drama is family’: Ray Winstone. Top by reptonboxingclub.com.View image in fullscreen

Callard claims that Winstone delivers a unique and vulnerable performance in A Bit of Light, deviating from his usual caricature roles. However, this oversimplifies Winstone’s talent. He views films such as Sexy Beast and Nil by Mouth as complex love stories, even his gangster characters are intricate and unconventional. Winstone believes that at the core of most great dramas is the theme of family, whether it is a functional or dysfunctional unit. In his perspective, he has been portraying family dynamics all throughout his acting career. A Bit of Light, where his character grapples with the loss of his wife and daughter, is a natural continuation of the work he has done before. Winstone describes the film as exploring the weight of losing something and the accompanying guilt.

In his upcoming projects, Winstone will be portraying a tumultuous relationship between a father and daughter. In reality, Winstone has three grown daughters who are all actors. He has a good relationship with all of them, but they have all tested him in some way. His oldest daughter Lois recently moved in with her boyfriend at the family home in Essex, where his youngest daughter Ellie still resides. His middle child Jaime lives nearby, only ten minutes away. When asked if he drew from his own experiences as a father to daughters while filming, he admits that he did at times, jokingly referring to them as “little troublemakers.”

Winstone’s delivery of this statement is accompanied by a warm chuckle. He exudes a playful energy that makes you feel at ease while sharing his humorous description of his family.

“What do you mean by ‘little fuckers’?” I inquired. “Well,” he replied, “I have three daughters. Do you also have three daughters?”

I inform him that I only have one. He inquires, “How old?” I reply, “Three.” He responds with a smile, “You’ll reach that stage too. You’ll comprehend.”

‘Whenever I’ve had to kiss someone on set, she knows’: Ray Winstone with his wife Elaine, to whom he has been married 44 years.

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Winstone and his wife, Elaine, have been married for 44 years and they regularly invite their daughters to have lunch with them on Sundays. Although most weeks the daughters accept the invitation, Winstone sometimes struggles to persuade them to come. He recently spoke to his youngest daughter, Ellie, who is 22 years old. He asked her if she would be joining them for Sunday lunch, but she declined. He then reminded her that they were having a special Sunday dinner, to which she responded, “Dad, I don’t want to have Sunday dinner every single week.”

Winstone chuckles while recounting this tale. (“Okay, okay, okay,” he reassured her in a tone of a parent calming a child.) Despite this, he continues to extend the invitations. Sunday lunch holds significance in his beliefs: it is a part of his upbringing that he refuses to lose, along with his accent and his dedication to a moral code (showing courtesy, working hard, and looking after loved ones – what he refers to as “cockney morality”) that was instilled in him as a young boy.

Winstone was born in 1957 in Hackney. In his memoir, Young Winstone, he reveals that he grew up in a family that faced financial struggles at times. His father, also named Ray, worked as a greengrocer and later became a black-cab driver, operating with his group of friends from the airport. Winstone’s mother assisted her husband at the markets and also collected money from slot machines. “My father was a hard worker,” Winstone remembers. “But my mother was clever.” On one occasion, she showed Winstone how to pour lemonade onto a slot machine at a specific moment, causing its wires to short circuit and pay out all of its winnings.

‘A complicated love story’: Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast.

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Winstone has pleasant memories of his childhood, despite experiencing anger and violence. In his memoir, he shares an instance of being expelled from nursery for fighting, although he clarifies it was only a minor altercation. Winstone reflects on his younger self as being mischievous but denies being cruel or dishonest. He attributes his behavior to the environment he grew up in. His father, who had a background in boxing, was once charged with GBH and would sometimes engage in physical altercations with other men in front of Winstone. Although Winstone acknowledges making mistakes, he chooses not to elaborate and believes it is all part of shaping one’s character. He wonders how his life may have turned out if he had not pursued acting and admits uncertainty.

In his autobiography, Winstone discusses violence with a sense of fondness. When questioned about how witnessing his father’s aggressive behavior may have affected him as a child, he does not simply brush it off as shocking. In his book Young Winstone, he acknowledges that while he does not support violence, he can empathize with it. Regarding his father, he now reflects, “It is what it is. Fight or be fought. He was familiar with that world. He and his friends lived by a code, which was not a harmful one. No one lost their life.”

Winstone was 28 when his mother passed away at the age of 52. His father also passed away six years ago. Winstone reflects on his relationship with his father, stating, “It’s interesting how your perspective changes when you lose your dad. Before that, he’s the one in charge, the authority figure. But when they’re gone, it’s a relief in a way. Suddenly, it’s all up to you and you don’t have to worry about disappointing them.”

On the ropes: Ray Winstone at Repton Boxing Club, east London. Waistcoat, shirt and trousers, all by thomaspink.com; brogues by church-footwear.com.

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During his teenage years, Winstone became a member of the Repton Boxing Club located in east London. He believes that the sport of boxing gave him a valuable education, especially since he struggled in school. Through training at Repton, he gained discipline and respect. Winstone also acknowledges the positive impact of the club’s mentors and their ability to guide young individuals. He had the honor of representing England in boxing twice, an experience that he believes greatly benefited him in his acting career. Winstone explains that boxing taught him how to face fear without showing it, but rather by putting on a brave face, standing tall, and confronting challenges head on.

While attending Repton, Winstone became a student at the Corona drama school. His parents were responsible for paying the tuition fees. He explains that they were motivated to enroll him after seeing him perform in a school play, hoping it would keep him out of trouble. However, after a year, Winstone was expelled and had previously been isolated from his peers due to his manner of speaking, which was considered unconventional. When asked if he was a negative influence, he admits to having some impact but with a hint of amusement. In one of his early jobs as an extra on the ITV sitcom Get Some In!, he even got into a physical altercation with a director whom he felt had disrespected him. This resulted in him being temporarily banned from work and his teachers losing hope in him. Despite these challenges, Winstone looks back on his time at drama school with fondness, especially because it allowed him to interact with students from different backgrounds than his own.

On the day of his departure from the Corona, Winstone agreed to join some friends for a drink. Some of them were going to audition for an upcoming Alan Clarke production set in a borstal, and Winstone decided to join them. While there, he struck up a conversation with a receptionist who encouraged him to meet Clarke. Reluctantly, he did so. “I was the last one in,” Winstone recalls, “and we just had a good time.” As he was leaving, Clarke watched Winstone, who had developed a boxer’s physique and confidence, walking down the corridor and offered him the role of Carlin in Scum. Winstone considers this moment to be life-changing.

At the start of his acting career, Winstone frequently experienced discomfort while on film sets. Even currently, he often feels uneasy. “I’m not like the stereotypical actor,” he explains with a laugh. “I don’t talk like one.” He shares that during dinners with colleagues, the conversation often revolves around work, but he would rather discuss other topics such as boxing or football. His closest friends are not from the industry, but people he has known for a long time. “I don’t want to constantly talk about acting. When I go home at night, my wife doesn’t even ask about it.”

I inquire, “What is the topic of your conversation?”

“Us!” he says. “How her day’s been. What she’s been up to. She’s got a good radar. Whenever I’ve had to kiss someone on set, she knows. I must give it away when I come in. There’s something witchy about her.” He pauses… “Or she’s got a tag on me.”

‘More vulnerable’: Ray Winstone in A Bit of Light with Anna Paquin.

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Midway through our dialogue, a server comes to our table with coffee. Winstone pauses and gazes upwards. “Do you want an Americano?” the server inquires.

Winstone is sipping on breakfast tea from delicate china.

“He says that the coffee is not for him.”

The server pauses, momentarily unsure, and Winstone continues speaking with an Anglo-Italian inflection, attempting to imitate hers.

“I am from England,” he states, “I do not want an Americano.”

I interpret the gesture as kind and not insulting – an attempt to alleviate embarrassment. (The waitress, who is fluent in English and is often referred to as “darling” by Winstone, does not appear to be offended at all.) Winstone has a house in Sicily that he visits “when the weather here is terrible,” he explains, pointing to the rain outside. He enjoys driving there. (“Straight through France,” he recently told a friend of mine, since it is “filled with French people.”)

It is easy to envision Winstone as a British person living abroad. Although he has mentioned the possibility of moving in the future, possibly to Sicily or to become an olive farmer, in order to avoid what he perceives as excessive taxation, he still proudly identifies as English. Our discussion largely centers on the current state of the country, which he is feeling discouraged about.

Criminal patriarch: Ray Winstone in The Gentlemen.View image in fullscreen

Winstone made the decision to vote for the UK to leave the EU in 2016. He explains that he did not want to be dictated by the French on how to eat his pork chops. It is uncertain if he still supports the decision, but he is very blunt in his opinions about British politics. He refers to those in power as “cunts” and believes they have no understanding of what the people truly want. He also expresses his right not to vote and questions who he would even vote for. Winstone compares their lack of action to getting fired in any other job if they don’t fulfill their promises. He strongly believes that the NHS needs more funding, especially for hardworking nurses who are not being fairly compensated for their efforts. He emphasizes that these individuals are responsible for saving lives.

During our conversation, Winstone mentions the importance of a political “shake up”. When I inquire about what this might entail, considering the example of Donald Trump, Winstone expresses disapproval and states that it is not worth discussing. However, he believes that change is necessary and we need someone – though he is unsure of their identity or background – who will be completely truthful and willing to admit when they do not know something. He criticizes politicians who avoid answering questions, stating that as representatives, they have a responsibility to address the concerns of the people.

I inquire about his perception of a romanticized England.

“Yes,” he states. “Absolutely.” This memory is from his upbringing. “When you’re young, you don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders,” he adds. “You have carefree summers, beautiful fields of hay, and you could explore the countryside…” During his childhood, Winstone and his family would often visit the coastal towns of Southend and Shoeburyness in Essex. “That version of England still exists,” he remarks. “It’s not the citizens of England who are destroying the country. It’s the incompetent leaders who are in charge.”

In our discussion, Winstone presents himself as a relatable person, but I am skeptical of this portrayal. (When talking about his plans for Sunday dinner, Winstone mentioned the possibility of ordering sashimi, implying he is not financially struggling.) Winstone’s beliefs align with popular opinions and are influenced by his generation. When asked about his children’s thoughts on his views, he responds, “They don’t always agree with me. My children have their own independent thoughts, and I appreciate that. I have learned a lot from them, as it should be.”

“I mention during our Sunday dinner,” I say.

He stated that there is typically conflict during our Sunday meals. Before, he had mentioned that our family is not like the Waltons.

I inquire about his thoughts on inheritance.

“What is ‘Legacy’?” he inquires.

I inquire, “Do you consider what you will leave behind?”

The person responds with a negative, stating that work can become outdated due to constantly changing circumstances. He acknowledges that there are now different methods and behaviors in the workplace. While some of his past work remains relevant, others may not. After a brief pause, he shifts the conversation towards his children, who he sees as his lasting impact. He hopes to leave them with something that will assist them in their own endeavors.


Damsel will premiere on Netflix on March 8th, while The Gentleman is available on March 7th. A Bit of Light will be released on April 5th.

Source: theguardian.com

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