Henry VIII - Press Archive - Long Live the Sexy Beast

 
Source: The Times
11 Oct 2003
 
Long live the sexy beast

Ray Winstone's smouldering charisma and malign menace is the perfect
mix for ITV's new Henry VIII, says Karen Hockney

Ray Winstone, hard man extraordinaire, is making tea in his trailer looking
rather fetching in breeches, knee-high boots and an intricate chainmail tunic.
The man who has made his name playing tough nuts, psychotic gangsters
and coppers with a penchant for being a bit dodgy has pulled off one of the
biggest coups in television history by being cast as the daddy of them all,
Henry VIII, in ITV1’s ambitious two-part drama.
 
It’s a huge leap for the boy from Plaistow, East London, and the irony is not
lost on Winstone, 46, whose stock-in-trade is the kind of characters who
make other men wet themselves with fright.
 
“My first job was playing a convict in Scum, I was a kid banged up in a
borstal,” he says proudly. “From that to playing a king, well, I’ve gone the
whole gamut. Henry’s probably the biggest villain of them all. He is a warrior
and a lover, he just can’t leave it alone. That’s what gets him into trouble
and destroys his soul.”
 
That he is the lead in such a stellar production, which boasts Joss Ackland,
Charles Dance, Sean Bean, David Suchet, Emilia Fox and Helena Bonham
Carter, speaks volumes about Granada’s confidence in Winstone. Yet he is
humble about being top choice for a role that would have appealed to any of
Britain’s A-list.
 
“It’s exciting,” he says, squeezing into the bench seat opposite. “It’s very
brave of Granada to cast me as the king. I mean, it’s not the norm is it?
He’s been played before by very talented people and always done very well.
I’m just trying to look for different angles, to play him as a man and let
everyone else worry about him being the king.
 
“It’s a tough job: it’s physical, mental, everything, and there’s pressure.
I’m not finding it easy, but sometimes you have to put your head on the
line, sorry for the pun!” Fittingly, this latest incarnation will be quite
different from the atmospheric and rather restrained period films that
have gone before. There’s blood, guts and gore aplenty. The director,
Pete Travis, sums it up: “This is The Godfather in tights. In Ray we
have a man who has a wonderful animal power, very like that which
Henry would have had. It’s violent and sexy and that is what the world
was like then. People have not seen history done like this before.
 
“Being the king is about being wonderfully charismatic. I think Ray is
probably the only British actor who can do that ruthless power but also
be incredibly vulnerable. He can switch from being a little boy to an
ogre in the blink of an eye. If you weren’t casting Ray, the only other
actors you’d be looking at are Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Russell
Crowe.” High praise indeed for Ray, who adds: “You get the feel of a
Godfather thing, in that they are conspiring all the time and there is
loads of paranoia. It has a Mafia feel, everyone is jostling for position,
everyone could be your enemy.”
Winstone’s transformation took about an hour each day in make-up and
costume, with body suits, prosthetics and even padding in his mouth to
make him look and sound convincing as the portly monarch.
“The costumes have been good, they are comfortable but pretty heavy,”
he says. “By the end of the week I’m dead on my legs. I get to wear all
the heavy chains and other jewellery. Some days I’ve felt like MC Hammer.
But I usually wear a pin-striped suit, so it’s been a bit of a giggle.”
 
Winstone lost two stone for the role, working out at a gym and cutting
back on his diet so that he was in good shape for the jousting, horse-riding
and fight scenes. His only regret is that he wasn’t allowed to do more of
his own stunts, for insurance purposes as much as anything.
 
“I start it and someone else finishes it!” he grins. “But really, it isn’t easy.
The stunt boys make us look good. There should be an academy award for
stuntmen, though they’d probably just say: ‘put our money up.’ I learnt to ride
last year when I was filming Cold Mountain. I’m pretty capable on a horse
now. I love it, I wish I’d learnt 20 years ago.”
 
In those days he might have had the time for that, but not the money.
Having cut his teeth in the 1970s cult Brit flicks Scum and Quadrophenia,
Winstone’s early promise foundered and he found himself out of work for
long spells during the 1980s. He battled on, making the weak BBC One
sitcom Get Back with a then unknown Kate Winslet (“a great kid”) before
getting the offer seven years ago that would put him back on track: Gary
Oldman’s uncompromisingly brutal film Nil By Mouth. Based on Oldman’s
bleak South London childhood, it starred Ray as a violent wife-beater
alongside his friend Kathy Burke and, suddenly, he was back in favour.
 
“I was plodding along, enjoying work when I had it but a lot of the time
I was unemployed. All I wanted to do was good stuff, but I wasn’t getting
offered it until I worked with Gary Oldman,” he recalls. “I don’t want to make
it sound worse than it was because when you have a good family around you,
you don’t have it hard. I’m a really lucky boy. It was tough in the 1980s but I
had my wife’s family and my family and no one was going to see anyone go
without. People said I went bankrupt twice, but actually I’ve never been
bankrupt because I paid it all off eventually.”
 
After Nil By Mouth, scripts flooded in for films such as Sexy Beast, Love Honour
and Obey and the controversial Tim Roth film War Zone, in which Ray played
an abuser.
 
“I’ve had a variety of roles, but not from choice, I’m not that clever,” he insists.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get interesting and good scripts. You hear about all
that typecasting, but you only typecast yourself because there are a million
ways to play everything. I never set out to play different characters, just to do
good scripts.”
 
Success has enabled him to play a role in real life that has long appealed —
that of the country squire. He lives in well-heeled comfort on the
Hertfordshire-Essex border with his wife Elaine and daughters Lois, 21, Jaime,
17, and two-year-old Ellie, and professes to a weakness for shopping trips up
west with “the boys” every once in a while. He has recently completed the
medieval epic Arthur in Ireland with the top action producer Jerry Bruckheimer,
alongside Clive Owen and Keira Knightley, and has also set up his own
production company, which is developing two film projects — about William
Blake and Albert Pierrepoint — and an ITV1 thriller called She’s Gone. But
perhaps the true sign that he has finally arrived is that he will provide the
voice of Soldier Sam in The Magic Roundabout.
 
Going into the production side was a necessary evil for Winstone, who has
no real ambition to be anywhere but front of camera. “I don’t really like
the idea of being on the other side of it all,” he says, taking a sip from his
mug and stretching out his legs. “I like doing what I do, but you fall into
it because you have projects you’re interested in and it’s the only way you
can get them off the ground. You meet people over the years who can help
you and who you can trust. You’d be mad not to make the most of that.”
 
He finishes his tea just as there is a knock at the door calling him back on set.
“Have you got enough, babe?” he asks, and with that, he’s off for a spot of
jousting with the lads.
 
Hooray henrys
Henry VIII actors Ray Winstone has to live up to
 
Arthur Bourchier Played the king in the 1911 silent film.
 
Charles Laughton (x2) Won a Best Actor Oscar for The Private Life of Henry VIII
in 1933. He played Henry again, to Jean Simmons’s Elizabeth I, in Young Bess
(1953).
 
Richard Burton was a passionate and headstrong Henry, in Anne of the
Thousand Days (1969).
 
Keith Michell (x3) Played the corpulent monarch on stage in The King’s Mare,
on television in the 1971 mini series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and on
screen in the 1973 film Henry VIII and his Six Wives.
 
Sid James Elevated English history to a bedhopping farce with his trademark
leer in Carry On Henry (1971).
 
Henry VIII, Sunday, ITV1, 9pm; part two, Sunday, Oct 19

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