Ray Winstone Talks Starring in ‘The Gentlemen’ After ‘Falling Out’ With Guy Ritchie and His Gangster Persona: ‘My Wife Always Says, ‘Why Do You Look Like You’re Going to Kill Someone?”

Rexa Vella

Ray Winstone Talks Starring in ‘The Gentlemen’ After ‘Falling Out’ With Guy Ritchie and His Gangster Persona: ‘My Wife Always Says, ‘Why Do You Look Like You’re Going to Kill Someone?”

Many of cinema’s hard men are notorious softies in real life. Ray Winstone may well be one of those, even if he admits to not looking particularly approachable.

“My wife always says to me, ‘Why do you look like you’re going to kill someone when you walk into a room?’” he tells Variety. “But I don’t mean to!”

Winstone’s long-standing status as the go-to man to depict violent approach-with-caution individuals or British mob bosses continues to serve him, however, as “The Gentleman” — Guy Ritchie’s eight-part Netflix spinoff of his 2019 gangster comedy feature of the same name — proves. In the series, awash in the classic Ritchie mix of guns, drugs, violence, aristocrats, boxing and tweed, Winstone stars as a gangland patriarch and head of a massive weed-growing empire. Because of course he does — who else would you cast as an elder statesman than the actor who has practically owned that screen role for 45 years? 

“It’s gone past very quick,” says Winstone of the years since his 1979 breakout as a violent teenage offender in Alan Clarke’s “Scum” (a part he only got after talking his way into the room and impressing Clarke with his confidence). That same year, he also starred in U.K. classic “Quadrophenia” and drama “That Summer!,” for which he earned a best newcomer BAFTA nomination (he returned to the BAFTAs 18 years later with a leading man nominations for “Nil by Mouth”). 

But Winstone — who also appears in Netflix’s new fantasy feature “Damsel” — admits that it’s only while doing press that he looks back on a much-celebrated career now spanning five decades across film, TV and stage.

“It’s not until you sit down and you’re asked questions and reflect on it and you think, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve worked with Spielberg, (‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’), Scorsese (‘The Departed’), I’ve worked with Aronofsky (‘Noah’), I’ve worked with Jonathan Glazer (‘Sexy Beast’).’ And you go, ‘Oh, that’s quite a body of directors over the years,’” he says. “And if you haven’t learned anything from them, you’re never going to learn anything!”

Winstone credits 1997’s “Nil by Mouth” — Gary Oldman’s writing and directorial debut, in which he played an abusive husband alongside Kathy Burke — as bringing him back from a lengthy period of cinematic inactivity. But he says it was a period of mostly TV and stage work where he was able to actually focus on honing his craft, with his entry as an actor having happened practically overnight and with little training. 

“I didn’t do it that way on purpose, but in those years I was learning something,” he says. “I was around people like Ian Rickson at the Royal Court and he helped put me in touch with my feminine side, which was really helpful for me, because I was a bit of a geezer. So it stood me in good stead over the years.”

Over the years since, Winstone has spread his wings across numerous genres, including big-budget studio productions like Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 actioner “King Arthur” (playing the knight Bors, prompting Fuqua to liken him to the “British De Niro”), Robert Zemeckis’ animated adaptation of “Beowulf” and Marvel’s “Black Widow” (playing Russian villain Dreykov). Then there’s smaller low-budget indie titles such as New Zealand period action-thriller “Tracker,” Tim Roth’s “The War Zone” and boxing drama “Jawbone” (written by his friend Johnny Harris). But the “geezer” persona is one that has followed him along the way, thanks to hard man roles in “Sexy Beast,” plus “The Sweeney,” “The Departed” and many others making use of his gruff tones and swagger.

Given this status, many might find it strange that “The Gentlemen” marks Winstone’s first collaboration with Ritchie, a filmmaker who has made a career out of British gangsters and geezers. As a matter of fact, Winstone was originally due to star in Ritchie’s 1998 breakout “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” but it didn’t work out.

“We had a falling out,” he says. “There were one or two things that I didn’t like that went on, so we fell out, but over the years it mended itself. And he’s making wonderful films. You know his films, you look at them and you go, ‘That’s a Guy Ritchie movie.’”

Winstone has yet to appear in a Ritchie movie, despite “The Gentlemen.” But with the series, plus Netflix’s Millie Bobby Brown-led fantasy feature “Damsel” (in which he plays a lord hoping to sacrifice his daughter to pay off his debt) and British indie “A Bit of Light” (playing a newly sober father alongside Anna Paquin), he’s got three projects coming out almost back-to-back — much like he did 45 years ago as a young man making his first entry into the industry. They’re also different enough — a gangland drama, studio flick and independent feature — that they perfectly surmise how Winstone has mixed things up over the years since then.

“You can’t plan it, but it’s lovely when it happens,” he says of his upcoming works. “And making the indie really was the icing on the cake.”


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