The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Film Features

Tyrannosaur: Beneath The Surface In A Paddy Considine Interview
Andy Thomas , October 5th, 2011 09:29

Andy Thomas speaks to the actor and director about the way his life and career so far have given rise to his debut feature length film, Tyrannosaur

A butterfly flutters above a bleak row of barbed wire coiled above a prison wall. It's an image that sets beauty against brutality, and one that encapsulates Paddy Considine's directorial debut Tyrannosaur. It also reflects the themes that have recurred in much of his work in cinema to date.

His career began with his long time friend and collaborator Shane Meadows casting him as the disturbed character Morell in A Room for Romeo Brass. The film heralded the arrival of a fertile and powerful partnership, prepared, through portrayals of everyday life, to follow the path of social realism laid by fellow British directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.

A string of acting roles followed, including Rob Gretton in 24 Hour Party People as well as amusement arcade manager Alfie in Pawel Pawlikowski's Last Resort. However, it was in his first film as co-writer with Shane Meadows that he would give his most potent performance to date. The bleak but darkly humorous Dead Man's Shoes saw him take on the role of Richard, an ex-soldier who returns home to take brutal revenge on the local petty gangsters who bullied his disabled brother.

After brief, and mainly unhappy, flirtations with Hollywood, his solo screenwriting debut and first directorial venture, the award-winning short Dog Altogether, was as much a relief as a challenge for the media-shy Considine. It introduced the unlikely but life-affirming friendship between Tyrannosaur's central characters, alcoholic street fighter Joseph and God-fearing charity shop worker Hannah. His life spiralling out of control in an endless cycle of violence, Joseph (played by Peter Mullan) finds himself cowering behind the rails of second hand suits, physically and spiritually worn out by the force of his self-destruction. But the redemption Joseph seeks is matched by that of Hannah, whose kind exterior masks the dark complexity of an abusive relationship (with her husband played by the forever-convincing Eddie Marson) from which neither Jesus pictures on the wall nor bottles of spirits can save her.

Speaking shortly before the film's release, Mullan commented: "Inevitably, any half-decent artist, regardless of what genre he works in, is going to draw from his own experiences." It's something I wonder of Paddy Considine before we meet in a Soho hotel on the cusp of the general release of Tyrannosaur. Until recently we have known little about the life that's informed Paddy Considine's work. However, the discovery in 2010 that his detachment and feelings of being different were the result of Asperger's Syndrome not only made Paddy understand more about his own personality but also revealed more about the struggles that have informed his work. "I swaggered through life but, in reality, I lived in fear pretty much every day," he explained in his first interview about the diagnosis in The Daily Telegraph. A year on, and with the anticipation around Tyrannosaur building following his World Cinema Directing Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the Quietus sat down to speak to him at this defining moment in his career.

Where did the name came from, and what was the meaning behind it?

Paddy Considine: I had written a monologue for a character years ago. It was a kind of Alan Bennett-type talking head of a guy sitting in his chair and hearing his wife walking around upstairs, and he starts talking about her. You know, 'There she goes again, the Tyrannosaur.' So it was just playing on that idea of this big woman that was his wife. My mum was a big girl and you'd sit there as a kid and could hear her getting up. But it wasn't a reference to her. Nobody would call my mum that. It's just when these things go into the machine of your brain, and then you start to express them. So that was the origins of it and it became the presence that haunted the film, particularly Joseph's character.

We see the violence from the character of Joseph, but also this great beauty and humanity. Was that something you set out to portray and to what extent is it based on your own experiences?

PC: I think a lot, because as a human myself I deal with a lot of frustrations and a lot of things that I find difficult to articulate. Sometimes the world becomes a little bit too much for me, and although I don't commit acts of violence I have these fears about the world. I have this disorder [Asperger's], and one of the things it gives me is this idea that something bad is going to happen. So that manifests itself in all these scenarios and all this anger, and every now and then it will get to the point of meltdown, where I just need to take myself away to be alone to decompress it all. And Joseph is definitely that person. I think as a character he has the same sort of disorder, although it wasn't written that way in the film, because I think then it would have informed the way the performance would have gone.

But I think he's someone who is just trying to articulate the guilt and anger that he feels about things that have happened to him in his life, and the things he has done in his life. I think they manifest in him in such a way that he doesn't know how to articulate them. So Joseph's way of expressing it or dealing with it is to lash out. There has to be destruction because that's the outlet for him. But I think the character is at a time in his life when he realises all that is futile, because it all it leads to is more pain. Particularly when he sort of accidentally kicks his dog in just a knee-jerk reaction. And I think that is the beginning of his awakening, because that was his last friend and his link to everything.

Ultimately Joseph and Hannah's relationship becomes a loving one. How important was it for you to show how people from different backgrounds can interact in this way?

PC: I think it's very interesting how that plays out, how these two people from two different parts of society really are somehow able to come together in some kind of unity. And to understand each other's pain and fall in love and become companions in some way. I can't remember if I've seen that recently or even at all in this context [in cinema], but the film is about a higher form of love. It's not the love of attraction or getting into bed it's the understanding between two souls who are sharing the pain they have been through.

So do you think British film-makers tend to stereotype by class?

PC: Yeah, I think we do, and to some extent we can't help that. The truth of it is we are a society that is defined by class, and those landscapes and those characters are there and they exist. This is our country and this is where we live, so we portray those things. It's like in cinema these voices have been divided, so we have these working class film-makers and then the ones portraying the middle class and so on. I don't think I've set any new trends but it was certainly interesting seeing people come from two different worlds. Especially seeing this guy who is prolifically violent, and then realising that actually there is something hidden in there that we haven't seen. The victory of the film I think is when she says to him 'I feel safe with you'. And hopefully I think the audience will believe this moment, because they should understand not on an intellectual but on a spiritual level exactly what she means.

While the film is raw it's also shot beautifully. How important was it for you it to create a cinematic film?

PC: I feel like sometimes we apologise for our movies and I think it's time to stop portraying to the rest of the world that we are some sort of subspecies of filmmakers. There ain't a lot of money to make these films, so they are low budget as it is. But even though we went from having one million to £750,000, I was like, 'Fair enough but no hand-held camera, I'm not having that. I want wide screen format, no improvisation. I'm making cinema, not a movie that apologises for the fact that we've only got a few quid.' I just wanted to get out of that realm. Some people have done it great with the hand-held camera and all that, but I think it's had its time now. It became too much of a trend, and for some people it became a short cut. So I just thought, 'No, I'm not doing that, I'm making cinema, not some little film here.' That was the sort of mantra that was drilled into the crew and they were more than happy to oblige.

You touched on your condition earlier but I wondered if, since you discovered you had Asperger's, you'd felt any pressure to make a statement in your films about this?

PC: Not directly, no, but it was something I was coming to earlier when we were talking about Joseph, because if you look at it him he has Asperger's Syndrome. I wasn't diagnosed at the time and wasn't writing that into his character. But when you look at it now you can see it. He doesn't like being touched, he doesn't like company, doesn't like people in his space, he finds it hard to articulate himself in the world so he has to drink to take the edge of that. But if I had written this into the role and gone to everybody to raise the money saying 'We have this character who has Asperger's Syndrome', then all the stereotypes would have come out of the cupboard.

I've had to deal with all that since I was diagnosed. People saying, 'This guy hasn't got Asperger's because he doesn't talk like a robot or stare at the floor.' I mean, that's what we have to deal with. As brilliant as I thought Rain Man was, it's not all that stato business. I mean, I'm not here counting toothpicks. I understand that within the spectrum of Asperger's some people are more severe than me. The point is that I have this condition and Joseph has it too. But Peter Mullan wasn't going to do as some actors would, and look at footage of people with Asperger's. There's no fixed model, and the sooner people realise that the better.

Looking back to when you were making Dead Man's Shoes, do you think you were bringing your own experiences to the film?

PC: To be honest, when I was making that film I knew there was something there. I was just trying to get through life. I'd had the way I felt put down to so many different things that I was just trying to get through my life, and hoping that one day I would get to unlock the door. So at the time of Dead Man's Shoes I'm going through all the emotions I had all my life and thinking, 'What's wrong with me?' I think that was why I found the acting so stressful. Any form of interaction or touching I just found so hard. We had a good laugh actually, during that film, but the stressful part came when I had to manhandle people. But I guess it was one of those things that became more and more debilitating, because I kept being told I had this condition or that condition, and you start to look for answers and try and use ways that other people cope, and you think, 'This ain't working for me. The way I feel doesn't disappear. It's getting worse and I'm getting worse.' So when I was diagnosed the first thing I was told was, 'Well, there's no cure for this.' And I just went, 'Hallelujah, now I can stop looking.' You know what I mean?

So to go on to directing after acting, was that a relief for you?

PC: I think so, yeah. You have people telling you that you are a good actor, but I can only do it with some people. Throughout my life it was the same. If I look back at teachers when I was a kid, my best writing or best art always came out when I was with a teacher that I could somehow fixate on, and they would bring out the best in me. I would always do it for them. Then you would put me with someone else, and if that trust wasn't there I would just fall to pieces. And that happens in films. If I don't trust somebody fully then it sort of collapses with me and I think, 'I don't believe you, I think you're full of shit.' But luckily on the way I've worked with people who weren't full of shit, and of course my starting point as an actor was with one of my best friends [Shane Meadows]. I could go over to him and tell him how I felt and it was an easier experience. It always felt safe in those circumstances, but there is always something really odd about acting and I think I'm probably better on the outside looking in, as opposed to standing there and thinking, 'What do you want from me?' There is something about the control of it. I mean, people would say to me, 'Surely with your condition it's harder [to be directing]', and it's like, no, you don't understand. I'm left alone here, I haven't got people touching me all day, fucking about with my hair or putting clothes on me, or telling me to say this word or that word. So to be on the outside looking in is a far more comfortable place for me.

Obviously music has played a big part in most of the films you've been involved in. I just wanted to finish by asking what are you listening to at the moment?

PC: I listen to all sorts. I'm a huge Guided by Voices fan. So anything Robert Pollard does, I'm in. The new Boston Spaceships album Let It Beard I love. But I can go from that to anything. I mean, at the moment I'm going through these Glen Campbell albums of covers that are quite beautiful and heartbreaking. There is a new one he's got out [Ghost on the Canvas] where he does a version of 'Hold on Hope' by Guided by Voices that is just incredible. And then other times I just want to put the Foo Fighters on and get the air guitar and rock out. So it's anything really. I'm going back to Adam Ant again at the minute. I was listening to Kings Of The Wild Frontier the other day. He was my first real infatuation as a kid. I remember when Shane was in the early stages of making This Is England, and he was asking me about Oi! and all the skinhead bands. But it wasn't really my thing at the time, I had my sisters putting ribbons in my hair and painting my face. But going back to that album, Kings Of The Wild Frontier, phenomenal man. I don't think there's a sound like it, that embracing that theatre thing, and then the tribal drums. It still sounds incredible today.

Tyrannosaur is on general release from October 7th