Exclusive Clip From The Sweeney & Ray Winstone Interview
February 27, 2013
The police drama has been a staple of television for many, many decades and that's just as true in England as it is here in the States, particularly in the '70s when a television show called The Sweeney was one of the most popular shows on television, on for three seasons and spawning two movies, none of which got much notice in the States.
Nearly 35 years later, filmmaker Nick Love decided to make a movie that acts as an updated version of the popular show with Ray Winstone playing the new Jack Regan, a tough old school police detective on London's "Flying Squad," a special division focused on armed robbery and violent crimes. It's a division full of corruption and questionable activities and Regan has been secretly having an affair with the wife of one of his superiors, played by Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger) while his significantly younger partner George Carter (Ben Drew, also known as rapper Plan B) has been trying to fly the straight and narrow for the sake of his pregnant wife. Meanwhile, London is faced by a crime spree by a group of criminals who are callously murdering people at their crime scenes.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with the veteran British actor last week, but before we get to that interview, eOne Films has provided us with an exclusive clip from the film including a shout-out from Winstone himself. The clip comes from roughly halfway into the movie when Winstone's character is closing in on the robbers responsible for the crime spree, a tense scene in a parking garage where his girlfriend Nancy falls into their clutches.
And now here's our interview with Winstone.
ComingSoon.net: I felt a little clueless because I never heard of the original show and I haven't seen any of Nick Love's other work. It's really an amazing movie and I really liked without knowing much about it going in.
Ray Winstone: Oh, thank you. Honestly, I think we mostly feel the same way. (laughs)
CS: Over here, you first became known for "Sexy Beast" even though you were acting for many years before that, but I read somewhere that you actually appeared on the original television show in the '70s. Is that true?
Winstone: Yeah, my first ever job was kind of like as an extra where I just joined a college and I was about to go work on special programs to learn a little bit and then I found myself on the set of an iconic show that was on TV and it was the biggest thing we had. I was lucky enough to meet both the stars of the show and came to know them both and then years later I'm playing the part, which is kind of like full circle. In a way, I never thought it would be possible back then.
CS: Did appearing on the show have a big impression on you even if it was just to make you want to act in more movies and television?
Winstone: I never actually thought that I'd ever be an actor, to be honest with you, Ed. To me, going to the pictures was seeing the fantasy, seeing John Wayne and Richard Burton and all these people and people you never saw, you never knew about. In those days, it's not like it is today where they were pretty untouchable in a way, so to be in that world of fantasy, I never thought it was possible and probably I was a little bit embarrassed by the thought of it as well, you know.
CS: When you got the script for "The Sweeney" and you found out they wanted you to play this role Johnny Thaw made famous, did you have any trepidation about jumping into that?
Winstone: Well, I didn't at first because it took five years to get it off the ground, you know? So at first it was "I'd love to do this, this is fantastic" and then as it got nearer and nearer to doing it, I thought, "Am I mad?" because it's such an iconic show with iconic stars in it and then you sit down as you always do—I was always get a bit like that before a film anyway—but I sat down and thought, "Well, it's all about bringing something else to it." You're not playing John Thaw playing Regan, it's about bringing Regan alive in a different way. Once I kind of got over that initial fear I guess, I got a hold of it and within two or three days you realize that you're on the right track hopefully and you end up with a day where you're wearing pajamas and you know you can have a bit of fun.
CS: You have a lot of action in this movie and you also get some action. You have a love interest and some sex scenes, which I'm not sure we've seen often from you.
Winstone: Yeah, many a fine tuning was played on the old fiddle.
CS: Did you know who was going to play Nancy or Carter or Haskins when you first signed on?
Winstone: No, I didn't at the time because obviously, there was a big question about the age thing—how old is she going to be and all that. Then again, she's a beautiful looking girl as well, Haley, stunning girl, but at the end of the day, you go for an actress, a girl that can act, and she can, you know? What we wanted was to surround ourselves with people that were really good at what they do like Steve Mackintosh, like Damien Lewis and Ben Drew. You can get all these people and then you can go off and make a good film, but the (important) thing is the script and Nick did a great job on that so we were alright.
CS: I didn't really know Nick's work before even though I've seen a lot of British films and he's been under my radar.
Winstone: I've been watching him for years from making films that have done very well, but they were small kind of British movies and you see him growing and growing all the way through. I think he's one of those directors, he's done his work and put his time in and he's gone and worked his trade. I think he's a local talent that's come out of this country that we can be really proud of in the long run.
CS: The movie's a great representation of modern England while it also harks back to the '70s. I'm not sure if the Flying Squad is as prominent now as they were back then, but it's an interesting mix of old and new.
Winstone: They're still around, but robberies are very few and far between and we usually get the big ones now, big robberies go off like the one that one off in Belgium where they got $50 million in diamonds. There's a lot of terrorism now where terrorists are robbing banks and money to fund what they've got to do, so we've got all of that that comes into play. We've just been talking about a new story today because we're going to make "Sweeney 2" hopefully and we've got a great outline and a synopsis for a script so at the end of the day, it's a crackin' story so once it's all put together, we'll go and make that.
CS: That's great to hear. Nick obviously had stuff to work from with the TV show and the two movies, so did he decide to get away from those stories and do something new?
Winstone: Yeah, what we've done is that we've had to reinvent it. It's cops and robbers and those films are made all over the world, cops and robber films, great films like "Heat" and they've got the same kind of format, but you want to make it with the best possible script and the best possible stories. The only thing we got in common I suppose really is the two main characters and the name "The Sweeney" so it's updated and the only thing is Regan is a bit of a throwback, he's a dinosaur, you know?
CS: Let's talk about your partner Carter because I was really impressed with Ben Drew. I've heard of him before and his music though I haven't seen his own movie "Ill Manors" but he's really quite an amazing actor in this.
Winstone: He's fantastic in it and he's going to get better as well. What I love about him is when he comes and puts his mind to something, which he does often, he doesn't want to just do it right, he wants to do it at 100%. He's a perfectionist, you know? As a director, as a writer, as a musician and as an actor. He wants to learn more and more. You know what, Ed? I really like the kid as well, which makes a hell of a lot of difference.
CS: He hasn't really broken out in the States at all even though he's huge in England and I'm really curious to see him come over here and cross over.
Winstone: It's surprising, but maybe only time will tell 'cause I think his music is fantastic and I think his music will do very well there.
CS: I saw him in concert on television from one of the festivals and he had a big band and everything. Does doing a lot of scenes with all these younger actors, does that energize you to step up your game?
Winstone: It ups your game. There's so much talent around now. That problem wasn't so much when I was a young actor, maybe that's being unfair, but I gotta be honest with you, some of these kids that are coming through today, from the Tom Hardys all the way through, are absolutely fantastic. When you're lucky enough to work with these people, these young kids, you shouldn't have to but it ups your game and you gotta be on your toes, you know? At the end of the day you gotta commit yourself, you gotta be really on it or else you're going to get lost and get eaten up.
CS: You mentioned "Heat" earlier and one of the things that really blew me away was the shootout in Trafalgar Square. I've been there many times, but I have no idea how you're able to shoot a movie there let alone stage a massive shootout?
Winstone: You know what? I think that tells the story in itself of how strong the words "The Sweeney" the series and how iconic it was. I think there are only two films, two brands, that would be allowed to shoot on a Sunday morning in Trafalgar Square and outside Buckingham Palace with shooters, with guns—one of them's "The Sweeney" and other one is Bond. I think that tells you what the terminology of the words "The Sweeney" means to the general public in Britain and the London Council allowed it to happen.
CS: You must have had a lot of police officers who were more than willing to help with crowd control to help make that location shoot possible.
Winstone: You know the funny thing about the series was that not only did the police love it, but the villains loved it as well. (laughs) They had that in common. I mean, they just absolutely loved the program, so it went across the board and it was really groundbreaking stuff when it came out in the '70s. Before that, we had really good police shows like "Softly, Softly" and "Dixon of Dock Green" but they were very soft and very tame and very sort of middle class, but then "The Sweeney" was a very working class, kitchen sink, no punches pulled kind of program and it changed the look of TV in our country. I can't express enough how iconic it was and that's why in a way it could have been very difficult to succeed in making the film. We either would succeed or flop terribly and thank God, everyone's gone along with it, in this country anyway, and in most of Europe. They bought into the idea and that's why we can make a second one. We couldn't make a second one otherwise.
CS: You've been acting for close to forty years, which is an amazing achievement in itself, so is there anything left you want to achieve?
Winstone: Yeah, I think every day is a different day, innit? There's a couple things I'd like to do. I'd like to do "Bunny Munro," which is written by Nick Cave, and maybe I'd like to make something about William Blake. I have an idea for a film but it's a very difficult subject to make an interesting film about because it's art, but I kind of want to make a horror story in a way about a man with an illness that sees visions, so you know, I wouldn't mind making a film about Blake. But you know, you pick up a script tomorrow and you read it and you go, "Geez, I'd like to do that, that's great" you know? That's the great thing about the game. You open a package and you sit down and you read it and it could be the one thing you've been looking for to do as an actor.
CS: You got to work with Darren Aronofsky recently on "Noah" and I had a chance to see the ark on Long Island, so were you working there too or did you do most of your stuff in Iceland?
Winstone: Yeah, it was amazing wasn't it? They shot in Iceland. I didn't go there myself but I'd been there before anyway. I shot in Long Island and in Williamsburg in New York. I spent some time there and the sets were kind of incredible. The ark was the actual site. In fact, when you fly into New York JFK, nine times out of ten, you fly right over the ark. If I was looking down I think you could notice it because it's that big, then the interiors were built in Williamsburg and when you walked into it, it was the working ark so you really walk through it, so when you climb up it, it was all there, the animals were in it, and it was incredible, absolutely.
CS: Who do you play in the movie, his father?
Winstone: No, I play Tubal-Cain.
CS: Was working with Darren a very different experience than some of the other ones you've had over the years?
Winstone: Yeah, most of them are different experiences. Making a film is making a film but yeah, maybe working with Russell Crowe, you're standing there with Russell and you suddenly realize that you've never seen him bad in a film. He's a pro and he's a really easy guy to work with and then you have Darren Aronofsky… I loved "The Wrestler" and I loved Mickey Rourke to death and we made some great scenes with Darren. I love working with Darren and you're working on a big movie with him. He's a special director and he's not only a special director but a nice man—he's a really good guy—so I enjoyed the whole experience with him.
CS: Can't wait to see it in a year. Thanks a lot and good luck with the movie and making "Sweeney 2."
Winstone: My pleasure.
CS: I really hope Americans will check it out because it's really such a distinctive slice of modern British cinema.
Winstone: You know, that's the thing. You hope they see it and hopefully they like it. It'll always help and that's what we make films for, we make films for people to see. It's always a shame if people don't get to see your movie because that's what you want, that's what you make them for, you know?