Sundance Redux: Paddy Considine, Director, on Tyrannosaur


The 2011 Sundance Film Festival has been over for a week, but we want to share some of the interviews we conducted there while still relatively fresh. One of our favorites was sitting down with actor Paddy Considine to talk about his feature film directorial debut Tyrannosaur.

It stars one of the Weekend Warrior’s favorite actors Peter Mullan as Joseph, a constantly angry man who can’t seem to find a way to quell his uncontrollable temper until he meets a religious shopkeeper named Hannah, played by Olivia Colman from Hot Fuzz. She has her own share of secrets, which start revealing themselves when she shows up with injuries from her husband’s abuse.

The film received two Jury Prizes at Sundance, one for Considine for his direction, and one for Mullan and Colman for their performances, which thrills us to no end considering how much we loved the movie, and while we had a chance to talk to all three, we’ll start with our interview with Considine, who could also be seen at this year’s Sundance in a supporting role in Richard Aoyanade’s Submarine, playing Graham, an odd New Age psychic with a mullet. I think everybody who has seen your movie has been really impressed by you as a filmmaker.
Paddy Considine:

CS: For a first feature, first of all it’s very unique, very original. How long you have had the idea to do this particular movie and why did you want to make it?
Well, I started off writing a short film called “Dog Altogether” and made that and we did pretty well. It won a BAFTA and the Silver Lion at Venice, and I was always set to write another short film. I thought, “Okay, I guess I’ll make another short now, and what have you got?” A lot of the responses for “Dog Altogether,” they were saying, “Oh, okay, why did it end then? I want to know what happens to these characters.” So I thought, “Okay, so do I.” So I just went home and started writing it, then just started investigating more into Hannah’s life. I suppose what started to happen – I mean, I don’t think much when I write. I just write in two-hour, three-hour blocks and then leave it and approach it that way, but it just took its course. I think it started to become a film not so much about faith, but sort of survival, faith in each other, human beings, presumptions that we make about human beings, and how it challenges that perception that we have of other people. Particularly with a character like Joseph where there’s so much self-loathing. You know he’s the last person who’s gonna think about what’s going on in anybody else’s life because he’s so self-absorbed. I think we can be like that at times. I can be like that at times.

CS: I think everyone has those moments of being really angry, but then you have someone like Joseph who is like where you might end up if you don’t take care of things soon enough.
Right, if you don’t address it because it manifests. It becomes the size of a monster if you don’t harness it. The outlet is destruction, both external and internal. We meet him in a film where he kicks his last remaining sort of body, which is his dog because his best friend is on the way out with cancer. So all doors are closing on him, and the act that drives him into the charity shop is he’s about to beat up a kid, a little kid for having a laugh, and he becomes that sort of wound-up in his head, and I think that’s the signal then. He happens to push a door and it opens, and that’s the faith that takes him behind that curtain and into Hannah’s life.

CS: Now were Peter and Olivia in the original short?
They were in the short. Yeah, so they reprised the role. I wrote the short, and straightaway, I was talking with a mate of mine, and he said, “Who do you want for the lead?” I said, “Well, Peter Mullan is the only person I could think of playing it,” and luckily he did it, then it was just a search for who would play the Hannah character.

CS: Now you already knew Olivia from working together on “Hot Fuzz,” but had you worked with Peter before?
No, I hadn’t. It was just an odd mutual thing where we were at some [event] and I said, “Can I go over and meet Peter Mullan?” I humbly walked over, and before I got there he’d leapt out of the chair and gone, “Paddy!” So, it was like, “Oh, okay, that’s great.” No, we hadn’t, but I just knew. I mean, I love his work. It was really “My Name is Joe” (Ken Loach film from 1998) is a brilliant, brilliant side of Peter, that energy that he’s got, but also, I’m a huge fan of a film called “Session 9” that Peter did.

CS: I love it. I’m also a huge Peter Mullan fan and I’ve not met him yet. I’m actually very excited to meet him, and part of that is that I’m also a “Session 9” fan.
Yeah, oh man. Well, I was in Toronto, and I was doing a film there and I was talking to my pal who was the make-up guy there, and we were talking about movies, and I was like, “I love ‘The Exorcist’ and he was like, “Have you seen a film called ‘Session 9’?” and I said, “I’ve never heard of it. Then I went down onto Queens Street to the HMV and I said, “Have you got a film called ‘Session 9’?” The guy went, “Oh,” and I’m like, “What’s this film?”

CS: It’s really a really disturbing film, but this is a great role for Peter, because it gives him a chance to do a lot of different things, which is amazing. But with Olivia, I really only knew her from “Hot Fuzz.” I guess she’s probably better known in England.
She is better known in England. She’s in very popular show over there called “Peep Show.” She plays a character that people familiarize themselves with, but she’s an actress. It’s just that the jobs so far have been comedy, but the girl’s a really good actress. I’d only seen her in comedy, but I liked her as a person. I liked her a lot as a person, and I just thought she’s pretty selfless, she’s generous and she’s got a good spirit and I thought, “Well, that’s Hannah. That’s this character.” The day I met her, she just held the door for me and I don’t know. I just thought, “Oh, she’s a nice girl.” (laughs) That’s it. She’s perfect.

CS: This movie obviously is very dark. It deals with domestic abuse, and you open it by killing a dog pretty much, which is very dark. When you writing a movie like this, are you able to think at all who might enjoy watching a movie like this or is it just a matter of getting these ideas and thoughts out of your system?
You can’t write to order, I couldn’t anyway. I don’t understand people that do and they have to. No, I just wrote this film. I had no idea if it would get made but I wanted to make it, and it was a long time between writing the script and getting it made, but I can’t do that. I can’t write a film and go, “I’m gonna shock everybody by kicking a dog in the first however many seconds.” The guy’s destroying everything around him. He can’t control it to the point where his loathing of himself is so much that he’s literally destroying things around him. At some point soon he’s gonna destroy himself or he’s gonna destroy somebody else, some kind of innocent person or some kid in a pub. But no, writing for me is just something… I know that “Tyrannosaur” was just a bit of a sort of exorcism if you like. I knew there were things that I needed to get off of my chest, questions about my life, my existence, my attitude as a human being. That’s just how it sorta spewed out really. It became that moving and I didn’t sort of make it to cater for anything. It’s just how it happened.

CS: Were you inspired by any people you’d seen around where you live?
Well, yeah, there’s a lot of that really, but it’s dodgy turf because if I start to say that it’s based on a specific person, people then start to think, “Oh, it’s a film about such and such. Oh, it’s a film about—is it autobiographical?” It’s not autobiographical. It’s a work of fiction, but the themes are there, they’re real. The truth is in it.

CS: Right, even though it’s very dark, these things happen.
Yeah, certainly. I know they happen. I really know that they happen, and it’s not bullsh*t. I really know that they happen. The film’s made now, but I think denial is the worst thing that you could ever have in life. I think this film holds a mirror up to a few people to go and just have a look. If you find it too much, fair enough, it’s out there for the critics, but it’s also out there more importantly for the people. It’s like, if you can bear it, just hold the mirror up, have a look. You might get something from it, you might not. It’s done now. It’s on the wall and take of it what you want.

CS: Now, you’ve obviously worked with a lot of great filmmakers. You’ve worked with Jim Sheridan and done a couple films with Shane Meadows. What have you been able to take away from working with these filmmakers to be able to make this film yourself? Did you always know you’d want to make your own movie?
I think I always knew that I was gonna make my own films because I’ve worked with Shane a lot and worked with Pawel Pawlikowski, and a lot of the time, we were writing the film together. I just got to the point where I thought, “You know, I’m putting a lot of my guts out into these roles and into other people’s films,” and I thought, “I’ve got to own some of that for myself.” My art, if you like, is going into other people’s work. I’ve got to retain some of my identity here.” So, I just thought to do that I just had to make my own films. It’s strange in terms of influence because I think as far as film goes, Jim influenced me hugely with his interaction in scenes. Sometimes I would be doing a bed scene in “In America” and it’s Jim lying next to me. I loved that. I felt so charged being in that guy’s company. He was so involved. Pawel Pawilkowski, I’ve made a couple of films with him, “My Summer of Love” and “The Last Resort,” and him too, I just learned so much from him, just how he placed his film within a community, and then started to bring that community into the process of making the film, which is what I sort of did as a photographer even, but definitely what I did with “Tyrannosaur.” So the guy in the pub at the wake was actually a busker coming down the street while we were shooting and he was pestering everybody. I just said, “Listen, dude, if you want to be in a film, write a song.” I gave him some kind of bits and pieces, and he went off and wrote a song and came back.

CS: Beautiful, I loved that moment.
He appeared in the wake. The way that Paul walks his dog with it tied around his waist. I was literally talking to Paul about that scene, and I said, “When you walk out with that dog, I want it to be memorable.” I just literally turned my head left and I went, “You gotta do that,” and there was a bloke walking past me with (the dog) strapped to his belt. I just went, “Is that how you walk your dog mate?” He went, “Yeah.” That’s how you gotta walk your dog.

CS: It’s great to be able to be influenced by the world while you’re making films.
The world around you.

CS: You mentioned bringing parts of yourself into these roles, so what part of yourself did you bring into playing Graham in “Submarine”?
(Laughs) “Submarine,” I mean, that’s within the context of a certain work, pouring a bit of yourself. Like, even with “In America,” my dad had just died and I hate that thing of actors using it, but I wasn’t experienced where it wasn’t the greatest time for me in terms of my own personal self, but I certainly had a great director guiding me through that experience. So it’s a bit of a haunted role and probably not as offbeat as somebody wanted him to be, that character, but I sort of couldn’t do anything more at the time. “Submarine” is just a chance to have fun. I mean, but then I literally did take David Icke. Are you familiar with him over here, David Icke?

CS: No, I don’t think so.
He’s the sort of guy who goes around – he’s a big believer in the Illuminati and everybody is lizards and this and that. He’s one of those guys and he does these speeches. I just took aspects of that guy because I got quite fascinated with him for a while, so I just sort of took his voice a little bit like that, put a bit of swagger on him and the hair, this fantastic creation.

CS: Did you get to keep the van with your face painted on it?
Ah, no, Jesus Christ. “Submarine” is just like go off the leash and have fun, yeah.

CS: You’ve gone further into doing comedy in recent years and this movie is kind of hard to pinpoint because there are moments that are obviously funny but then others, darkly serious, so is it okay to laugh in a movie like this?
I think so, yeah. I loved it when people laughed because I thought they’re getting it. They’re getting it, that these bits of tension and this laughter is just a little release, and it surprised me the scenes that they actually laughed there and I thought it was fantastic. You know, sometimes cruel humor, people being cruel is very funny.

CS: Yeah, and sometimes it’s just like the characters, for instance, Joseph’s friend.
Oh yeah, I mean, he’s outrageously racist. His comments, he’s just ill-informed. He’s just sort of ignorant in a way that intellectually he couldn’t explain where he was coming from. It’s just sort of tabloid racism. It’s pathetic, you know? (Laughs)

CS: Now where do you go from here? You’re obviously still acting. It takes time to make movies and as a filmmaker you gotta write something new. Do you have other things you’ve been writing that you want to direct?
Yes, I do. The next film I’m gonna make, it looks like it’s a ghost story I’m writing called “The Leaning.” Yeah, that’s where I’m going to next. I just want to keep making movies as a director and writer. I find it a lot more rewarding than being in front of the camera. I’m quite lucky. I get away with it. People only seem to remember the good stuff I’ve done (laughs) but there’s some stuff out there that’s not so good, and I think me personally, I’m not a great actor, and I can only truly commit when I’m in a really safe place with people. That doesn’t always happen, and I don’t like it when it becomes a job, I just don’t. I hate it. It’s become a bit of a job at times. I mean, it’s okay, sometimes it’s not, but there’s the ones in the middle where you go, “Oh, this is a rent pay, this will see you all right for a few months.” It’s not even just the money thing, it’s the fact that there’s not even a character there. There’s nothing there. I mean, I’ve got the right to turn it down, but then I’ve got three kids and a roof. It sounds like a moan, but the point is that unless I’m invested or safe, I can’t commit as well as other people. When I was directing I just felt, “Yeah, maybe you’re a better manager than you are a player.” I just never had a feeling like it making a film. I loved seeing these actors giving these beautiful performances, and it sort of validated all the times I stood on set with not very good directors and felt adrift. It just validated the fact that “Yeah, you were right, mate. They weren’t very good directors and you were better than them and you should be doing this for a job.”

CS: With “The Leaning,” will that be as different from this as this movie is from everything else we’ve seen before?
I mean, the idea is just make it, like “Tyrannosaur,” as sort of truthful thematically as you can. It’s a ghost story, so it takes it into different territory, but the dilemma in “The Leaning” is, “Is this really happening to her, or is it something that she’s harboring from her childhood that is manifesting this fear? If this thing actually doesn’t exist.” So there’s a dilemma and any time there’s intimacy with a man, these events start to happen, so it’s about sort of how we keep ghosts alive with fear.

CS: Is that something you’ve already finished writing the script for? Or is that something you’re just working on?
Well, I wrote a short story when I was on a train to London, and I wrote this short story and I sort of do things like that. I’ll write stories, I’ll write poems, too. Every time you write something, you get informed just a little bit more, or there might be a line a detail about somebody’s teeth or anything, so it gives you just little textures.

CS: Has any of this writing been published or do you just keep it to yourself?
No, it hasn’t yet. It’s just do it all on my iPad or whatever, and that’s where it came from. The way that I work is that I just sort of think it over, and it just comes every now and again, then these strange coincidences start to happen that you wake at four in the morning and hey, there’s a program on about people talking about their ghost stories. I love those sort of coincidences. So it’ll just marinate and in the next couple of weeks I’m ready now to sit down and to see where we go.

Tyrannosaur hasn’t been picked up for distribution just yet but look for our interview with Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman sometime very soon.