Ray Winstone interview By: Marcella S. KaramatHunger.tv.com
British Director Mat Whitecross (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Road to Guantanamo with Michael Winterbottom, The Shock Doctrine, Moving to Mars) returns with a stylishly bleak taut thriller :Ashes starring Ray Winstone as Frank, a man quite simply and slowly drained from his strength, now bitter sweetly easing into a forced stillness, by Alzheimer's. Whilst his son James (Jim Sturgess) desperately breaks him out of the nursing home to go anywhere but back;alongside Cathy (Lesley Manhill) Frank's wife, who only appears in the longing flashes of hallucination in Franks mind.
This is a role that Ray Winstone inhabits with such emotional swelling and technical accuracy , it is a masterful performance. FN:
When did you first hear about this film?
When I was working on Sex Drugs and Rock and Roll The Director Mat Whitecross and myself were discussing doing something else together, then when Mat had finished the film he went away and came up with this superb script.FN:
What was your first reaction as you began reading the script?
I judge a script on one thing :If I read it all the way through without putting it down, which was the case with Ashes , then I want to do it. Sexy Beast, 44 Inch Chest, War Zone, Nil By Mouth and Proposition were such scripts; they had the elements that touch my heart.FN:
How do you describe your character Frank?
Its a difficult question to answer, I guess in a way I had to forget about Frank's history and play him as if he had nothing to describe his situation. Heartbreaking.FN:
The film is primarily about a man with Alzheimer’s, which could have easily felt as though it’s a documentary, however Mat has acutely altered what is expected and taken an alternative approach turning this into a tense visually taut thriller that allows us to see and almost live inside the mind of a man locked within the psychological labyrinthine of an irreversible slow train. How did that approach affect the way you dealt with deciding how to portray Frank?
Firstly I read, met and spoke to anything and everyone I could , that was affected by Alzheimer's. Mat Whitecross and his family were the real backbone of the performance, then I had to make this work within the workings of the script. The difficult thing was not to compromise the illness and with the help of Mat and Jim Sturgess I believe we achieved this. In terms of the physical side of it: I used muscles I didn't even know I had because of the way you walk, stand, sit and the movement in general. It seems my body was tense all of the time. But on the mental side it really makes you think. You start noticing things in other people and you really become aware of the saying 'There for the grace of God go I' . It's Heartbreaking.FN:
You’re known primarily for performing specific roles and as someone that is perceived to be traditionally very masculine, filled with incredible energy both verbally and physically –But here, within this film, within moments of seeing you on the screen, we see a vulnerable, mentally and physically fragile man consumed by this disease and it is a truly shocking site to see. To see you, in such a fragile state. Is that why you wanted to do this role. How do you describe it knowing that this will be so alarming for people to see you in this way?
No it wasn't the main reason, firstly you do it because it's a great script, being made for the right reasons, like Nil By Mouth is about abuse/self abuse and War Zone is about child abuse. I believe these films were written and made for the right reasons. I think films such as these are important as they hopefully, help the public to be more aware of this terrible illness and be more understanding. And yes then it's about the part :The character, the challenge.FN:
What specific things did you do or think of when creating this person?
Fear – I wasn't sure if I could play it. And fear that I wouldn't do it justice, meaning the illness, the people who suffer through Alzheimer's, carers and family. So I wanted to be spot on. I've seen Alzheimer's played before and generally its been portrayed in the early stages. I wanted to play it, when the disease is further down the line.FN:
Watching your performance in this film, is truly an intensive, profound and ultimately heartbreaking and harrowing experience. Did that impact on how you looked at those close to you and life in general?
Yes it did. I'm much more aware of the illness, I'm more aware of myself, memory wise,I'm more aware of people, just walking about. A couple of months ago I saw an elderly man in just a vest and trousers walking down a country lane, it was cold, so I called the services and got the old boy picked up. I was for the first time in my life, aware of the situation. I hope this film might help in that way.FN:
The film almost physically locks the audience in from the first scene, and it is a thriller that Mat has carefully created; specifically with the beauty within the realism and stylistic aspect of the flashbacks and Frank’s hallucinations, as he thinks that he sees his son and partner in them. Did you have detailed conversations with Jim and Lesley ?
Yes I guess we did, but it wasn't like we had a meeting about it, it was more like during the moment of doing it, playing it, the homework and had already been done.FN:
There is an element or a very real feeling of almost horror, as we watch Frank attempting to communicate with so many stilted emotions and withhold so much at the same time, he is a man trapped within his own body and the film uses mainly outdoor locations, the setting is Isle of Man and across the Motorways/roads/landscape –Could you feel the fear or tension for your character?
Yes of course, you can't play a man like this, within a movie like this and not feel completely emotionally drained, during it and after it. If you don't feel like that, you shouldn't be doing it.FN:
You’ve worked with Mat previously on Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll (2010) what brought you back to work with him again and what has been the best thing about working with Mat?
The fact that I feel he is a real talent in every sense of the word and I really like....in a man way!FN:
This is a smaller budgeted independent film for you, how important is it for you to work with British Indie directors and films particularly since the ongoing Arts cuts?
This wasn't what I would call a low budget movie, it's what I'd call, a really low budget movie. But having said that it was probably very difficult to finance anyway, so we were lucky to find people who would invest. Thank God we had the producers we did. As for working in British Indie movies, low budget is sometimes where you get to play the roles you wish to play.FN:
How can the Arts community or supporters of the film industry, encourage new and young British film makers that want to get their films made?
I think the arts and the British film industry do support new talent, you can't blame them for everything; the problem for me is the amount of crap that is financed, but again that is not to everyone's taste. The one thing I think the British film industry and the Arts could do is own their own string of cinemas up and down the country. British films are made, but are never released onto the big screen, just like Ashes.FN:
Does the government support the Arts enough in the practical ways they could?
Is that an area that you see yourself involved with in the future?
Maybe, who knows.FN:
What have been the most challenging and the best parts of doing this role?
The best parts have been,working with Mat, the cast and fantastic crew, our beautiful producers. All proper dedicated film makers. I love them to bits,all of them. And the challenging parts, making this film was tough emotionally and physically, but what an education.FN:
If you were told you will lose your memory in exactly 3 months, what 5 things or 5 memories would you preserve in a time capsule, so you could always be reminded?
My wife Elaine. My daughters Louis,Jamie and Ellie and where I live.FN:
Also, what items of clothing would you tell your loved ones to make sure you wear, including food you’d like to eat.
My suits and a rib of beef.FN:
And what wise words or message would you leave to your family and loved ones?
No matter what, I love you. FN:
This role has clearly enabled you to enter the mind of a person, that is a version or one example of how many people live with such a tragic and degenerative disease that is Alzheimer’s ;it has been a role very different for you – What lessons or thoughts have you felt since doing this?
Fear and a sense of helplessness... that we are not supermen, we are mortal.FN:
And finally, What are you looking forward to this year?
Health and progression in a cure for Alzheimer's.
DVD Release 28th January 2013