Paddy Considine: boxing clever

Journeyman actor and director Paddy Considine talks about finding hope in tragedy and humour in the most distressing situations

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“You attract what you put out, really, don’t you?” suggests Paddy Considine. The 44-year-old actor, writer, director and part-time musician is sat in a Manchester hotel room, quietly trying to figure out why the extremities of human nature are quickly becoming his filmmaking niche.

“A lot of acting is about imagination but having some experience of the highs and lows of things does add to it.”

Having burst onto the scene playing troubled loners in director Shane Meadows’ cult faves A Room For Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes, Considine swiftly became a household name thanks to turns in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, action threequel The Bourne Ultimatum and, most recently, crime series Peaky Blinders. It’s a path littered with leftfield performances that’s led all the way to his second directorial feature, Journeyman, a tough yet redemptive brain injury drama disguised as a boxing epic.

“I guess I have some sort of hidden fascination with them,” he smiles, delving into his subconscious love of fractured people. “They’re more interesting to play. But to play the kind of characters I play and make the movies I make, you have to understand those extremities yourself. You have to have experienced different storms to be able to tell those stories.”

His eyes are hidden behind a pair of dark blue prescription lenses that aid his Irlen Syndrome. This rare disorder confuses the brain’s way of processing light and visual information, making social interactions tricky, and is something he’s lived with since 2013. Throw an Asperger’s diagnosis into the mix and it’s easy to see why he’s drawn towards characters who are forced to overcome the odds.

“A lot of acting these days is about imagination but having some experience of the highs and lows of things does add to it,” he says. “There’s so much darkness out there and unexplored territory that I suppose you just want to bring some light or understanding to it.”

Speaking of highs and lows, in Journeyman Considine plays Matty Burton, a champion boxer whose dreams of ending things gloriously are cut short when his final fight leaves him with a serious brain injury. From there, the Burton-on-Trent-born filmmaker removes us from the ring to paint a sobering picture of recovery and the impact that has on his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and friends.

It’s a tough watch, made all the more difficult when considering that 90 per cent of boxers experience brain trauma at some point in their careers. Following up 2011’s unflinching domestic abuse drama Tyrannosaur, Considine’s attraction to directing difficult stories is clear. That said, he’s quick to correct anyone who labels his films dreary.

“You’ve got to be able to pick up the pieces,” he continues. “This is human life we’re living and we’re going to go through extreme and difficult times. People look at my first film Tyrannosaur and think it’s really bleak. I don’t think it’s bleak at all – I think it offers a lot of hope.

“It doesn’t apologise for its aggression and it doesn’t give everybody the happy ending that people want from stories, but it gives hope. I suppose I’m drawn to that idea and I’m not afraid to explore those territories. A lot of why I make films is just me trying to make sense of how I process things in my own mind. I live with a relatively high level of anxiety from day to day and a lot of my life is about conquering fears I have about things.”

For Matty, that hope comes in the form of the support provided by his wife and close friends, something that Considine can relate to when it comes to his own troubles. “There’s that saying that other people are hell – and sometimes they are for me,” he laughs. “But it’s like what Joe Strummer says. ‘Without people, you’re nothing.” And it’s true.

“As much as I sometimes feel solitary I reach out for people, and we depend on each other to get through experiences. My note to all of the actors was to find Matty funny. He’s your mate – if he says something funny, laugh at him, don’t be grave around him. Just try and treat him like a human being, not this frail, damaged creature. It’s that kind of humour that gets us through dark situations.”

As part of his research he visited the charity Headway, sitting with people who had brain injuries. “The gallows humour – they were making jokes and laughing about each other and their disabilities. I was thinking: ‘Should I laugh? Am I allowed to laugh?’ But you couldn’t help but laugh. Their way of dealing with it was to have this incredible dark humour, which was a massive eye-opener.”

But for Matty’s wife Emma, redefining the relationship she once had with her husband and the father of her child is considerably more challenging. “Brain injury does alter people’s personalities and Matty becomes this man-child who has to learn to walk upstairs again, make tea again – all of these things – and that comes with a lot of frustration, anger and single-mindedness,” says Considine of Matty’s potentially volatile nature.

“I thought it was important to show how difficult it was to live in a situation with somebody like that and how trapped you could get. The response from people who work with head injuries and even families with people who have had strokes has been really positive. It’s like people are glad their story is being told.”

Considine is also in new film Funny Cow, playing the bookshop owner love interest to Maxine Peake’s 1970s club comedian. But he’s not sure where his path will take him next. “I have a couple of scripts and I do have a science fiction movie that I want to make but, like Journeyman’s not really a boxing movie, this won’t really be a conventional science fiction movie either.

“It’s got to resonate and mean something to me so if I choose to go down that route, I hope to make something that’s a little bit different.”

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