In a good-humored Q&A, the actor spoke humbly about his first theatrical steps, revealing that his breakthrough debut role as a teenager in Scum, Alan Clarke’s gritty and violent 1977 drama about life in a British young offenders’ prison, had “nothing to do with acting.”
“It was the way I walked down a corridor,” he said, adding that his leading role of Carlin had been written for a Scottish actor. “But I don’t know if you’ve heard my Scottish accent. I was literally the last one in for auditions and Clarke watched me walk down the corridor — and I walked like a boxer, like a fighter — and that’s how I got the part.”
Arguably Winstone’s most famous role came some 23 years later in U.K. crime thriller Sexy Beast, playing ex-con Gal whose life of retired bliss in Spain is shattered by former associate and sociopath Don.
“I was on a beach for eight weeks. I even got there two weeks early — they said they wanted me to eat as much pasta as I could. So I lay in the sun, got a bit brown. I had my Speedos on. I was like a proper Italiano,” laughed Winstone, pointing out that he had originally been offered the part of Don, which went to Ben Kingsley.
“But then this genius came along. I basically had Gandhi beating my up. Ben was an absolute joy to work with.”
“I think I’ve worked with about 15-20 first time directors over the years. I quite like that,” said Winstone. “Because they come with no baggage, they invent, they don’t know the rules. Most of them, I’ve really enjoyed working with.”
“I went to see Marty in the Dorchester Hotel,” he said. “It was Sunday morning, so I thought I could go in, quickly see Marty and be home for Sunday dinner. But we had a chat for about 45 minutes, and I was starving. It was a great chat, he can talk about anything. He’s a really knowledgeable, lovely man.”
Scorsese had initially lined up Winstone for the role of a cop, but the actor said he managed to “maneuver” his way in as Jack Nicholson’s right-hand thug, French.
“I told Marty I wanted to play Mr French, and he said, ‘But he doesn’t say anything.’ And I said, ‘But he will.’ And he says, ‘Yeah!’ So he wrote out this character and just let me make it up, and that’s how French came about. And I didn’t want to play a cop anyway, I wanted to play the bad guy.”