Ray Winstone Talks Speedos, Maneuvering Scorsese and First-Time Directors

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The U.K. actor was the subject of a special Life in Pictures event held by BAFTA in London

The U.K.’s most famous cinematic hardman, Ray Winstone, reflected on his life and career at a special BAFTA Life In Pictures event held in London on Sunday.

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."

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Sexy Beast was the directorial debut of Jonathan Glazer, who last year received further acclaim for Under the Skin.

"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."

One definitely not first-timer, however, was Martin Scorsese, whom he teamed up with on The Departed in 2006.

"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."