Bradford International Film Festival knew what they were getting when they decided to do a retrospective of Ray Winstone's work and invite the man himself along for a chat. They were getting a presence, a man who would speak his mind and not mince his words. A man who would tell an audience member that yes, he did do Indiana Jones for the paycheck and then go on to describe how he doesn't like Woody Allen films or, strangely, Hawaii. A man, in short, who people would pay to listen to.
And pay to listen to him they did. Pictureville in the National Media Museum in Bradford is a wonderful cinema; not overly comfortable but very friendly-feeling, an atmosphere created thanks, in part, to its slightly rounded shape, more like a theatre than a vertically inclined cinema. The round style of the seats is perhaps mainly there to accommodate the ultra-widescreen Cinerama films that will be showing later in the festival but, for Saturday night, the stage accommodated Winstone and the seats were full.
The two chairs on stage, small table and bottles of water lent the whole thing not a festival atmosphere but a This Is Your Life one, Winstone chatting gamely to critic Mark Kermode - gracious and only interrupting when a question needed to be asked - about his life pre-cinema, his boxing career, his attempts to sneak into showings as an audience member via drainpipes and high windows.
He talked about school (he was expelled twice), about being typecast as someone he's not ('if I'm so intimidating how have I been married 33 years?') and about Bermuda shorts ('I don't get them'). He could have been talking about paving slabs or the different types of plaid. Everyone would have been rapt regardless.
I was. Somehow I had the fortuity to get a seat in the second row, one away from two fourths of The Dodge Brothers, one row behind and a couple of seats to the right of director Harley Cokeliss, whose film, That Summer, was shown after Winstone's talk as part of the retrospective. I could have been sitting at the back, or in the projection booth or in Iowa for all it mattered. When Winstone speaks you, and everyone else, listens.
His anecdotes were good but his honesty and self-effacement were better.
'I don't understand actors who say they don't watch the films they make afterwards. It's all part of the process. You read the script, you rehearse, you act, you watch the playback, it gets edited, you watch the finished product. If you miss out any of those steps, how can you possibly learn?' And later, 'I watch everything I'm in at least twice; you can't help but watch just yourself the first time, the second time you absorb the film. I've learnt how to manage my inflections; how not to do things. I've learnt so much from my acting mistakes'.
On the British film industry; 'I think its got its head up its own arse sometimes'.
Yet clearly it is important to him. He talks at length about the risks Film4 made in the early days 'before they lost their bottle' about how Nil By Mouth is probably his favourite film of his own, mainly because of Gary Oldman's script and direction. He pauses mid - unrelated - question to thank Cokeliss graciously for casting him in his British-set film and then, on the way out, arranges to have dinner with him midweek whilst the American is still in the country.
It's not the only divergence. Winstone is a talker and during nearly every question there's a wander off in to another topic entirely. Talking about his Sexy Beast 'costume' he moves into discussing not enjoying Hawaii or those shorts ('I put the speedos on in the end') but he always returns to what was asked of him, even when one gentlemen pointedly questions the monetary versus artistic merits of Indiana, he gets a straight answer ('yes but, even when you look at the script, how can you say you don't want to work with Spielberg?').
With Winstone, Bradford found the perfect guest. Someone with presence and charisma. Willing to talk and to be listenened to. A crowd pleaser, open to discussing his life in a friendly manner. Maybe that friendly manner made it less This Is Your Life in the end and more, An Audience With... and, wow, were the audience ever with him.
The 18th Bradford International Film Festival runs from 19th - 29th April at The National Media Museum and several satellite venues in and around Bradford. It includes a European Features competition, the Shine Short Film Award and several major UK premieres and retrospectives.