UK actor-turned-director Paddy Considine talks to Sarah Cooper about making his directorial debut Tyrannosaur, which has its world premiere at Sundance on Jan 21.
Acclaimed British actor Paddy Considine makes his directorial debut with Tyrannosaur, a hard-hitting drama about a self-destructive man (Peter Mullan) who connects with a charity worker (Olivia Colman) beset with her own problems at the hands of a jealous husband (Eddie Marsan).
Produced by Diarmid Scrimshaw for Warp Films on a budget of $1.2m (£750,000), Tyrannosaur was funded by EM Media, Film4, UKFC and Screen Yorkshire. It will be released in the UK in the autumn by Optimum Releasing, with Protagonist handling international sales.
Considine also wrote the script for the film, which began life as his 2008 BAFTA winning short Dog Altogether. Previously, he co-wrote and starred in Shane Meadows’ 2004 film Dead Man’s Shoes, as well as appearing in films including In America, The Bourne Ultimatum and My Summer Of Love.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
I made a short [Dog Altogether] and quite a few people said, what happens to the characters now?
It just came from my mind. It’s a work of fiction, but it’s informed by my world, by experiences. Although once you start going down that road, people assume it’s a film about your life. It’s just my interpretation of the world I grew up in and the way I see the world and how I fit into that world. It’s not about anyone specifically, but it’s about a lot of people collectively.
As a first-time feature director, was it a struggle getting the finances together?
We struggled. The short film got some awards, but it didn’t necessarily help us to raise money. It was a case of knocking on doors. Diamard [Scrimshaw, the film’s producer for Warp Films] is to thank for that. We had some good faith from EM Media and Film 4. But it was difficult, so we had to make it for half the money we thought we were going to make it for.
I just wanted to make a movie, and I just thought if that’s all I’ve got to make it with, that’s all I’ve got to make it with. There comes a time when you’ve got to go with it. You can’t keep waiting around. And actually, in the end, it didn’t make any difference whatsoever.
What kind of look and feel were you going for with the film?
I think people expected a certain type of film from me. I think people expected that the camera would be swinging around and there would be loads of improvisation. But I didn’t want to do that, because it’s been done to death and I think it can get a little bit messy, the improvisation thing.
I wanted it to look cinematic. I wanted to treat these people as heroic. It was all about performance and believability. But it was all about the script. If I transcribed the film, the changes from the script would be very minor. I wanted the actors to feel comfortable with those words and that they believed them. The odd moments that I had doubts about, they would make it work. It’s a relationship. It’s a creative process. I respect them. I think there was a lot of respect on set. No egos. We were going towards the same goal.
How did you go about casting the film?
When I wrote the short film, my instinct was I wanted Peter Mullan straight away. Luckily he jumped on board. When it came to the Hannah role, the usual names kept cropping up. But I knew I wanted something different. The year before I made the short, I met Olivia [Coleman] on Hot Fuzz. Having known her for a few weeks I just asked her if she would do it. I don’t know why, sometimes you can’t describe it, it’s just an instinctive feeling you get about someone. I had seen her in great comedies like Peep Show. But I just thought, this girl has got more. They are not seeing what I see.
She is incredibly sincere and likeable. There is no angst with her. You could put certain actresses in that role and you’d know where you were going. But with her, it’s a revelation, because no one has seen this performance from her.
Eddie Marsan’s role is a rather diffcult one. Did he say yes straight away?
Eddie Marsan is just one of the best actors out there. We’ve had a mutual respect before, even though we had only met briefly before on Red Riding. I wanted Eddie to come in and read for the role. Because I knew what Eddie’s capabilities were, but I needed to know how Olivia was around the other actors because they had to do some quite difficult stuff. And I didn’t want to get someone doing those scenes with her who was acting all obtuse and method and weird. I won’t do that, I’d throw them off the set. She needed to be safe to do those scenes.
She just immediately looked comfortable within his company in the audition. He was actually the first one in at the top of the day. And as soon as he walked out I just went, ‘oh no, we’ve done it already!’
He understood that you only play guys like James if you see him as a human being. He is a soul in turmoil. If you try to bring villainous qualities to a guy like James then you will fail. The truth is, he is not a villain. He is in turmoil himself. We don’t explore him as much, but there is a scene when he comes into Olivia and basically apologises. It’s like he’s lost and that takes subtlety.
Has being an actor changed your approach to directing? Are you more sympathetic with the actors, for instance?
Yes totally. I am more sympathetic to actors and a little bit less sympathetic to other departments. Because the actors have got to be secure or they won’t do their best work. You’ve got to create a world. I think I wouldn’t be able to direct this film if I hadn’t had an experience of acting, but the truth is, it’s what I can’t do as an actor that’s made me better as a director really. There are things that I can’t do.
I have a very strange relationship with acting, I don’t always like it. And I think that’s because the circumstances are always so very different. I’m more comfortable being the storyteller or the director.
So are you going to concentrate on directing from now on?
I think there are probably a couple of little acting things here and there, but there’s a chance it might phase itself out. There is nothing that I’ve ever done that’s been as rewarding as directing. It’s very strange, you see these beautiful performances, and it validates you in some way. I think I’m a better manager than I am player.
Who have you been influenced by as a director?
There are too many. Less film-makers, more movies really and actors. I still love Rocky. I still think that’s one of the most beautiful films ever made. I look at Tyrannosaur and I can see the little Rocky influences in there.
Things like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Nil By Mouth, and when I first started out, my mentor was Pawel Pawlikowski. I just want to make films about people. I’m not a clever clogs, I don’t want to trick anyone. I’m interested in people and their survival. I’m interested in people that have tough lives, and I have to believe that there is hope there. It might sound a bit naff, but I’m interested in the human spirit.
You’ve worked very closely with Shane Meadows over the years. Has he been an influence on your work?
People automatically think that’s going to be the case, because of our relationship, but if I’m really honest, as far as me as a director, he hasn’t. In terms of my approach and the way I work with the actors, no. What Shane means to me is beyond films, it’s beyond cinema, it’s beyond Dead Man’s Shoes. His influence on me goes back to when we were 17-year-old kids. You meet very few people in life who become part of you, a part of your family, he’s like a brother to me, and he always will be.
The film contains some harrowing scenes involving violence and domestic abuse. Are you worried that it’s too dark for audiences?
I watched Nil by Mouth, which was a huge influence on me, and I didn’t think it was a depressing movie. I thought it was tough and sad, but I don’t understand when people say it’s dark.
I think Tyrannosaur gives you enough. What you’ve got at the end is this relationship between these people, they forge a friendship that is beyond anything. It is a love story. I told everyone I was making a love story, and they didn’t believe me!
I’ve no idea what audiences will make of it. I’ve made this film, it’s out there now, they can make of it what they will. There’s nothing more I can do, I had to tell this story and it happened that way, and I can’t apologise for the movie. That’s why there is such a broad range of movies out there. If Tyrannosaur isn’t your taste, don’t worry about it, go and watch other stuff.
I go off in February to write two scripts. I’m going off to complete one of them, and hope to be in production late summer. One of them is a ghost story, called The Learning. It’s about a ghost that wants forgiving for something, but it’s more about how we keep people alive, it’s about issues that are left unresolved.