I still miss my mum every day: Ray Winstone reveals for the first time how losing his mother to cancer 26 years ago left a gaping hole in his life
21:30 GMT, 18 May 2012
Ray Winstone is feeling under the weather. He’s been to eight funerals in as many weeks, which is about as much sadness as a man can take. Particularly when one of the deceased is a cousin who was more like a brother to Ray. He looks washed out.
‘When you lose someone, you lose something, don’t you’ he says. ‘I think about them a lot. There’s always a song that comes on, or you walk in someone’s house and smell potatoes and cabbages, or it’s the smell of a carpet or a place you drive past. There’s always something to jog your memory.’
Now, we know Ray for his brilliant portrayal of hard as nails ne’er-do-wells from Carlin in the violent borstal drama Scum to the sadistic confederate home guard in Cold Mountain and the murderous enforcer in Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed.
Ray has been married to wife Elaine for 33 years, they have three daughters and share a home in Essex
Whereas the real-life Ray is a diamond geezer from London’s East End who men want to get drunk with and women want to sleep with. He supposes it’s because he’s not afraid of showing emotion on screen. Remember the rawness he brought to retired robber Gal in Sexy Beast ‘Women like that, don’t they’ he says.
They do. If only I had a penny for every time a girlfriend sighed before this interview, ‘Ray Winstone Lucky you, he’s so sexy. Is he married’ Well, he is actually, to Elaine, and has been for 33 years. They share a home in Essex where there’s a private bar in the garden and three daughters – singer Lois, 29, actress Jaime, 27 and Ellie, 11 – who are always there for Sunday roasts.
Has he ever been tempted to stray ‘Of course I have,’ he says. ‘There’ve been times I’ve been standing at the bar and you’ll get a girl of about 27, 28, coming on to you because you’re on TV. You have to take a step back and have a little look at yourself, have a look at the girl and think, “Why is she talking to me” Bang, you press the button. Think, “Hold on a minute. There’s too much to lose.” I’ve got three beautiful daughters and a beautiful wife. Why would I want to be messing about with that
Special bond: Ray with his mother Margaret in 1979
‘We’ve certainly had our moments, when you want to kill one another. That’s a natural thing. It’s too easy today for people to have a row and walk away from one another. I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else or anywhere else other than at home with my wife and kids.’
Which is where I suspect he’d like to be right now. He really is looking very poorly with more gravel than honey in his distinctive honey-over-gravel voice. He can’t wait to get home to the sofa but he’s starring as Gort, one of eight dwarfs, in the action fantasy Snow White And The Huntsman directed by ‘a genius’ of a first-time director Rupert Sanders. Ray is here to support ‘the kid’.
‘It wasn’t the script that made me want to do this because it wasn’t finished, and it certainly wasn’t the idea of doing Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs,’ he says. ‘There was something about the director. Then you learn who’s going to be in it and think, “That’s a bonus.”’
You’ll get a girl of about 27, 28, coming on to you because you’re on TV. You have to take a step back and have a little look at yourself, have a look at the girl and think, “Why is she talking to me”
His fellow dwarfs – there are eight in this dark retelling of the fairy tale – include Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins while Oscar-winner Charlize Theron plays ruthless Queen Ravenna. On learning her stepdaughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is set to take over her kingdom, Ravenna recruits huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) to take her out into the forest and kill her. But instead he takes pity on the young princess and, with the help of the dwarves, they plot to depose the evil queen.
Ray says they decided to play the ‘eight geezers in the woods’ in the style of The Godfather, which makes sense for a former schoolboy boxing champion. But, Ray a dwarf Let’s face it, he’s 5ft 10in and built like a hod carrier. ‘Oh, my dwarf waddles about a bit,’ he chuckles. Ray can turn his mood on a sixpence. It’s part of what makes him a brilliant actor. Today, he’s particularly raw. At 54 he’s just two years older than his beloved mum Margaret was when she died of bowel cancer 26 years ago. It isn’t something he’s spoken about before.
‘She was ill for two years. It’s a very cruel disease. They have remissions and you think they’re getting better. One day you walk in and think, “She looks amazing.” She was a very smart woman, my mum, who liked her hair done – things like that.I was filming Robin Of Sherwood when she went into a coma. I knew without anyone telling me. I said, “I’ve got to go home.” She woke up and I spent a day with her talking about all the things I didn’t know about. It’s funny how things like that work. I’m glad for that day – just that one day. I don’t know what it would have been like without that. She died the next day. I was the first one in the hospital. I was driving there when she died so I didn’t know until I got there. I sat down with her.
Ray as a dwarf in Snow White
‘I felt for a long while that I’d lost something that day, emotionally,’ he says. ‘I never cried until a year later when I was driving and just had to pull over. I went bang. That was done then, but I’d had that inside me for a year. There was an anger. You feel it’s unfair and start blaming everyone. I felt for a long while that I had something missing. I obviously had my mum missing, but I mean something missing in me. A hole.’ Is it still there ‘Sometimes,’ he says. ‘I think in a way acting helps you. It’s like a therapy. Emotions I thought I’d lost I found again within the films I’ve done. I know it sounds a bit arty, but I seriously mean it. It’s probably the one thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow mentally because you can allow yourself to let it all go.’
Ray was always ‘a bit of a hothead’. Born in Hackney, he felt ‘like a duck out of water’ at the Corona Theatre School in west London, where he’d enrolled after leaving school with a single GCSE in drama. ‘I was told I was a threat to the other kids because of the way I spoke,’ he says. So he punctured the headmistress’s tyres when she didn’t invite him to the school Christmas party, took himself off and auditioned for director Alan Clarke’s Scum – uninvited. ‘It drove me on like I had something to prove,’ he says. ‘You’re always looking over your shoulder thinking, “They don’t really think I’m an actor.”
‘I never thought I was going to be a successful actor. I got lucky and by getting lucky you start to think, “Well, if I’m getting lucky, I’d better try to be good at what I do.” You’ve got to tell lies sometimes,’ he says. ‘Sometimes you have to take a deep breath before you go into a room, stick your chest out and walk in like you own the place. Sometimes there is a mask, but you’ve got to look like you feel confident, otherwise people stamp on you.’ Is he a good liar ‘Truth In real life I’m not,’ he says. ‘Elaine says I touch my ear and start giggling so she knows.’
Interesting. So Ray, tell me, have you ever done anything as bad as those ne’er-do-wells you play He giggles and touches his ear. ‘I had a few fights years ago,’ he says. ‘Some people can do terrible things and can sleep, but do you want to be that person’ Then he adds, ‘My mum died a couple of years after my Lois was born so she didn’t see Jaime. And she didn’t see my little one. That’s the biggest choker in the world: my kids not knowing their grandmother and my mum not seeing my kids grow up. It’s nature again, but it’s a cruel nature.’ His mother also never lived to see many of his highly acclaimed performances. ‘Maybe she sees them,’ he says. ‘I think about her a lot, but I think about my granddad a lot and my nan. I think about all of them.’
The interview is at an end now and Ray’s more than ready for his sofa. I tell him how sorry I am about his cousin dying. ‘It’s sad, very sad,’ he says. ‘Please God it’s the last one for a long, long time.’ Let’s hope so.
Snow White And The Huntsman is in cinemas on 30 May.