The day I was banged up… for murdering a policeman: How an affair with a girl 25 years his junior – and real life run-ins with the law – gave the star of the new Sweeney his swagger
22:01 GMT, 6 September 2012
Sex symbols don’t normally wear baggy, black underpants and offer the hint of a paunch — but then, Ray Winstone is not like other sex symbols.
Both his pants and protruding stomach make regular appearances in the new, 4 million movie version of classic TV cop show The Sweeney.
Yet Ray’s tough guy character Jack Regan also enjoys intimate scenes with alluring detective Nancy Lewis, played by 30-year-old Captain America star Hayley Atwell.
You're nicked: Ray Winstone as Jack Regan and Ben Drew – aka Plan B – as DS George Carter
Hayley describes 55-year-old Ray as an ‘attractive, charismatic, alpha male’, and the makers of the movie clearly think he has the Sex-Factor too: why else would they pair him with an extremely captivating woman young enough to be his daughter!
‘If people think I’m a sex symbol, then fine,’ says Ray, who is reprising the role first played by John Thaw in ITV’s original version of The Sweeney, almost 40 years ago. ‘In fact it’s more than that — it’s fantastic!
‘I’m a fat 55-year-old, so how do you expect me to feel at being cast as a bloke who has a girlfriend 25 years his junior Importantly, though, I think it is plausible.
'It illustrates — quite rightly, in my opinion — that women don’t just go for young slim guys with six-packs.
‘I’m old fashioned enough to believe that what women find attractive is being treated well, and Jack Regan does treat the woman in his life well and looks after her.
Attraction: Hayley Atwell plays Ray Winstone's character's love interest in The Sweeney
‘You have to be a bit of a rogue, as well, I think, but you have to be a gentleman and a protector.
'That’s maybe what turns women on, although, of course, you’d need to ask a woman for some kind of confirmation of that.’
Ray says he had a few qualms about playing a man enjoying a passionate affair with a woman a quarter of a century his junior.
‘Originally I thought it might be better if Regan had a girlfriend who was in her 40s,’ he says.
‘I’ve got daughters of 30 and 26 and there was slight discomfort at the thought of kissing someone of their age. But Hayley was fine about it — she saw no problem with the idea of our characters having a relationship, so we went with it.’
Once those love scenes were definitely going to be a part of the movie, Ray made sure he was as trim as he could be for them.
He may be, by his own admission, a little on the chunky side, but managed to drop more than a stone and a half, from 15st down to 14st, through an exercise regime that comprised three-mile daily walks on the treadmill at his palatial Essex home, a ban on food after 6pm, periods of fasting that lasted for two days at a time and pretty much a total ban on alcohol.
‘Although I did occasionally lapse from that last one,’ grins Ray, a little sheepishly. ‘I did enjoy the odd — very large — alcoholic drink.’
Lengthy periods of abstinence also served Ray well when it came to the action sequences in The Sweeney, which co-stars Ben Drew, the actor also known as rapper Plan B, as Jack Regan’s colleague and friend DS George Carter — the part played by Dennis Waterman in the original series which topped the TV charts between 1975 and 1978, and which is still being repeated on satellite channels.
The film version focuses on the Flying Squad’s attempts to stop a spate of armed robberies in modern-day London, and a fitter Ray did as many of the stunts in the car chases, punchups and shootouts, as he could, and was largely unharmed by his exertions.
‘The only time I picked up a knock was when Ben Drew had to slap me in a scene outside his flat and he hit me just a little bit too hard,’ says Ray. ‘And he slapped me again and again, because we did retakes of the scene. He was enjoying himself, maybe too much!’
Remake: The movie is based on the original cult television show and sees Ben Drew and Winstone partner up to play two London Flying Squad detectives
Ray says he would sign on for a sequel to the film in a heartbeat.
‘It’s a movie to which I’ve been attached for about six years, and several times it didn’t look as if it was going to happen,’ he says.
‘Not only am I pleased that it did finally get off the ground, but that it turned out the way it has. There’s some great action sequences in there, including one following a raid on a bank in Trafalgar Square on which we supposedly blew half of the movie’s budget!
‘It’s believable action, so much so that even the security guys who surround pop star Rihanna thought we were for real. We were filming near The O2 Arena, letting off guns, and Rihanna’s people thought she was coming under attack! They bundled her out of the building, pretty sharpish.
‘But it’s not just about making a good, action-packed movie. I’ve done British films before where the distribution and publicity hasn’t been very good, and the movie has died a death as a result, but on The Sweeney it’s been top notch. I think we’ve given it every chance of being a success.’
Ray, star of hit TV dramas such as Lenny Blue, All In The Game and films such as Sexy Beast, admits there’s a certain irony to him playing a policeman in The Sweeney, which also stars Homeland’s Damian Lewis as Flying Squad boss Frank Haskins.
Originals: John Thaw and Dennis Waterman played Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Detective Sergeant George Carter in the original 1975 television series
As a younger man, he had several run-ins with the police. He even spent 72 hours in a jail in Leeds, accused of murder.
‘Which, frankly, was a bit bizarre,’ he says. ‘My wife Elaine and I had been watching TV and were laughing at a Photofit of a guy accused of a crime, because he looked so like me.
A week later, I got banged up for three days, accused of that crime — killing one policeman, in Leeds, and seriously injuring another.
‘I was totally innocent but the whole thing became like a Monty Python sketch, it was so ludicrous. They did the good cop, bad cop, routine with me when all I really wanted to do was go to sleep and get woken when my detention was up.
‘They let me go in the end, although I almost wished they had charged me and the whole thing had gone to trial. That’s because, a couple of months later, I discovered I had the perfect alibi for the time of the crime. I’d been rehearsing a play in South London.
‘I’d have loved it to have gone to the wire so I could have pulled out my cast-iron alibi in court.
‘And that wasn’t the only run-in with the law. I got picked on loads of times.
‘I remember, as a kid, coming back from an England international at Wembley, sitting on a church wall in Edmonton in North London and getting pulled in by the police, accused of wrecking gravestones and urinating in the churchyard.
‘My dad had to come and sort things out at the police station. Again, I’d been totally innocent.’
Family man: Ray Winstone and his daughters Louis, left, and Jamie, right, and wife Elaine, centre at the red carpet premiere of The Sweeney
Ray’s young life — when he wasn’t helping the police with their inquiries — was marked by occasional appearances on TV, as he struggled as an actor, and a lead role as someone from the other side of the law in the 1979 film Scum, when he played a thug behind bars in a Borstal.
His career really got a lift-off when he played a wife beater in the brutal 1997 movie Nil /09/06/article-2199506-0B7C8C5900000578-598_306x548.jpg” width=”306″ height=”548″ alt=”Having once been falsely accused of murder, Ray Winstone is no stranger to the police” class=”blkBorder” />
Good cop, bad cop: Having once been falsely accused of murder, Ray Winstone is no stranger to the police
‘I was appearing in a stage play, by night, recording Kavanagh QC, by day, and basically I was exhausted. It was probably why I forgot my lines and really gave people the hump because they had to stay behind later than they’d planned as we had to do re-takes.
‘But you know what John Thaw was as good as gold — he couldn’t have been nicer. He was calm and patient and treated me with great humanity, even though I was mucking up his filming schedule by not remembering my lines.
‘The following day I came back, fresh as a daisy, and got my lines out fine. But I’ll never forget the kindness and patience John showed me.
‘We’ve retained some of Regan’s classic Sweeney lines, in our film, such as: “Get your trousers on, you’re nicked,” in homage to the original, brilliant production.
‘But if I were going to dedicate my performance in The Sweeney in memory of anyone then it would probably be John. And if I say any more on this subject, I might start shedding tears . . .’
The hardman actor’s soft, sentimental side contrasts sharply with the kind of guys he is usually cast as in movies and on TV. Jack Regan is a typical example, occupying a macho, hard-drinking world in which violence is an everyday occurrence — much of it meted out by Regan himself.
But Ray insists he is nothing like the kind of characters he plays, doting on his three daughters — singer Lois, 30, actress Jaime, 27, and Ellie, 11 — and his wife of 33 years, Elaine, while enjoying the quiet life in rural Essex.
‘Problem is, people simply don’t believe me when I tell them I’m not like the geezers I play. But I’m not. I cry at movies, I cry at scripts, I cried when West Ham got back into the Premiership last season and I’m even frightened of spiders.
‘And I find a lot of the natural world awesome and beautiful. If you want to know how soft I am, ask my family. Years ago, we all went on holiday to The Maldives and I saw the most incredible sight, this huge, marlin fish jumping clean out of the water and landing, elegantly, in a shard of blues and silvers.
‘It was unbelievable but I didn’t tell anybody — neither my wife Elaine nor Lois and Jaime — because I reckoned they would think I was making it up!
‘It was a golden memory but I felt disappointed that I had been the only one to see it because life is about sharing the great experiences, being able to talk to one another about them, not keeping them to yourself.
‘But then, at around the same time of the year two years later, my daughter Lois suddenly pipes up: “Dad, do you remember when we saw that big fish in The Maldives” She’d been standing right behind me and I hadn’t realised!
‘I almost cried when she told me that because I’d shared something really precious with a member of my family which I thought only I had seen.
‘I can’t imagine Jack Regan getting quite so emotional, under those circumstances. Not for a minute…'
The Sweeney opens in cinemas on Wednesday.