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Winstone, Ray (1957-)


Main image of Winstone, Ray (1957-)

Ray Winstone made an explosive acting debut, then took his sweet time - a good two decades, in fact - to realise his full potential. Specialising in hard men with intriguing chinks in their armour, he neatly side-stepped narrow typecasting even at the height of the London crime movie boom, proving equally at home in historical drama, American blockbusters and rough British realist grit.

He was born on 19 February 1957 in Hackney, East London, the son of a fruit-and-veg market trader. While still at school, he was a boxing champion who competed twice for England as a welterweight, then became interested in acting. He left school with one CSE, in drama, and in 1974 enrolled in the Corona Stage Academy in Hammersmith, but was expelled after a year for vandalising the headteacher's car.

His first key appearance was in the 1977 BBC play Scum as a violent borstal boy; the BBC refused to broadcast it until 1991, but Winstone was cast in the same role when the director, Alan Clarke, remade Scum for the cinema two years later. Also in 1979, he appeared in the mods-and-rockers drama, Quadrophenia (d. Franc Roddam), and in a gentle coming-of-age tale, That Summer (d. Harley Cokeliss), for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer. He met his wife, Elaine, on that film's Torquay shoot; the two eldest of their three daughters, Lois and Jaime, are also actresses.

He played Will Scarlet in 24 episodes of Robin of Sherwood (ITV, 1984-86), but the next years were difficult professionally and personally (he went bankrupt twice). He took minor jobs on television, and worked in the theatre, most successfully in Mr Thomas (1990), written by his friend, the actress Kathy Burke.

His career took off in the late 1990s. He made a brilliant impression as a brutal, alcoholic, yet disturbingly appealing wife-beater in Nil By Mouth (1997), the actor Gary Oldman's lacerating debut as director. He displayed a lighter side in two poorly received romantic comedies, Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence (d. Nick Hamm, 1998) and Fanny and Elvis (d. Kay Mellor, 1999). But he really began to spread his wings with a wide range of charismatic villains: a small-time bank robber in Face (d. Antonia Bird, 1997), a man who rapes his teenage daughter in The War Zone (d. Tim Roth, 1999), a loan shark in Agnes Browne (d. Anjelica Huston, 1999), a boorish salesman in the black-comic Births, Marriages and Deaths (BBC, 1999), a gang boss in Love, Honour and Obey (d. Dominic Anciano/Ray Burdis, 2000) and, in what was to become another signature role, a retired safecracker baking in the sun on the Costa del Crime in Sexy Beast (d. Jonathan Glazer, 2000). Other characters included Michael Caine's dodgy car-dealing son in Last Orders (d. Fred Schepesi, 2001) and a shady ex-pat in Berlin in Ripley's Game (d. Liliana Cavani, 2002).

A turn as a boorish Henry VIII (ITV, tx. 12/10/2003) ushered in a suite of period dramas and escalating interest from A-list directors. He was a vigilante in the American Civil War in Cold Mountain (d. Anthony Minghella, 2003), a knight in King Arthur (d. Antoine Fuqua, 2004), a lawman in 19th century Australia in The Proposition (d. John Hillcoat, 2005), the demon barber in Sweeney Todd (BBC, tx. 3/1/2006), the epic warrior in Robert Zemeckis's performance-capture Beowulf (2007), a British adventurer in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (d. Steven Spielberg, 2008) and an ex-Boer War guerrilla in New Zealand in Tracker (d. Ian Sharp, 2010).

In between, the busy actor set up two production companies, Flicks and Size 9 (the latter's credits include Sweeney Todd), and took on contemporary roles, including a corrupt football manager in All in the Game (Channel 4, 2006), a kindly detective in Breaking and Entering (d. Anthony Minghella, 2006), a Boston mobster in The Departed (d. Martin Scorsese, 2006), a jealous, vindictive husband in 44 Inch Chest (d. Malcolm Venville, 2009), Ian Dury's father in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (d. Mat Whitecross, 2010) and a shadowy fixer in Edge of Darkness (d. Martin Campbell, 2010).

Sheila Johnston

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Ladybird Ladybird (1994)Ladybird Ladybird (1994)

Heartbreaking drama of a mother's struggle to keep her children

Thumbnail image of Nil By Mouth (1997)Nil By Mouth (1997)

Gary Oldman's disturbing portrait of a dysfunctional South London family

Thumbnail image of Sexy Beast (2000)Sexy Beast (2000)

Unusually inventive addition to the late 1990s gangster cycle

Thumbnail image of Yellow (1996)Yellow (1996)

Short psychological drama set in a dazzling yellow field

Thumbnail image of Fairly Secret Army (1984-86)Fairly Secret Army (1984-86)

Sitcom about the patriotic exploits of a retired Army major

Thumbnail image of Fox (1980)Fox (1980)

Ambitious 13-part drama following a South London family

Thumbnail image of Robin of Sherwood (1984-86)Robin of Sherwood (1984-86)

A new incarnation - or two - of the hooded outlaw for the acquisitive 80s

Thumbnail image of Scum (1977)Scum (1977)

The original banned BBC version of Alan Clarke's Borstal drama

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