Ray Winstone’s latest screen incarnation is as one of the seven dwarves, in Snow White And The Huntsman, but he’s certainly not grumpy, or bashful, about it. By Shereen Low
With one film already out this year and another two on the way, retirement is the last thing on Ray Winstone’s mind.
“Oh come on, I’ve got to pay the rent and I’ve got three daughters. Are you joking?” chuckles the 55-year-old.
“I’m a working man, I am. I don’t want to be sitting around, you die sitting around. If I retire, what am I going to do? People retire and go down to the pub. Besides, I like my work, it’s fun.”
Just a few seconds with Winstone, dressed in a smart maroon shirt and jeans, and you can tell he’s a passionate bloke, especially when he talks about his career and family.
Born and bred in Hackney, the star of films like Sexy Beast and 44 Inch Chest now lives in Essex, with his wife Elaine, daughters Lois, Jaime and Ellie, and two female pigs he’s raised since birth.
Following a cameo in Elfie Hopkins, in which Jaime also starred and co-produced, Winstone will next be seen as dwarf Gort (who sports a striking bleached blonde mohican) in Snow White And The Huntsman.
At 5ft 9, it’s not a role you’d immediately think suitable for him.
“I’m 5’2!” he jokes, before adding: “We had our little body doubles – the boys did a helluva lot of the fighting, the long shots and the walking about for us.”
But seeing a miniature version of himself took some getting used to.
“It was kind of weird looking at yourself as someone who was about 3 feet. We’d be doing a scene and they were having fags and a drink,” he admits, in his unmistakable Cockney accent.
Winstone is one of seven dwarves in Rupert Sanders’ directorial debut, a modern-day spin on the classic fairytale.
The Bafta-nominated actor is joined by the crème de la crème of British talent, including Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson as fellow dwarves.
“We were like a band of brothers because we all knew each other,” Winstone explains.
“The only one I hadn’t worked with was Johnny, but I knew him anyway. I had to work with Brian’s dad Brendan a couple of times. We all have a connection, which breaks the ice and makes it easier.”
While some of the others saw Gort as the daddy of the group, Winstone describes his alter-ego as “the centurion”, with McShane as “the guv’nor”.
“We sat in a room to figure out the hierarchy of the group before we started filming because you’ve got eight very strong-minded actors, who all want to bring something to the film,” he explains.
“I came to the conclusion that Ian was top dog. I always looked at Bob as being the announcer, but the one who gave the orders – the guv’nor – was Ian’s character.
“Toby and Eddie were like the scouts, Nick was my second-in-command and Brian was the last of the generation. We treated him like a child.”
Going to dwarf camp to learn his mannerisms wasn’t easy for Winstone.
He reveals: “We had to walk like them and they had to learn to walk like us. It wasn’t easy for them or us, but it paid off in the film.”
Winstone has only kind words for Kristen Stewart, who takes on the titular role of the feisty princess alongside Charlize Theron as her evil stepmother and Chris Hemsworth as the huntsman.
“She’s a pro, you know, she’s a film star but she can act very well too,” he says.
“She’ll come on set with eight geezers – the dwarves – enjoying ourselves and perform, without any fear. She’s a ballsy little thing.”
In September, Winstone will step into the famous shoes of John Thaw as Detective Inspector Jack Regan, opposite Ben Drew – aka rapper Plan B – as his sidekick Detective Sergeant George Carter (in a role originally played by Dennis Waterman) in Nick Love’s big-screen remake of The Sweeney.
“I’ve seen a rough cut of the film. It’s great! I love it,” he says.
“Little Benny is blinding in it, he’s very good. He looks like he can kick a door down, and he can act. My generation has had its Sweeney, but he’ll bring a new generation to it.”
For Winstone, who once appeared in the 70s cop drama in 1976, it was quite a nerve-wracking part to accept.
“That’s a big thing I had to get over because John Thaw and Dennis Waterman are icons to our age group. Once I realised we weren’t copying them and were making our own film, it was alright.”
Best known for tough guy parts, Winstone rose to fame after winning the lead in Alan Clarke’s BBC play Scum in 1979. He is equally well known in Hollywood, thanks to films like Hugo, The Departed and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, but insists he’ll always be a Londoner.
“I like it there and like working there but it’d be like living above a shop,” he says.
“I’m an Englishman. It’s crazy, I know, but I do look forward to putting my overcoat on. And I’ve got all my family here.”
With more than three decades of big-screen experience under his belt, surely Winstone fancies a stint in the director’s chair?
“I’d love to one day. I have an idea of how I would like to make a film and how I would film it, but I’m not ready for that yet,” he says.
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing. Maybe one day when I can’t walk and I’m sitting there in a wheelchair, then I can scream at people, although I think you still need plenty of energy to direct.”
He admits there’s nothing he enjoys more than watching his own works.
“I’m lucky to have done a lot of films that I like and I like watching them,” he says.
“I’m proud of them and I’ll think, ‘F*****g hell, that’s a good film’. What’s the point of not watching it? It’s part of the process – it’s like doing a painting and not signing it.
“You wanna know where you’ve gone wrong and whether it’s entertaining. You’ve worked hard enough so you might as well enjoy it.”
Snow White And The Huntsman is out now