The world premiere of a new play written by Jerusalem’s Jez Butterworth and directed by Sam Mendes was always going to be big news, so it’s no surprise that The Ferryman, a brooding tale of buried secrets set in rural Derry in the early 1980s, has become the fastest-selling show in the history of the Royal Court in London. But the most enticing prospect will arguably be the chance to see one of British cinema’s bravest actors, the 43-year-old Paddy Considine in his stage debut.
It has been almost 20 years since cinemagoers first got an idea of what a performance by Considine might entail: tenderness and volatility shot through with sweet-and-salty humour. That was in 1999, in A Room for Romeo Brass, written and directed by his old college pal and indie bandmate Shane Meadows. Considine played Morell, a resentful loner, who becomes a pernicious influence on the lives of two Midlands schoolboys. That performance looks now like a promise on Considine’s part that he was prepared to endanger the audience’s sympathies without a thought for actorly vanity. It is one on which he has never failed to make good.
His work since then has been both explosive and fine-grained. He had a brief Hollywood excursion in the Russell Crowe boxing drama Cinderella Man and got chased around Waterloo station as a hounded Guardian journalist in The Bourne Ultimatum, but he has stuck by and large to the more intimate canvas, whether on TV (Peaky Blinders, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Red Riding) or film. He was terrifying again for Meadows in the revenge thriller Dead Man’s Shoes and used that hair-trigger temper to good effect in My Summer of Love, where he was mockingly seduced by a young Emily Blunt; he was also painfully vulnerable as a stalker-turned-stalkee in the Patricia Highsmith adaptation The Cry of the Owl. But he brings the same level of detail and discipline to even the daftest doodle of a part — a mullet-sporting self-help guru in Submarine, say, or a braying, unreconstructed cop in Hot Fuzz. Everyone who works with him agrees on one thing: on screen or off, Considine is a straight shooter.
“The thing about Paddy is that he can’t lie,” says Olivia Colman, who starred with him in Hot Fuzz before Considine cast her in his short Dog Altogether and its feature-length follow-up, Tyrannosaur. “You could ask him, ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ and he’d say, ‘Um…’ He and Rafe Spall were like a couple of naughty little boys on Hot Fuzz, giggling away with their comedy ’taches. Then he was completely different when he was directing Tyrannosaur: he shouldered everything. Something you’d be embarrassed to do in front of other people, you can do in front of him because he’ll never mock you.”
His presence has the effect of enhancing the rest of a film merely by association, as the writer-director Ol Parker discovered when he cast him in Now Is Good as the father of a dying teenager played by Dakota Fanning. “The day he accepted the part was a huge boost for the film. I would tell people what it was about and they’d say, ‘Who’s the dad?’ and as soon as I told them it was Paddy, you could see the change in their eyes.”
Samantha Morton played Considine’s wife in Jim Sheridan’s In America, about an Irish immigrant family in New York. “Some actors have this tendency to be very protective of their own performance, giving a bit less when the camera’s not on them, but that isn’t Paddy,” she says. “There’s this innocence and sincerity to him that is really unusual … Over the years, he’s proved himself to be incredibly versatile, always searching for the truth. He reminds me in some ways of the old boys who aren’t around any more – he has the energy of someone you might have seen in a Cassavetes film or in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.”
The director Elliott Lester says: “He’s not afraid to put himself out there.” In Lester’s thriller Blitz, Considine was cast as a gay police sergeant who teams up with a detective, played by Jason Statham, to hunt a cop killer. “I took him to a bunch of gay clubs. At one, some guy grabbed his arse and he looked at me as if to say, ‘What do I do?’ But he threw himself into it wholeheartedly.” Most impressive was Considine’s attitude toward his action-hero co-star. “He really put Jason at ease, he didn’t sneer at him, didn’t look down on him, and I can’t say that’s true of all the cast.”
But then nothing about Considine suggests that he would be highfalutin. He lives with his wife, whom he has been with since the age of 18, and their three children in Burton-upon-Trent, close to the council estate where he grew up. Despite being in high demand, he has resisted the lure of easy money in favour of what he believes in. He’s expressed to Meadows a strong desire to stay close to his roots. “Paddy rang me from his Russell Crowe film,” the director said in 2004, “and he said that as much as he’s enjoying it, now he’s seen Dead Man’s Shoes, he knows he’s got to keep making that kind of film.” It is a declaration to which he has stayed true, not least in Tyrannosaur, a gruelling tale of love flourishing against a backdrop of poverty, abuse and alcoholism, with a raging and in many ways monstrous protagonist inspired by Considine’s own late father.
If there have been any wobbles in his career, they have been caused by his own health issues and the insecurities arising from them. In 2011, he was told he had Asperger’s, which was followed in 2014 by another diagnosis, this time of Irlen syndrome, an autism-connected disorder characterised by difficulties with processing light. (He now ameliorates the condition by wearing tinted contact lenses.) On top of that, there are his own high standards to meet. “I think maybe the way Shane and me work has spoiled me for other directors,” he said in 2009. “If there’s not that level of preparation with a director towards finding a character, then it’s like there’s nothing there for me to work with.”
“Paddy has an extraordinary quality as an actor and he’s amazing to direct,” recalls Parker, “but you have to create a truthful context for him otherwise he’ll flounder. And when Paddy panics, he really panics. I remember realising a shot would be better if he walked across the back of it so I said, ‘Paddy, what would be really lovely is if, as you say your line, you walk over there.’ He said: What the fuck do you mean, ‘walk over there’? Why would I walk over there? He just flipped. I said, ‘Well, your daughter’s school report has just arrived and you’re going through it again.’ And he said, ‘Oh, OK.’ Then I turned around and whispered: ‘Someone find me a school report, quick!’”
Lester is certain that Considine’s career will last. “I think he’s going to be working forever. Do I think America would get him? I don’t know. He’s so uniquely British. He’s not Matt Damon. ‘We need to bring Paddy back from Mars!’ He’s not that actor, you know? He’s probably got more in common with Charles Laughton than Brad Pitt.” Working with him remains a career high for Colman. “I don’t know how he does it but he creates an atmosphere where everyone looks after one another and you feel completely safe. It comes from his heart — he can’t hide anything. Every actor should have the experience of being directed by him.”