Paddy Considine ‘Directing Actors’ Masterclass at ID Fest 2012
All this week, I’ll be rounding up the best of ID Fest 2012, Derby QUAD’s boutique film festival which took place last weekend.
When there’s an on-stage announcement at the beginning of a film event, saying that there will be a five-minute delay while the clips are being sorted, usually it’s a bad omen. However, where Paddy Considine is involved, it is more likely to be the sign of a dedicated professional, a guy who wants everything to be right before he begins.
And so it proved on Saturday, when Considine gave a Masterclass on the subject of ‘Directing Actors,’ one of the flagship events of Derby QUAD’s second ID Fest. Paddy Considine is no stranger to QUAD: he’s a Patron of the cinema, and only last year came to do a Q&A on his directorial debut, Tyrannosaur. He obviously wants to be more involved in his local art-house cinema: I heard from ID Fest organisers that Considine has said he doesn’t want to be a ‘black tie’ patron, but prefers to give back something more tangible to audiences.
That fitted right in with the ethos of ID Fest, and its commitment to providing practical panels to help aspiring filmmakers. Hence the specific focus of this Masterclass, a chance to hear how one of Britain’s best actors approached working with his cast when he moved to the other side of the camera. QUAD could have easily sold out the larger Screen One, but deliberately kept this in the more intimate surroundings of Screen Two, to evoke more of a workshop feel to proceedings.
The strategy worked: Paddy was extraordinarily frank and open, one of the most interesting speakers I’ve heard on the subject of directing. He is clearly very serious about what he does, but not about how he expresses himself. Like his on-screen persona, he has his heart on his sleeve and a wicked sense of self-deprecating humour. Pausing to burp at one point, he quipped “My Peroni’s coming back on me.” You don’t get that on In The Actor’s Studio.
And, as the event’s compere Chris Hewitt reminded us during his introduction, Considine is certainly well qualified. In little over a decade, he’s already worked with Paweł Pawlikowski, Edgar Wright, Jim Sheridan, Michael Winterbottom and Paul Greengrass – not counting the long association with friend Shane Meadows that dates back to his debut, A Room For Romeo Brass.
Surprisingly, Considine doesn’t see Meadows as being the biggest influence on how he directs; he measures Shane’s impact more in how he develops projects, via scripting and workshops. On set, the directors who have registered the most with Considine have been Pawlikowski and Sheridan. He’s inherited Pawlikowski’s focus on location; both deem it essential to be hands-out during pre-production recces, going into the community, gaining local trust and bringing people into the process.
From Sheridan, he’s borrowed a technique of whispering to the actors mid-take, helping to sculpt the emotional journey of the character by providing an inner dialogue – something Considine calls “tricking the mind.” In Tyrannosaur, during a scene where Olivia Colman has to comfort abusive husband Eddie Marsan, Considine lay beside the bed, out of shot, feeding lines. On-screen, Colman says “I love you;” off-camera, Considine rephrased the line as, “I love you, you cunt,” in order to coax an expression of disgust and self-loathing onto her character’s face.
These are fascinating insights, and proof that Considine takes his craft seriously – but it’s where he finds fault with the industry that he becomes really animated. He worries that too few directors bother to engage so closely with actors, something he’s become all too familiar with. He was blessed with a dream debut, where Meadows encouraged him at every stage; Considine created the distinctive voice of his character, Morrell, only four days before shooting, while improvising in a Nottingham car park. But since then, on bigger projects, he’s sometimes felt “restrained to the point of boredom,” because too many directors hide behind their monitors or – worse – try to coast on Considine’s past success. “Oh, you know how to do it,” they say to him, “Do what you did on Dead Man’s Shoes.”
Considine isn’t interested in repeating himself; he wants each film to be unique, and is scalding about how many scripts he sees that are written to resemble other movies, rather than being informed by life. “There’s nothing to play,” he says, if there isn’t a sense of the characters existing outside the screen. To prove his point, he shows scenes from his personal favourites, Rocky and Nil By Mouth; one Hollywood, one British, but united by a raw reality and a sense of lives lived.
There’s no double-standard in Considine; he applies the same no-nonsense approach to his own career. He’s learned the hard way that the script is all that matters, because “it will never be as good as it is in the script.” That’s not to say the script can’t be improved; Considine never read In America after the first day on set because Sheridan spent every night honing the following day’s shoot. But he wryly recounts turning up for The Bourne Supremacy to be given a load of clichéd shit. Greengrass reassured him by saying, “I know it’s shit, but we’ve got enough money to shoot it, so let’s show them it’s shit.” Considine doesn’t understand that mindset. He’s the kind of guy who would much rather get it right first time, and it’s obvious why he won’t play the Hollywood game, preferring to keep it instinctive and free from distraction – although, he announces, his next film is likely to shoot in America.
Bullshit gets mentioned a lot; here’s an actor/director who wants to do away with it. “People have bastardised the idea of Method acting,” he says, because people have mistaken realism for truth and settled for a faux-reality that can be harmful to actors. Literally so: his best anecdote involves prepping a fight scene where his on-screen opponent was taking swings at him for real. Getting no support from the director, Considine grins, “one rehearsal, I fucking went for him!” In contrast, if the actor feels secure, they can go places beyond their experience without having to go ‘Method,’ citing Colman’s extraordinary work in Tyrannosaur as an example.
Inevitably, Considine is critical of his own performances and confesses he’d never direct himself because he wouldn’t be able to multi-task. That is refreshing to hear – so many actors wax lyrical about their process, but it’s rare for one to admit that the process alone cannot, as he puts it, “make shit shine.” He’s very candid about giving bad performances, but crucially he knows that the fault lies more in poor scripting or indifferent direction.
Interestingly, now that Considine has directed a feature, he’s become more aware as an actor. This leaves him torn – on the one hand, he seems on the verge of quitting acting for a full-time career behind the camera; on the other, he reckons he’s not yet given his best performance. “There must be more than Dead Man’s Shoes,” he muses.
I disagree about his critical self-assessment; he’s been superb in at least half a dozen films to date. Yet I hope the hunger to find that perfection spurs him onto more great performances. The only question remains: can he find a director as good as he is to coax out that career-defining performance?