March 30, 2018
March 30, 2018
paddy considine journeyman

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ROLL-UPS on jeans with jacket to match. Double denim? And sunglasses indoors? I know your kind, Considine.

But the ego that often accompanies such hipper than hip appearances is nowhere to be found. Pretentiousness is absent too. Paddy Considine might be one of the coolest filmmakers-slash-actors in the country, in both appearance and reputation, but it’s his humility that leaves the biggest impression.

We meet at a studio, a suitably swanky converted building down a cobbled south east London side street where he is rehearsing his latest project – starring in the Sam Mendes-directed play The Ferryman – with obvious apprehension about his ability to execute it.

A deep thinker to a fault, Considine wears those tinted glasses not to look aloof, but to combat Irlen Syndrome, a rare condition that affects his ability to process visual information and can tie his brain in knots. Clues to his complex mind are everywhere. His stage debut, needless to say, will later be met with typically glowing reviews but on this day he’s concerned, scared almost, that he’s bitten off far more than he can chew.

It’s a running theme with Considine; find a task that will both challenge him the most and stretch his obvious bravery to the limit and then spend the next few months wondering what on earth he’s let himself in for.

That theme was underlined, highlighted and bolded during his previous assignment. The 44-year-old boxing fan – a hardcore one for those who need the identification – is anxiously awaiting the release of Journeyman: a truly exceptional film that he wrote, directed and acted in as the leading role.

Yet the burden of making a movie about his lifelong passion weighs heavy.

Back in the 80s, his attention was snared and seduced by household names like Barry McGuigan and Thomas Hearns, and fighters who became God-like figures to Considine and his pals.

“I put these fighters on a pedestal,” Considine tells Boxing News. “More than that, they are legendary characters to me, mythical. I was under no illusion that the sport was a little bit murky, but these fighters were heroes to me, which is why it surprises me now when you see the abuse fighters get on social media [today], it sickens my stomach a lot.

“If Twitter was around [in the 80s] then people would probably have been doing the same to the likes of Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. But to me they were heroes, they were giants, and I’ve cried when my favourite fighter has lost. I get emotionally involved, a bit too much at times.”

That love for boxing formed his early career aspirations and, with camera in hand, young Paddy thought he had found his ideal vocation.

“When I was at college, I wanted to be a boxing photographer, I wanted to be like [famous boxing photographer] Tom Casino and those guys,” Considine reflects.

He photographed Neville Brown at the Ingles Gym in Sheffield prior to his November 1993 shot at British middleweight champion Frank Grant. Boxing News published his work (“It was the greatest thing,” Paddy recalls with a smile) and Frank Warren used one his images of Brown on the fight poster.

The promoter then granted Considine a pass to shoot photos of the fight. It wasn’t exactly the stuff dreams are made of.

“To say it was a baptism of fire would be an understatement,” he chuckles with self-depreciation. “I was a student with my little camera, rolls of film on the canvas, one film rolled into the ring, I was getting b*****ked by photographers left and right of me, I was standing up too high and being told to [adopts mock cockney accent] ‘F**kin’ sit down!’

“And then a really horrendous thing happened. In about the second round, Neville came round to the ropes and my [camera] strap was in the ring, and Neville’s foot landed on it and my strap got wrapped around his ankle. I remember time standing still and thinking, ‘If he trips over because of my camera strap, I’m dead’. I waited and waited, watched his foot and, as soon as he moved his foot to move off, I whipped the strap out.”

Brown won in seven rounds and, despite nearly doing more damage to Neville than Grant managed, Considine continued his education at every opportunity. He remembers the time he spent with London Ex-Boxers Association – filming their monthly meetings, taking portraits of Sammy McCarthy and co – with great affection; the one-in-a-million characters, the brutal yet enchanting stories and that irresistible sense of community.

By the turn of the century, Considine had made a name for himself as an actor. His performance in Room For Romeo Brass (1999) drew critical acclaim, before Dead Man’s Shoes (2004), which he co-wrote and starred in, elevated his status further. A 2007 short, Dog Altogether, confirmed that Considine could direct, too.

So it follows that making a film about boxing was always likely and, in turn, loaded with pressure.

That pressure isn’t eased by the fact that Journeyman is one of the most harrowing representations of the sport in cinematic history. In short, it centres around Matty Burton, an ageing British fighter who becomes a world champion under fortunate circumstances, who, early in the film, is brain damaged.

paddy considine journeyman
 TOP DRAWER: Jodie Whitaker plays Matty Burton’s wife, Emma, in Journeyman

Considine started work on the film in 2009 and was initially inspired by the hectic existence of his best friend and former professional, Matt Galer. But Paddy’s dark side soon took over.

“I started writing the script, and then in the first act, Matty had gone off and fought and his wife went off to get him a cup of tea and then I wrote, ‘And he collapses into the table’. And I was like, ‘Oh, so that’s where we’re going with it.’ It was almost as if, dramatically, the film just landed there. I took that idea to the UK Film Council in 2009 and asked them if they were interested in developing this film with me called ‘The Journeyman’ about a guy who gets a head injury.”

But, as is often the case, getting the film up and running wasn’t an easy process. Paddy compares filmmaking to “spinning a lot of plates at the same time”, so with Journeyman starting to wobble, he made his first feature as a director, the gruesome yet excellent Tyrannosaur (2011), and stumbled across Jon Hotten’s brilliant boxing book The Years of the Locust which tells the mind-bogglingly true story of crooked promoter Rick Parker and his unknowing victim, Tim “Doc” Anderson.

Considine turned it into a screenplay and spent a lot of time and money out in America trying to find the right actors to play the right parts. He still has high hopes for the made-for-celluloid tale (we may see it in TV boxset form in the future) but back then he was forced to accept the timing just wasn’t right.

He turned his attention back to Journeyman.

Considine assembled a cast that included members of the boxing media, Francis Warren as the promoter, and the BoxNation commentary team are behind the mic during the fateful fight. He wanted it to look and sound real – and agonised over the tiniest details – but that desire for authenticity has resulted in some insiders grumbling about Paddy’s portayal.

Events in the film unfold in a manner they wouldn’t in reality, particularly the moment when the lead character collapses at home (Burton’s brain injury would likely have been picked up in the arena by a doctor) and is then left to fend for himself as his team drift away.

But Considine stresses that critics must also remember the bottom line: Journeyman is a work of fiction.

“There comes a point when you have to throw your arms up and say, ‘It’s a film’,” he remembers. And the first person he needed to convince of that was himself. Considine spent hours in the editing suite, caught between his two loves, trying to make a film but also trying to remain faithful to all things boxing.

In the end, he realised it just wasn’t possible.

Considine, like practically every filmmaker, accepted the ‘that would never happen’ factor was a necessary evil. After all, Rocky Balboa wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if the referee had rescued him after his eyes exploded in round three of his first war with Apollo Creed. And Matty Burton’s journey is all the more gripping because he’s forced to make it alone.

“One criticism I had was his team wouldn’t disappear and leave him [Burton] like that,” Considine explains. “But when I had his team there I felt like I couldn’t tell the story. I had a main character who wasn’t doing anything for himself, he had no quest, and to an audience, that’s not engaging. And people do disappear, they do, people don’t stay around forever so in a film, sometimes you just have to fast-track things.

“I’m not telling the absolute truth, these are characters in a film and actually there’s a bigger picture – and of course [in reality] Matty would have been examined there [by doctors], and 99 per cent sure they would have seen something occurring that wasn’t right, but if he’d have collapsed at ringside, it would have been a different story, it wouldn’t have been a private moment, so you’re always walking that fine line between the reality and what we’ve seen happen, and what license you have as a filmmaker to tell a story. So at times you find yourself having to take liberties in order to tell that story.

“I did enough research to know the results from an injury can be accumulative and the impact of it can take hours for the consequences to be felt. So I played with that idea and also, as a filmmaker, it serves the film better if Matty collapses at home. He seems to be okay, everything is okay with his wife, and then he collapses. It’s more of a shock [for the audience] than it would have been to see him collapse publically at ringside.”

Paddy Considine Journeyman

What follows is an unerringly accurate portrayal of brain damage, from the vacant eyes, the dry mouth that clicks when it opens, the curled up hands and the excruciating confusion. Considine spent time at Headway in Henley, among the victims of head trauma, and delivers an award-worthy performance in a film that lives long in the memory.

But, more importantly for Considine, this is a film that transcends its boxing theme while illustrating the astonishing strength of those within it.

“I thought it was an important story to tell about humanity, and it was a really uplifting story and a story that I think is a very pro-boxing story,” he says.

“I think boxing saves this guy and gets him back into the world again. I never wanted to make a film that was anti-boxing – never. This is what people do, they’re compelled to do it, these guys are monuments to me and they’re compelled to do this thing and put everything on the line – and to me that’s an incredible thing, to go out and do that for people like us.”

JOURNEYMAN is released today (March 30) and is being shown in cinemas nationwide.