Why Jaime Winstone's latest movie will upset parents everywhere
It may not please the parents but it's reality for her generation, she tells James Mottram
Friday 04 July 2008
It's not hard to warm to Jaime Winstone. One minute, she's pumping my hand, calling me "babe" and greeting me in her Cockney songbird voice, the next, she's dashing out for a "moment of toilet", as she gleefully calls it.
As down-to-earth as her actor-father, Ray, she's not one to put on heirs and graces. When I bump into her later in the evening at the Edinburgh Film Festival party for her latest movie Donkey Punch, she has her boyfriend Alfie Allen (brother to singer Lily) in tow. But she still has the time to say "hello" and remembers my name, an impressive feat given the dozens of people she's met through a day of interviews, photocalls and red carpet pounding.
Right now, it seems everyone wants a piece of her. The "reigning queen of London's 'yoof' scene", as one interviewer dubbed her recently, she is finally emerging from beneath the not inconsiderable shadow cast by her old man. Petite, pale and pouty, she may not take after her father in looks but their work shares a certain confrontational attitude. The only difference is, Jaime is doing it with style: today she's wearing a funky straw-coloured trilby, short-sleeved sequin-dotted top – a vibrant red, matching her lipstick and nail polish – and jeans turned up at the bottom. Don't be surprised if she gets offers to launch her own clothing line at some point.
Still, this elfin 23-year-old is not the sort to play up to the press. She has no need. Ever since she and Allen got together eight months ago, the tabloids have been all over them. "That can put pressure on a new relationship," she admits, although with her boyfriend the son of actor Keith Allen, this interest doesn't come as any surprise. After all, the offspring of two bona fide blue-collar boys done good, theirs is a union made in red top heaven. She still doesn't see herself as a celebrity, though. As she puts it: "I'm in no rush to become extremely famous."
Nevertheless, already a veteran of music promos for the achingly hip – from The Streets (When You Wasn't Famous) to The Twang (The Lovers) – you might call Winstone a new breed of "It" girl. Not from a background of privilege, like the Paris Hiltons of this world, she's a pin-up for British working class girls in the way her father doubtless inspired legions of lads who grew up watching Scum. And while there's no doubt she likes to party, as the pictures of her at Glastonbury last weekend testify, behind those oversized plastic pink-framed sunglasses she was wearing, there evidently lies a sharp industry brain focused on shaping her career.
Not unlike her father, Winstone has made her name in controversial contemporary British dramas, aimed at her peers and made by directors who seem in touch. "There's a new wave of film makers, and I think it's really important that we feed into that," she says. "It's the future of film – and I'm really proud to be a part of it."
Making her debut in 2004's Bullet Boy, the gritty drama about an ex-con trying to go straight in Hackney, then came Kidulthood, an equally stirring portrayal of delinquent teens in London's Ladbroke Grove. She played every parent's worst nightmare, the loudmouth, loutish Becky. Unquestionably the film's highlight (and sorely missed in the recent sequel, Adulthood), for her part Winstone, who was born in Camden and raised in a council flat in Enfield, simply drew from real life experience. "I went to school with girls like that, so it was second nature to me in a way," she says.
After that she played a psychiatric patient with a thirst for blood in Daddy's Girl, but it's her new film that tops them all. Tailor-made for Winstone's own generation, Donkey Punch tells the story of three Leeds girls who meet some lads on a beach holiday and head back to a borrowed yacht for some serious hedonism. For the uninitiated, the title refers to a rather unusual sexual act performed in the movie that unexpectedly twists the story on its head.
As the film drifts into thriller territory in its second half, playing out like a Dead Calm for clubbers, it offers just the sort of potent cocktail of sex, drugs and bloodshed that should lure in the 18-25 demographic before they jet off to Ibiza for the summer. Also destined to upset parents everywhere, Winstone is unrepentant at the hedonistic lifestyle the film portrays. "These kids are living out a fantasy. You really feel for them. If you went on a yacht with your boys, when you were 17 or 18, and you happened to come across some experimental drugs..." She trails off for a second. "It's not a rare thing to have young adults experimenting with drugs, listening to music and partying."
Playing the brassy Kim, again Winstone steals the show with some standout scenes – notably when she attacks one luckless lad with a motorised propeller. "I have a funny feeling that's going to follow me for a while," she grins. More likely, it might be the explicit orgy sequence that returns to haunt her – although to be fair, she makes it look sexy, not sordid.
In the end, Winstone admits a few shots of Jack Daniels gave her some Dutch courage for the scene. "If you sense that nervousness on screen, it picks up, so we needed to be relaxed," she says. "It's not you – you have to completely shut off your feelings." She claims she went very "Method" on the film (though I suspect Stanislavski may question that). "I just stayed in character all day," she says. "I was so up and down for hours... I had a lot of intense stuff to do. We were crying for three weeks straight. You forget that once you see a film, but you can become a bit drained."
As it turns out, Winstone convinced Donkey Punch director Olly Blackburn to change the fate of her character. Without giving the game away, it meant Winstone was required to do a major stunt in freezing cold water with no rehearsal, just another example
of her gutsy approach to acting. Blackburn calls her "instinctual" and it's a good choice of word. "That's the only weapon you've got as an actor – your instinct," replies Winstone. "You have to go with it and have confidence."
Something Winstone has in spades, you might think she gets it from her father – although she's equally indebted to her mother, Elaine, who she calls "a powerful, intelligent woman who encouraged my individualism". Preferring art and writing at school, at first she had no desire to act – which may have had something to so with her father being close to bankruptcy in her early years. Not long after his fortunes were revived after starring in Gary Oldman's 1997 film Nil By Mouth, Winstone went through her teen rebellion stage – staying out all night, getting suspended from school and full of resentment for the fact her parents moved into a plush pad in Essex.
Now with her elder sister Lois also acting, it's become a family business. What's more, the rise of Jaime has come in tandem with her father cracking Hollywood – working with everyone from Martin Scorsese to Steven Spielberg. "Naturally, you would have fingers pointing at you, with people going, 'Oh, you're only doing that because of your Dad!' Well, yeah, I am because it's in my blood – like doctor's kids who go onto be doctors."
After last year's BBC Three sci-fi comic-book parody Phoo Action, in which she played a teenager from hell, Winstone is now aware that diversity is important. She went from that directly to the forthcoming Boogie Woogie, a comedy set in London's contemporary art world co-starring such heavyweights as Danny Huston and Christopher Lee. Winstone stars as a young lesbian artist called Elaine. There's a kissing scene with Hollyoaks "babe" Gemma Atkinson, which will further fuel tabloid interest but Winstone, who turned down Adulthood to make the film, felt veering away from playing more bad Burberry-clad girls was the right choice. "You need to break out of boundaries sometimes."
Whether Winstone will follow her father to Hollywood remains to be seen. For the moment, she's an unknown quantity out there, but if Donkey Punch makes a splash, then her already exciting career could hit overdrive. If doing the film taught her anything, it was not to pressure herself when she's on set. "I just took it," she grins. "And I think that's a real main weapon in terms of acting – you have to take it on, and do what you can with it, and not try and be something you're not. Just make it real." Then again, as she no doubt knows, it's how you keep it real that counts.
"Donkey Punch" opens on 18 July
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