The Saturday interview

Paddy Considine: ‘Hollywood destroys people’s lives. It’s not worth selling your soul for’

The actor, director and musician has made one of the best rock’n’roll albums of the year, and still found time to star in the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel ‘House of the Dragon’. He tells Chris Harvey why, to play a king, he just played his mum

Saturday 02 April 2022 06:00 BST
Paddy Considine with his Riding the Low bandmates
Paddy Considine with his Riding the Low bandmates (Press)

For most actors, starring in the biggest TV production of 2022 might be considered a pretty decent year’s work. Not for Paddy Considine. On top of playing King Viserys Targaryen in HBO’s upcoming Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, he has also, with his band Riding the Low, made one of the best rock’n’roll albums of the year so far.

If that sounds improbable, given every actor’s apparent desire to be a rock star, and the resulting motorway pile-up of records too awful to name, then you’ll be as surprised as I was by The Death of Gobshite Rambo. There’s not a duff track on it. It’s got emotion and big tunes, and the dead-drop after the chorus of “By-Product of the Last Flats” alone is worth a place in any record collection. If either of the Gallagher brothers had released it, people would be calling it a return to form.

We’ll come back to Oasis, and to Viserys Targaryen. But first a glimpse of the intensity that the 48-year-old star of Dead Man’s Shoes, 24 Hour Party People and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher brings to every role he plays, to every film he directs, including Tyrannosaur and Journeyman, and to the songs he’s written on Gobshite Rambo. I’ve just asked him, over video call, if his decision to base himself in Burton-on-Trent, the small market town in the Midlands where he grew up, represents a rejection of the showbiz world. “I just ended up back there,” he begins easily. “There wasn’t a big plan. I sort of feel it has this gravitational pull for me. There’s a song on the album called ‘Deluded Few’.”

Here, there ought to be a sound effect of Considine making a violent gear change. “It’s about that door: fame and what you think is behind it. I’ve sort of looked through the gap and it’s nothing. None of it is what it’s cracked up to be. None of it is worth a s***. Beyond that door is misery and a weird cult. I’ve looked at Hollywood. It has a history of destroying people’s lives. That’s what that song is about: it’s a character going, ‘I want to go through that door and see what’s there.’ F*** all! It’s not worth selling your soul for.”

That intensity has been visible in Considine from the very first time he appeared on screen, in Shane MeadowsA Room for Romeo Brass back in 1999. He plays a seaside-town weirdo, Morell, whose behaviour takes a sudden, unexpected turn at the film’s end. Considine’s performance is utterly unselfconscious, funny and terrifying, suggesting at once that Morell may not be mentally well and is deserving of pity – and that he is a dangerous fantasist.

Was it the first time that he and his Burton College friend Meadows – along with Vicky McClure – had realised that they could create something astonishing together? “Maybe. I’d never acted before. And it wasn’t until a couple of days before we started filming, Shane did this improvisation workshop and I started talking like it,” – he slips into Morell’s mannered way of speaking – “and I said, ‘I won’t do it again. I don’t know where it came from.’ But he went, ‘No, no, it’s f***ing brilliant.’”

The pair have made three films together. “You know, it’s an interesting journey we’ve been on, me and Shane. I haven’t seen him for years. And I don't know if we’ll ever do anything together again. But there’s something between us that was able to create that and Dead Man’s Shoes. And that might be it, a story gone, but it might not be. I don’t know. But when we made Romeo Brass, it was completely unfiltered, uninhibited. And it was a joy. And it was never like that again.”

He and Meadows, who would go on to make This Is England, share the sort of background that usually disbars entry to the red-carpeted halls of film and television. (Meadows once told me that had he not made it as a director, he’d probably still be “concreting”, telling his stories to the other lads in the van.) Is it possible to stay true to your working-class roots when you’ve had some success? “I don’t think you can. You just have to accept who you are and what you are. Success didn’t change me. It changed the world around me and how people looked at me. But I’m not gonna lie to people and say, ‘Oh, I’m working class.’ How can I say that?”

“When we grew up, we weren’t even working class,” he adds. “We were raised on benefits, we were on social security. That’s what I was raised on, anyway. It’s sort of a sub-working-class division. But you have to be careful that that in itself is not a trap, that you don’t sort of marginalise yourself.”

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Paddy Considine in ‘Macbeth’ (See Saw/Studio Canal/Kobal/Shutterstock)

It’s important not to close off possibility, he insists. There’s no reason why someone from a housing estate can’t play a member of the royal family or perform Shakespeare (as he did in Justin Kurzel’s blood-soaked Macbeth). “They’re not just for a few people. I say to young actors, don’t marginalise yourself by calling yourself anything, really. Because sometimes it’s like carrying a sack of coal on your back. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you have a licence to explore whatever you want artistically. I’m not writing little songs about the bloke down the pub who’s having a piss up a lamp post. They’re epic songs.”

This product of a Staffordshire council estate has been playing a king for the past year. How did that feel? “I absolutely loved it. I was really flattered. I don’t have aspirations to be around royalty, but to be asked to do that was great. And it was a really great part as well. The last thing you do when you play a king is go, ‘I’m the king.’ The crown tells you that... you know, his status tells you that he’s the king. All you’ve got to do is be you, a human, and be compassionate. Lose the crown, lose the pomp, lose the bulls***, just play the person. And when I played Viserys Targaryen, I just played my mum, you know. That’s what I played – my mother.”

I’m struck by this. Was she a powerful individual? “It wasn’t so much that, really. She was just an anchor for me. I loved her very much. But she was a woman who became very, very sick. She had diabetes. She lost sight in both of her eyes. And she lost both of her legs. She was in a terrible, terrible state. But I think she hid inside her illness, and that made it worse for her. And it was a lot for us and everyone around to care for her, whereas she needed to care for herself, too. And that’s what this character does, eventually, you know... he becomes very sick and hides in his illness.

“But what this character does have is my mother’s passion and love for the people that are close to him. You know, when he meets his grandchildren – and it doesn’t [usually] happen in Game of Thrones – he picks them up, and kisses them, and holds them, and it’s like, it’s bringing that aspect of love to what could be a very stiff character. It’s breathing some humanity [into him]. I just used my mum as the template.”

What this character does have is my mother’s passion and love for the people that are close to him

Paddy Considine

I confess that I had been wondering if there were elements of the role that bleed into being a rock frontman, but that he has completely flipped my sense of what he’s been doing. “The only thing that comes into the rock element is I could easily turn up at Download Festival in that outfit, and go on stage and play a rock show with that hair and all that leather,” he laughs. “There’s actually pictures people took of me, where I’d pick up stuff and be playing air guitar on it, my hair’s flying and all that. I wouldn’t look out of place at Download.”

Considine says openly that music is more important to him than acting. He grew up loving Adam Ant, listening to his older brother’s Bowie, Grease and Elvis records, rifling through his sister’s boyfriend’s box of punk rock singles, and digging his other sister’s mod boyfriend’s Jam albums. “I just like different kinds of music,” he says. “I’d listen to Wham! as much as I’d listen to The Clash.”

He’s been in bands since he was a teenager, but until Riding the Low, where he’s the singer and frontman, he had always played drums. Even that came about by chance when he sat behind the drum kit while hanging out with a musician friend, Rich Easton (now in Riding the Low), and Easton’s neighbour Nick Hemming (of The Leisure Society), and discovered he could keep a beat. “I never thought that I would be a musician,” Considine says. “Playing a guitar felt alien to me.”

He did know a few chords that bandmates had taught him, but everything changed when his wife bought him a guitar as a Christmas present in his late twenties. “I was thinking, ‘That’s great but why?’ Then she went upstairs to get dressed, and when she came down, I’d written a song. She went, ‘Really? Go on, play it then.’ And I just played her this song that I’d written.”

He kept writing them. But it wasn’t until he first put together a group of musicians to record some songs that he realised how powerful they could sound live. That’s how Riding the Low was born, 15 years ago. The Death of Gobshite Rambo is the band’s third album, after 2013’s What Happened to the Get to Know Ya? and 2016’s Riding the Low Are Here to Help the Neighbourhood, but it’s the first to feature a producer like Gavin Monaghan, whose credits include Editors and Robert Plant, and the sound is stadium-scale loud and clear.

Track two, “Wake Me Up When It’s Over”, has a spoken section performed by Bob Pollard of American indie band Guided by Voices, one of Considine’s musical heroes (keen-eyed fans of the 2009 white rap comedy Le Donk and Scor-zay-zee will notice that Considine’s character is wearing one of the band’s T-shirts in the film).

I think Morrissey still makes fantastic music. I can very easily separate the artists from the art

Paddy Considine

The band is clearly an influence, but there are also shades of REM, Morrissey, early Fleetwood Mac, and definitely (maybe) a hint of Oasis. Is Considine owning up to any of them? The foppish Mancunian, yes. “When I wrote the song ‘Black Mass’, I thought it sounded like a Morrissey song,” he admits. “I think he still makes fantastic music. I saw him live a few years ago, in Benicassim, and I thought it was an amazing show.”

He pays no mind to the controversies that engulf the singer almost every time he opens his mouth, to pronounce on everything from immigration and race to sexual assault victims. “I try not to get too involved in what they say. I just love the music. I’m not going to lose my s*** because Morrissey goes on a rant about something that I don’t agree with. I can very easily separate the artists from the art.”

As for those other surly Mancs, “What a story. You couldn’t write it. I almost feel a sadness when you look back at that era, like Oasis at Knebworth, and you see that crowd and there’s not a phone in sight. It’s all word of mouth. I was in a factory packing T-shirts when I first heard ‘Live Forever’ on the radio. And I remember turning my head and going, ‘What the f*** is that?’ I couldn’t wait till the next time it came on. I was a kid at college at that time, and ‘Rock’n’Roll Star’ was the Friday night song you put on, blasting out, and said, ‘Yeah, I’m ready now.’” “I’d buy a ticket if they got back together,” he adds.

Considine wrote The Death of Gobshite Rambo from beginning to end through improvisation. “The guitarist, Chris Baldwin, will send me, like, half a dozen acoustic ideas, and I’ll set up GarageBand, put the headphones on, press record, and improvise over whatever is there, without having listened to it before. Sometimes a full song comes, sometimes parts of a song. I don’t have a lyric book, I don’t sit down and labour over words, I just go with whatever comes.”

Shades of Macbeth? Paddy Considine in artwork for his new album (Press)

That might be an emotional response to something, such as “Carapace of Glass”, which deals with the way the actor built a protective persona to help him deal with social situations before his Asperger’s diagnosis in 2011 (he still struggles with it, he says), or a snapshot of memory, such as where he hung out as a youth or the biscuit tin he used to stand on to sing songs to his grandad – or, in the case of the title track, the afternoon his father died. “I’d just turned up. My sister went to make a drink and he died. And then it was a matter of calling the doctor, calling relatives and things like that. And as we waited, everybody turned up. I just sat there watching my dad get paler, almost translucent, starting to look like a zombie in The Living Dead or something like that.

“And it was an odd thing. People were turning up and all talking to each other, laughing, going outside for a fag. And I sat there going, ‘Is this what it’s like at the end? This is it, he’s gone, the guy who was such a powerful force in our lives, just f***ing gone.’” He imagined himself shooting it, as a scene in a film. “I probably removed from what was going on... my little coping mechanism,” he says.

He sees his songs as cinematic. Back in 2018, though, after making the boxing drama Journeyman, and despite the enormous acclaim for his debut Tyrannosaur, Considine said he wouldn’t direct again. “I don’t think there’s a place in the world any more for the kinds of stories I want to tell,” he says now. “Journeyman, we couldn’t get it in a festival. We were begging people to have it, and they didn’t want it. And I felt like a massive failure, because I made that mistake of having expectations for it... I didn’t expect it to be a big hit, but I didn’t expect people to close the curtains. I invested too much in it emotionally.”

Recently, though, he heard the British former UFC champion Michael Bisping talk about how watching the film – which stars Considine and Jodie Whittaker, and tells the story of a boxer who suffers brain damage – had made him decide to retire, after developing serious problems with his vision. “There’s nothing more powerful than that,” says Considine. “Somebody changed the course of their life. It made them make a major decision about their future. It didn’t have to go to all the festivals and have the f***ing laurels on it. You can take that, now, and stick it up your f***ing hole.”

Riding the Low’s ‘The Death of Gobshite Rambo’ is released on 8 April

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