Interview: Paddy Considine
Paddy Considine is a legend of British cinema, and Film4 celebrates his career with a season of films from Sunday 25th March in anticipation of the release of Journeyman on Friday 30th March. Written, directed by and starring Paddy, Journeyman is the story of a boxer, Matty Burton, who suffers a devastating brain injury in a championship fight. Matty’s life and his relationship with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) hangs in the balance as he tries to find his way back to himself.
Hi Paddy. What inspired you to make Journeyman, and how did the film come about?
It was always in the back of my mind that I was going to tell a boxing story, but I didn’t know until I sat down and started writing that it was going to be about a fighter who had a brain injury. So when it started to take that direction, I realised that this was a place that a lot of boxing films don’t go – not so much the injury, but more that recovery time. What happens when the doors close, and the fans go away. So as an athlete, you’re in this situation, and you only have the people who care about you – what happens then? That was the territory that I started to explore. My research then was talking to people – not necessarily just people who had experienced a brain injury, but the people around them, their families.
I was looking to make my next film and I thought that if it’s a boxing film, it has to be one that hasn’t been done before. I didn’t want to tell a typical boxing story and I didn’t want it to be about masculinity, a man battling with his demons – although that’s a very universal story, I just felt that it had been done. In my first film the central characters were people battling with their demons, physically and psychologically, so I wanted to move away from that. I wanted to explore the territory of love and how far that can be pushed and tested, especially when you have a character that’s not consciously responsible for his actions.
Jodie Whittaker plays Matty’s wife, Emma, in the film. How did you approach her for the role?
Jodie was the only actor I met for the role (of Emma). I have this process where I meet people quite early on, and if I’m interested I start writing the role for them. I did the same with Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan for Tyrannosaur. Jodie was what I was looking for – she fit the shape that I had in mind for this character. And she has the tenacity and believability that I wanted, you had to believe that this couple have been together for years, maybe since school, that there’s a lot of history there. I knew that she had the chops for it, and I really like her instinct – she has such a good natural energy about what she does. It was a gift to her, written for her, nobody else was ever in the running for it.
Matty’s injury takes its toll on Emma, she’s just left with him to deal with it. So much of the pain is hidden in her, she’s drowning as much as he is. Her struggle is that she’s lost the man she fell in love with, the man that she married, and he’s taken on this different form. But he’s still in there, and it’s going to take some time for him to find his way back – with a brain injury there’s usually a period of around 16-18 months where whatever’s going to come back to you, will come back. And there’s this frustration for him of having been an athlete and then being unable to complete basic tasks like climbing stairs or making a cup of tea. Emma has to protect herself and her daughter, so it’s really difficult for her.
Audiences have been very moved by the film and by the relationships in the film. Matty’s trainer and friends find it hard to come to terms with his injury, and you show that in a very honest way. Was it important to you to explore this side of the sport in the film?
I didn’t want to make a macho film; ultimately it’s a story, a love story. I wanted to show that there are times in life that are hard to face, and that people do disappear when they happen. I think audiences are responding to the honesty of the film, of the emotions, and they’re relating to it, and that’s all I set out to do. I want to tell stories about people, that we’re actually human beings in an age when we’re actually dehumanising each other – I want to make films that remind us of who we are, and what we’re capable of when we put our minds to it.
And maybe the fact that it’s a boxing film makes it easier for a male audience to relate to and believe in, to admit that they’ve had an emotional reaction to the film. When I say that the film’s not about masculinity, I mean that it’s not about that pushing-your-chest-out competitiveness, it’s about an athlete who happens to be really good at boxing and it’s just an accident that changes everything. Before the fight Matty’s opponent Andre is just doing what young fighters do – verbally putting his opponent down, threatening him, talking the big talk. I think that the film also explores the consequences of what people say, and how it can come back to haunt them.
What made you want to make a film about boxing?
As a kid I adored Rocky, that was a film that changed me, changed the course of my life. And Raging Bull is an incredible film. Those films were thrilling, they were about something real. Journeyman is a love letter to boxing, it doesn’t glamorise it but it’s not gritty. I made conscious choices when making the film, I didn’t want Matty to be coming from impoverished circumstances – I wanted things to be going well for him, until this accident occurs.
Boxing does great things in people’s lives that we don’t see behind the scenes. It shapes people for the better, it offers an opportunity for people from working class communities to go into a sport and compete, there are a lot of great things about boxing. And these guys love boxing, it’s what they do, they find it hard to walk away from it. But at the end of the day, it is a sport where the idea is to hit the other person above the waist as many times as you can, so there’s always a risk to it. I think that’s something that fighters bury very deeply within themselves, because they can’t go into a fight thinking ‘I’m going to get hurt tonight’. Every time anyone steps through those ropes, they’re taking that risk. I’ve loved boxing since I was a kid and to me these guys were like supermen. If they try to make boxing safer, less people will watch it – and I think that says something about the bloodlust in us. I think fighters should be treated with a lot more respect, because of what they carry into the ring.
What’s your relationship like with Film4?
I’ve done loads of stuff with Film4, they’ve always been amazing champions of my work. From the stuff I did with Shane Meadows early on, to now. Tessa Ross was a great champion of ours. They’ve always been my go-to whenever I’ve had an idea ticking over and they’ve always been incredibly supportive of everything I’ve tried to do, and I hope that continues.
Journeyman is in UK cinemas from 30th March 2018.