Mike Leigh JMW Turner biopic turns Timothy Spall into obsessive painter

Actor has been painting for three years to "find" the character of the great Romantic painter he is playing in January movie, RadioTimes.com can reveal


He is known to put his actors through the mill, but even by the standards of director Mike Leigh this may be pushing it.


Timothy Spall, the actor who is playing the painter J MW Turner in a Leigh biopic of the great man, has been painting voraciously for three years to get into the role, RadioTimes.com understands.

According to a friend of Spall, the actor has taken to his easel and oils in a bid to get into his character.

Such dedication is a requirement of Leigh who insists that all his actors inhabit their characters and who works by improvising scenes.

Imelda Staunton, who played back street abortionist in Mike Leigh’s 2004 film Vera Drake, revealed that she lived with her on screen family in a flat for “weeks and weeks” in order to “find” her character.

Leigh’s films are always shrouded in secrecy and little more is known about his Turner biopic except that it has a January release. Leigh told the LA Times that it was an “expensive” shoot.

He said: “With Topsy-Turvy we were able to cut the budget by cutting the exteriors,” he said. “You don’t make a film about Turner and cut the exteriors. This is a guy who strapped himself to the mast of a ship to paint a storm. He’s for real. So, yes, expensive.”

Turner was born in Covent Garden, London, in 1775 and was admitted to the prestigious Royal Academy of Art at the age of just 14.

Regarded as one of the greatest English painters ever, he never married but had a relationship with a widow called Sarah Danby and with whom he was thought to have fathered two children.

Born in 1775 he died at the London home of his mistress Sophia Caroline Booth in 1851. His last words were said to be: “The Sun is God.”

The film is believed to focus on his later years in which he suffered from depression following the death of his father.

RadioTimes.com asked a spokesman for the film to comment but none was provided at the time of publication.