Ray Winstone: Why I’ll always stay true to my East End roots

The actor talks growing older, playing hardmen and why he'll never make an aristocrat

The opening of Ray Winstone’s new drama, The Trials of Jimmy Rose, sees him standing in the British drizzle, outside a British prison, Frank Sinatra playing in his head. He has a 12-year stretch behind him and a world of confusing new touch screens and painful family crises ahead.


Everything about the scene is intensely, quintessentially recognisable: Winstone himself most of all, a colossus of the hard-man genre since his breakthrough role in Alan Clarke’s 1979 borstal masterpiece Scum. In person, Winstone is thoroughly tanned and mellow, with the generous charm of a person easy in his skin.

“I just got back from Italy,” he says. “I love Italians. Grew up around them. Love them. Love their food.” But he’s still, he’s adamant, very like Jimmy, East End to the core, with a walk like a boxer and a fiery love of the past.

“I’m really old-fashioned,” he says, shaking his head. “I hate to say that because I always thought I was a bit of a chap. But I like the old ways. I don’t think that’s the right way to be, I just think that’s the way I am. I’m a 1960s kid, that’s the way we were, you knew who you was, you knew who you was within your community. Your nan lived there, your auntie lived there, you were English, you were a Londoner.”


In The Trials of Jimmy Rose, Jimmy comes home to a family meal where his granddaughter has to teach him how to use a phone; all the discomfort, the anxiety of an old-school man’s man in a new world is there in his chubby, jabbing fingers. He says ruefully, “Exactly the same happened to me. My daughter, when she was seven – she’s 14 now – taught me how to use a computer. She’d go, ‘Dad, just touch it, it won’t blow up.’ I’m exactly like Jimmy. Whether or not I’d been in prison is probably irrelevant.”


Actors have a tendency to praise the director they’ve just worked with. But Winstone sounds like he really means it. “You can feel, ‘I don’t want to be here, because there’s a lot of waffling about and people talking very artistically about a load of crap.’ Sometimes it’s not a good part, and you give up. When it’s bad, I want to laugh… I get into trouble, sitting there going, ‘Who wrote this?’, and the guy’s sitting next to me, getting a fortune.” He brightens: “But this… the shooting was very interesting, you’re not going to be here all day, doing the scene again and again and again. You talk about it and then you do it. You want to be there.”