I’m a Pussycat: Ray Winstone on The Sweeney

Ray Winstone IS The Sweeney. Well, not quite but Ray Winstone IS Jack Regan, the head of The Sweeney in The Sweeney. The Sweeney is an elite department of the London police that catches armed robbers. Winstone plays Jack Regan, a role made famous by John Thaw in the 1970s series The Sweeney. Winstone was in New York promoting the film and we got to speak with him on the phone about his latest badass character.

The Sweeney opens in theaters and VOD on March 1, 2013.

Ray Winstone The Sweeney

Watch an exclusive clip from The Sweeney, introduced by Ray Winstone.

CraveOnline: The Sweeney has another great tough guy role for you. At what point did this tough guy casting start for you, that people started seeing you as this type?

Ray Winstone: I think the day I was born, Fred. April 7, 1957, I came out screaming and punching. No, the first film I made, Scum back in 1979, was a film about Borstal boys. It’s quite a violent part. It was a guy in the Borstal system which is a prison system for young offenders in Britain. I think it came from that. It kind of stuck with me then, Fred, really, all the way through.

In real life, do people know not to mess with Ray Winstone?

No, Fred. I’m a pussycat.

You were actually on the TV show “The Sweeney” as a guest star in your early career, right?

It was my first ever job. I was just doing drama college for a year. The thing was you were allowed to go out and work on jobs to see how film was made. I went as an extra to work on one [episode] called “Loving Arms.” It was shot at the Red Cow in Hammersmith, London. You’ve got to remember the show was quite an iconic show at the time and the two main leads who were the biggest stars on TV were John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. They were lovely people, really good guys. Then 30 years odd later, I’m playing [Jack Regan].

By the way, between it, I was lucky enough to work with the two guys as an actor later on in my career. I got to know them both from working with them and they’re really good guys. Then 30 odd years later you’re playing the lead role in this show and trying to emulate, or you think you’re trying to emulate one of these great iconic actors’ parts. It’s quite daunting. You have to step back a bit and say, “Hold on a second. We’re not doing what John done. We’re bringing something to it for ourselves.” At the same time, you want to do it justice. You don’t want to leave it dead in the ground after someone had made such a great character out of it.

In England are they cynical about making movies based on TV shows? Does The Sweeney have something to prove?

No, I don’t think so. We’re probably cynical about everything. I don’t think so. I felt with The Sweeney, it’s a good point you’re making but we’ve had nothing but support. To be quite honest with you, I haven’t seen anything that’s been written about The Sweeney that is derogatory to us in any way. There might have been. I might have missed it. I don’t look at many of them but we’ve just had great feedback. I think because we’ve done a good job. I think if we had done a bad job with it, I think quite rightly we would’ve been assaulted.

How long did it take to film the big shootout in the middle of the movie?

Half a morning.

Is that true, with all the locations that sequence covers?

Seriously. We only had literally about five hours to shoot that. We had 10 cameras set up and we ended up using most of it with a Steadicam because it kind of worked like a ballet dance. We wanted to see the journey. It took us about four or five hours to shoot it. We then came up the square, shot the robbers coming out of the bank which happens before the shootout. That was because the director and the boys around him had actually done their homework. They went there and they [prepped] it. We had talks and the London Councils really allowed us to do it. There’s no other film, other than Bond, that probably would have been allowed to do what we’ve done there. That says a lot for the name of The Sweeney.

Would you do ride-alongs like actors do when they’re making cop movies or working on cop shows?

Well, I’ve done that before and I’ve probably done it when I was younger, but you’re probably in the back with your cuffs on. I’ve done that in New York. I went out with police in New York a few years back and saw the way they worked, around Brooklyn, around The Bronx. So I’ve done a bit of that abroad. In England I’ve done it over the years. I didn’t have to go back and revisit that. I was already quite up to speed on it.