‘The Gentlemen’ and ‘Damsel’ Star Ray Winstone Talks Us Through His Tough-Guy Filmography

In the Netflix complicated-crime-in-great-clothing series The Gentlemen—the British director Guy Ritchie’s first foray into television, a reimagining of his 2019 movie of the same name—Ray Winstone plays a guy named Bobby Glass. This, naturally, results in a character saying, with no small fear in their eyes, “I respect Bobby Glass. Everyone respects Bobby Glass.”

Which is more or less the aura Winstone’s brought to most of the roles he’s played over the past 40-plus years—respect him, or else. The East London-born actor has made himself a minor legend embodying thugs, tough guys, hard men and other folks with whom you would not want to mess.

But in the heroic fantasy Damsel, the other Netflix property in which Winstone stars this month, Winstone plays against type as a king who must make a strategic marriage for his daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) without her entirely knowing what she’s signing up for. It’s a reminder that there’s more to him than the guy who can make other characters fold with nothing but a glare—although he’s still very, very good at that. Here are 11 performances that display the full Winstone.

SCUM (1979)

Carlin, a young criminal

I got expelled from drama school the day I auditioned for Scum. I found myself going along with the rest of the guys who were at college who were going up for this job at the BBC Play for the Day for [the original 1977 production of Scum]. I was just going along for the ride, to have a beer with the boys. I started talking to the receptionist, and the receptionist asked me if I’d like to go in and meet the director, who was Alan Clarke. I was the last one in and we had a chat. Because I was the last there, he saw me out and watched me walk down the corridor. He said he employed me because he liked the way I walked; I was a boxer and walked like a boxer. It’s nothing to do with acting, believe me. Getting expelled and getting Scum is this “sliding doors” moment for me.


Billy, a punk singer

The only way I was involved in music was listening to music. As kids, we had the plastic Beatle wigs with the guitars, and we used to sing outside like every other kid. But parties around my Mom and Dad’s house when we were young, it was always Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, and everyone sang along. Punk was a whole different thing for me. When we came to do that film, I just couldn’t get this thing of the way they dressed and all that stuff.

I remember my wife—when we were filming that in Vancouver, we’d only just got married, and she came along with me. I just couldn’t relax into [the part.] I felt a bit of a fraud. And she said to me, “Well, you’re not a singer. You’re not. You’re not a punk. You’re not a rock and roller. She said, But you’re an actor. You’re supposed to act it.” I went, “Oh, right.” It took my wife, who had no idea of the industry, to actually put me in the place.


Will Scarlet, a not-so Merry Man

I’ve got to be honest—[at the time I got Will Scarlet] I wasn’t that interested in being an actor. It just seemed a bit of a laugh to me at the time. People like me don’t become actors. That’s for other people. That’s not for us. Basically, it was a series that paid the rent. “Oh, I’m going to earn a nice few quid here.” We just had Lois, our first daughter, and Jamie was on the way at a certain point during the shooting. It was a way of earning a living. It was a straight way. [laughs]


Raymond, a violent man

I met [Nil writer and director Gary Oldman] at Alan Clarke’s funeral in 1990; we had a good chat there. He brought this script to the Royal Court [Theater], where I was doing a play. With scripts, sometimes you read them and you put them down and you pick them up again. This one, you don’t put down. I’ve never seen writing like it.

We only rehearsed, I think, for a couple of weeks. Gary had one of these miniature movie cameras and he was just finding shots and playing with microphones so people could talk over one another. If he didn’t like something, he’d say [extremely Gary Oldman voice] “Raymond, I see you acting.” And I’d go, “All right, girl.”

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