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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Winstone tackles familiar hardman role
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

British actor Ray Winstone talks about his latest role as a violent mob henchman in Martin Scorsese's crime thriller The Departed.

Ray Winstone
Winstone's other films include The War Zone and Sexy Beast
From his breakthrough role as a young offender in Scum to the wife-beating husband in Nil By Mouth, Ray Winstone had made a career out of playing tough, amoral characters.

So when director Martin Scorsese needed a physically imposing actor to appear as Jack Nicholson's brutal henchman in The Departed, the burly Brit must have seemed an obvious choice.

To be fair, the 49-year-old former boxer has more to offer than violent thugs. This year we have seen him as a football manager in TV's All in the Game, and he was also heard as a beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

If people like Scorsese want to offer him more threatening parts, however, he is more than happy to accept.

"I'll play them till Doomsday - I don't care!" he tells the BBC News website. "I'll play them any way you like.

"I don't mind having a kiss now and then; I'd rather be kissing someone than punching them. But sometimes these are the more interesting parts to play."

'Without emotion'

There is not a lot of kissing in The Departed, which finds Winstone in typically uncompromising form as a ruthless hoodlum known only as Mr French.

One scene sees him ripping off co-star Leonardo DiCaprio's plaster cast and pinning his broken arm down for Nicholson's mob boss to beat with a shoe.

Ray Winstone in The Proposition
He was seen earlier this year in Australian western The Proposition
"It takes a special sort of man to do that to someone - almost like an undertaker," the actor explains.

"I'm the dustman in the film. I clean things up.

"French is without emotion," he continues. "Nothing rattles him, nothing frightens him.

"To him, everyone is a rat. If you get in his way, he'll kill you without a second thought."

Originally linked to a character in Scorsese's 2002 epic Gangs of New York, Winstone says he preferred to wait for a film more in keeping with the director's earlier classics.

"I don't know who the hell I thought I was thinking that way," he chuckles.

Undercover cop

"But this one was more the kind of genre film that I'd watched of his, like Mean Streets or GoodFellas."

In The Departed, DiCaprio plays an undercover cop who infiltrates Nicholson's criminal outfit, unaware that his prey has his own mole in the Boston police department.

And while he admits his character is subordinate to both DiCaprio and Nicholson's, Winstone describes the experience as "a joy".

Leonardo DiCaprio and Ray Winstone in The Departed
In The Departed Winstone (r) plays a ruthless mob enforcer
"All of a sudden, you come out of the cinema like I did the other day and go, 'I've been in a film I've always wanted to be in'."

With roles in London-based drama Breaking and Entering and computer-animated epic Beowulf already shot, Winstone looks set to continue his career as one of Britain's busiest character actors.

If the lifestyle begins to pall, though, he can always allow his actress daughter Jaime - seen earlier this year in youth-oriented film Kidulthood - to take the strain.

"If that's what she wants to do all power to her," he says with evident paternal affection.

"You never know - maybe I can retire and she can look after me."

The Departed opens on 6 October. Breaking and Entering is released on 10 November.

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