Belfast Telegraph

Ray Winstone’s open-mouthed at the changes since his last visit to Ulster

By Brendan McDaid

Movie hardman Ray Winstone jetted into Londonderry for the Irish premiere of his new movie this week — although he joked that his night-time flight meant it could have been Afghanistan.

The star of Sexy Beast, Scum and Nil By Mouth also said he thought Northern Ireland is “probably the safest place to be” nowadays — and revealed he would rather make a movie about the positives of life here now, rather than another film about the Troubles.

Derry is currently awash with a host of top stars for the five-day Foyle Film Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Winstone and talented young director Mat Whitecross flew in for the premiere of their new movie, Ashes, which opened the festival. Winstone revealed that he had lived in Northern Ireland for two months while making a previous film.

“I have been to Portadown, Belfast and Armagh 20 odd years ago but this is my first time in Derry,” he said at DaVinci's Hotel before his first tour of the city.

“We are going to go up the town and have a look around.

“We haven't seen much as it was dark when we arrived, so for all I know I could be in Afghanistan!

“When I was here in Northern Ireland last time you had all the soldiers and the Troubles but the people were just the people.

“From whatever we heard back in England, you would have thought you guys were on the other side of the world.

“Last time I was here we were working at a women's prison in Armagh. I think it was for Underbelly. We were based here and stayed here and I lived in Portadown. I was there for eight weeks.”

Asked if he would consider working on a movie about the Troubles, Winstone said it had already been done by people “who know a lot more about it than I do”.

“Why not instead make a film about Northern Ireland as it is today and show the positives?” he said.

“Northern Ireland is probably the safest place to be — maybe we should all move here!”

In Ashes Winstone steps away from his usual East End hard-man roles to play Frank, a father slowly disintegrating as he succumbs to the degenerative mental disease Alzheimer’s.

Director Whitecross revealed his own father had Alzheimer’s.

“If you get Alzheimer’s in the later stages of life people can usually deal with you. My dad was a strong, fit man in his 50s. He could knock someone out. He ended up getting his arm broken when he was being restrained because he had pushed a woman down the stairs,” he said.

“Ray has that presence, he has played men who are violent — and that makes it all the more moving to see his character in a fragile state.”

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