Paddy Considine: ‘I feel like an impostor acting – this is what I love’

Were you to pass a small house on an estate in Burton upon Trent some time in the early 80s, you may have seen a young boy standing at the top right-hand window, singing and dancing with all he had. “I’d put Adam and the Ants on a record player,” remembers Paddy Considine, “and perform Stand and Deliver.” Occasionally, someone passing would look up and acknowledge him. “That’s all I wanted. Some sort of validation. I wanted to be seen.” Considine smiles. “I wasn’t a showoff – it sounds contradictory, but I just wanted to be seen, you know.” Years later, he would become an acclaimed actor, but music is where it all started.

Considine’s band, Riding the Low, are about to release their third album. Even some 16 years and numerous pub gigs in, Considine is still wary of it being perceived as the vanity project of an actor known for indie greats such as Dead Man’s Shoes, a few Hollywood films, the lead in the TV drama The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, and the show that should surpass them all, in terms of mainstream attention, the forthcoming Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. “I knew that there’d be a sort of cynicism around it.” But he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t need anyone’s permission, he says. “I’m doing it because I love it.”

It has become, he says, more vital to his happiness than his acting career, which is something, he says, “that I almost fell into. I’m never fully comfortable with acting, I’ve never fully embraced the fact that I’m an actor. I still feel like an impostor.” One of his challenges, he says, is that he’s interpreting someone else’s work. “I’m always second-guessing myself: is this OK? Am I doing a good job?” But his songs – he writes the lyrics and some melodies – are his. “They’re unfiltered, they go through me.”

Considine didn’t intend to become a songwriter, and didn’t even know he could do it until his wife bought him a guitar one Christmas in his late 20s. He wrote a song that morning. “And I didn’t stop,” he says. “I don’t know where that came from, but I could just do it, so I carried on doing it.” Later, when he hooked up with some childhood friends – now musicians – with the idea of recording some of these songs, “I was blown away. It was so exciting hearing something you’ve written come to life like that.”

We meet in a guitar showroom in central London, and Considine – black denim, stubble, glimpses of tattoos, sunglasses – looks the part, but his manner is far from rock star swagger. He is about the most unstarry actor I have ever met: unguarded, quick to laugh, and with a gentleness to him. But then he wouldn’t necessarily call himself an actor. He knows he didn’t always come across like this – in old interviews he could be prickly, and didn’t try to distance himself from the intense and often violent roles he played. On one of his songs from the new album, Carapace of Glass, he sings: “I’m so many different people, but I don’t recognise that guy at all.” It was inspired by his own experience, he says, of creating a persona, “that I’m some kind of tough guy, and it’s not true, really. The root of all that is just fear.”

In his 30s, he was diagnosed with what was then called Asperger syndrome (now part of autism spectrum disorder), which helped him make sense of some of the difficulties he’d had since childhood: misinterpreting things, and feeling detached from other people. “This don’t-fuck-with-me exterior was my way of keeping people away from me. And it sort of worked.” He woke up one day with the song in his head, and wrote it down quickly. “It’s dealing with that masking, being all these different characters, and I’m in the middle of it going, ‘Who am I?’”

It is a particularly personal album, dealing with Considine’s childhood in the Winshill area of Burton. He still lives in the town with his wife, whom he has been with since he was 18 (they have three children, all of whom he has encouraged, creatively, and especially in music). “There are a lot of ghosts on the record,” he says, smiling. Not just long-gone family, and the local legends that loomed large in childhood – people you realise, as an adult, “were messed up, but we looked at them like they were heroes” – but the places, too.

He is the second youngest of six children, “a working-class kid”, he says, “but my parents didn’t even work”. His father was volatile and could be violent, not at home, but had a reputation on their estate as someone with a short fuse – he once threw a wheelie bin through the window of the benefits office and would get into fights in pubs.

Considine made his Bafta-winning short film Dog Altogether, which he developed into the 2011 feature film Tyrannosaur that he wrote and directed, as a way of exploring his father’s anger. The album’s title track, The Death of Gobshite Rambo, was written about the day his father died (Gobshite Rambo is the name Considine gave to the darker part of his own psyche, though it might just have easily described his dad, who died in 2006). “He was lying in the bed getting more translucent. Everyone’s having a cup of tea and a fucking chat. I looked at my family and I [realised] we’re all just trying to cope with this, everyone going through their own private emotions. It was a complex relationship we all had with our father, so everybody was dealing with that in a very different way.” Considine’s way, with all the self-protection of detachment, was to wonder how he would shoot the scene if he were making a film.

As teenagers, Considine and his friend Richard Eaton – now the guitarist in Riding the Low – formed a group with another friend, Nick Hemming, who is now in the band the Leisure Society. Considine had a go on another friend’s drum kit and, just like that, became a drummer. At college, where he took a drama course, he met Shane Meadows – who would go on to become a director and screenwriter and cast Considine in his first roles – and they had a band for a while. When he went to university, to study photography, he joined a Britpop-era band, who had a bit of success supporting better known indie groups.

Considine left when the band were becoming more serious and he didn’t think his drumming was up to it. Anyway, he didn’t really think of music as a career, and at that point he wanted to explore photography (newspapers such as this one and the Independent had started running his photo essays). He was happy pursuing that when Meadows offered him a role in the film he was making, A Room for Romeo Brass. “Then I had to sort of learn how to act. Acting was fine until it became my living, and I’m going: ‘I don’t really know what to do, I don’t really have the tools to do this.’” In certain films, he says, “lightning would strike, but I still didn’t really understand it as a craft. It’s always something that I’m learning more about, the more I do it.” He smiles and says: “I think there’s still time for me to become a good actor.” It was only fairly recently, he says – when he was in the 2017 play The Ferryman – that he started to get it. (I saw it; he was electrifying, with no hint of the inner turmoil he’d felt for much of the run.) “All this pressure that I’m putting on myself to perform. I went: ‘All you’ve got to do is tell the story.’ And a massive weight lifted.”

Considine loves directing but was bruised by the experience of his 2017 film, Journeyman, about a boxer who suffers a head injury. Despite the success of Tyrannosaur, which starred Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan and picked up several prizes at Sundance, and despite positive reviews, he found it hard to find festivals to show Journeyman. “I’m not sure if the things I want to do will find a place any more,” he says. “I didn’t expect a free pass, but I thought there’d be some slight interest, and there was none. I just went: ‘You know what? I haven’t got time to do this shit with my life.”

Music was somewhere he could express himself, make sense of his life and thoughts, with immediacy. “I found that in other parts of my life, I was fearful, especially around things like acting.” It wasn’t the same with writing music, or playing a gig. “And I had a little gang with me, I felt like I belonged to something. That was something I think I was looking for as well, that I could say: ‘These are my people.’”

Considine doesn’t have any expectations, or concern, about where it goes – “I wouldn’t call it a career,” he says, though the next album is already written and they’re booked for a 2am slot at Glastonbury – in the same way he didn’t have a particular plan for photography or acting or directing. But he does like to look back. A few times a year, he will drive around his old estate. “I’ll pull up outside my house and think about … all the things that went on under that roof – all the heartache and all the laughter, everything that made it what it was.” The memory of the boy in the upstairs window, sometimes struggling to connect, but finding joy and escape in music.

Riding the Low’s album The Death of Gobshite Rambo is out now.

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