A film that packs a punch

HE’S LONG established himself as one of Britain’s best-loved actors, but Paddy Considine is also quite a creative force
behind the camera.

He follows up his impressive
directorial debut Tyrannosaur with Journeyman, a powerful tale of a
professional boxer left struggling for a normal life after suffering a serious brain injury during a match.

Considine stars opposite Jodie
Whitaker in the drama that’s likely to renew debate about the sport. For
the lifelong boxing fan, it’s been an interesting project.

“I think its one of those things that we try to ignore. I’ve been a fan since I was a little boy. I thought that they were supermen, somehow. To me, they were kinds of gods, the
Mohammad Alis and the Joe Frazers. Then, as you get older, you start to see that there’s a lot more behind it. There are vulnerabilities, a lot of pain that people carry away from that arena with them.

“I suppose, in my lifetime, the first high-profile case of a boxing injury was Michael Watson (Watson
suffered horrific brain injuries
following a title fight against Chris Eubank in 1991). That was the one which impacted on me the most,
because I watched all those guys fight. That was my era. That was the first indication to me that this sport can be life-altering.

“It’s such a strange thing being a boxing fan, because these guys go into the ring and they do put their lives on the line. They put their health on the line. That’s a strange thing for a boxing fan to live with,
because when you’re watching a
boxing match, you’re buying into the narrative of it and sometimes you can forget that, at the heart of it, is these two men, setting out with their fists to hurt each other. Whenever there’s a tragedy, everybody takes a step back, but from a fighter’s point of view, they can’t go into the ring carrying that in their minds. They have to bury that somewhere deep within themselves.”

Journeyman’s Matty Burton (played by Considine) is characterised as a fighter nearing the end of his career who is fighting for his wife (Whitaker) and their young child. Despite a dramatic build-up and fight scenes, it’s a film very much about his efforts to recover from the
life-changing injury. The actor, who always wanted to write about a boxer, says he’s not a big fan of the biopic and “went out of my way” to ensure it was a work of fiction.

“As you do as a writer, you sit down and you have a lot of ideas. You start making notes and tinkering around. Always in the back of my mind, I knew I was going to make a boxing film. What happens in the film, he goes out and has a routine fight, and comes home, and he just collapses into the table. I wrote that, and that was my turning point, this is where I was going to go with this, and treat it with as much respect as I can, but until that point, I didn’t realise I was going to make a film about brain injury, but it’s certainly something that hasn’t been covered in a boxing film like this. Million Dollar Baby had it, but this is really more about the recovery.”

He did extensive research, meeting with top medics and experts, and meeting with people who’d
experienced head injury.

“It was more focused on what happens post injury? How do families cope with this? They’re the ones that are left to pick up the pieces. What happens when the crowds go away and you’re in this very isolated world?”

In his own life, Considine has had to take on a health issue of his own. In recent years, he was diagnosed with Irlen syndrome, which affects the brain’s ability to process visual information. He struggled with symptoms of the disorder for some time, as he sought diagnosis. For a time before diagnosis, doctors thought he had a form of Asperger’s.

“Basically, it affects the brain’s ability to process light and visual
information. I was suffering quite badly with this and not even realising or knowing what it was, or what it meant. All I know is that I had a very high level of anxiety, I couldn’t
concentrate or focus on things for very long. I was very fidgety and
agitated a lot of the time and this was getting worse and worse. It’s bizarre when you’re suffering with something, because I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I thought that all my symptoms and the way I felt was psychological.”

It was a psychologist who noticed he had a difficulty with sitting under lights. It changed the course of his life. He explored the condition further and finally got a diagnosis.

“I now wear tinted glasses that help me cope with everything. They help my whole visual, sensory world to calm down to a manageable
level.”

He recalls a recent trip to a supermarket. He forgot his glasses and struggled with the strip lighting and the amount of visual information.

“I did have a few kind of tough years with it, but I think now is the time that I feel I could go out and talk about it.”

With roles in movies as diverse as Hot Fuzz, Pride, and The Bourne
Ultimatum, he has enjoyed a successful career, but he credits Irishman Jim Sheridan with an early breakthrough when he cast him in
In America.

“I still think it was relatively early for me in terms of work. I’d done a film called A Room for Romeo Brass, and then a film called The Last
Resort. I think Jim saw both those films and he saw me for In America. I loved his films, so for him to enquire about me was a bit of a privilege.”

More recently he starred opposite our own Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders. He played a powerful priest, Father Hughes, who became Thomas Shelby’s nemesis.

“He was a total dream. I absolutely loved working with him. When I went to Peaky Blinders it was already an established show. I got to go in there, step in and do my thing, and it can be a little bit intimidating. I had an
absolute pig of a character. Every scene I did I think was with Cillian and I got on fantastically well with him. He’s a beautiful actor and we had a really great time.”

  • Journeyman opens in cinemas
    on Friday

Paddy Considine directs and stars in Journeyman, about a pro
fighter battling for a normal life after suffering a brain injury, writes Esther McCarthy

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