“I just hope that people didn’t get the wrong impression, that I was just out to cheaply shock,” Paddy Considine muses over the phone. The British actor-turned-writer/director is proud of the Sundance success (two awards, a distribution deal) of Tyrannosaur, his debut feature, but recognizes the challenge of a movie dwelling on alcoholic rage and featuring a death blow early on to a dog. In Tyrannosaur, Peter Mullan plays Joseph, an unemployed man whose brutal streak eventually yields to sympathy after meeting Hannah (Olivia Colman), the battered wife of a drunk (Eddie Marsan). In Joseph and Hannah’s connection, Considine sees “a love story” exploring “what bonds they’ll allow to be put on them.”
The result, an elaboration of his prizewinning 2007 short, Dog Altogether, consists of modulated quiet, tentative communion, ramshackle absurdity, and selective flashes of sadism. Tyrannosaur is what you might expect from someone known for his collaborations with Shane Meadows in violent tragedies (A Room for Romeo Brass, Dead Man’s Shoes) and, more recently, as the tormented investigator in the Red Riding trilogy’s second chapter. As for Considine’s actors, Mullan (best known for My Name Is Joe and a director himself with Neds and The Magdalene Sisters) may be an old hand at stories delving into the dark places of anger and personal torment, but Colman’s performance comes as a revelation.
“She went on a total transformation on this film. She became world-class,” Considine says of the TV-comedy actress’s reactive chops and nuanced vulnerability. And in the dramatic space the director gives to Colman and Mullan’s delicate dance, you can also read his own response to the frustrations of his first profession.
“The things I hated about acting, I didn’t want them to feel,” he explains. “A lot of acting—pretty much 90 percent—is job acting, and I’m not particularly good at it. I’ve been quite miserable. The films where I felt good, the director had created a playground where you feel safe.”
The director’s playground in this case was blue-collar and middle-class Leeds. Over the four-week shoot, Considine (who grew up on a Midlands council estate and has acknowledged personal echoes in the material) drew upon local housing-project residents for extras, including a busker.
“I learned that from Pawel Pawlikowski. You go round people’s houses for tea, meet local eccentrics,” he explains, name-checking his director on 2004’s My Summer of Love. One perfect detail—a neighbor who ties his dog’s leash around his sweatpants-ed waist—came from direct observation.
“I said, ‘Excuse me, mate, is that how you walk your dog?’ He said, ‘Yeah!’ To me, that’s making films.”
‘Tyrannosaur’ screens March 30 and 31