His own number plate prompted a singular encounter a few years ago. “I was driving and an old geezer was driving behind me. He kept flashing his lights so I pulled over, thinking there would be trouble. He came out of his car and said ‘Where did you get that from?’ pointing at my number plate. ‘I had that in 1939!’ What are the chances of that?”
Movie success has its benefits, so surely now, Vinnie could have any plate he fancied. What would be his ultimate? “I like what I have. I mean, I might see something good every now and then but, like I said, it becomes a part of you, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t want to swap mine.”
Back to the subject of that movie success: Vinnie himself would surely agree that his early parts were not exactly demanding of a highly developed acting talent. The fact that he was selected for his roles in the Ritchie films because of his image meant that there was a real likelihood of typecasting. Scepticism about Jones’s real acting ability continued with his subsequent films, as none of the parts he played really put it to the test.
When ask if he finds the tough-guy parts hard to play, Vinnie switches on his withering stare. Completely straight, he says, curtly:
After a second of chilling silence, our interviewer notices the hint of a twinkle in his eyes, and everyone starts breathing again.
The run of simple hard-case roles was interrupted in 2001 when he played a footballer in Barry Skolnick’s remake of The Mean Machine. The movie was about a star footballer who found himself in prison. Paradoxically, it was in depicting a character who was, in some respects, an echo of Vinnie’s former sporting incarnation, that his first real acting test came. Although consensus among audiences and critics was that his old colleague from Lock Stock and Snatch, Jason Stratham, gave the most memorable performance in The Mean Machine, there was also unanimous acknowledgment that Vinnie actually could act. Furthermore, he had done a pretty good job of it.
Sadly, none of the next few parts really gave him a chance to develop the ability he had revealed in Mean Machine. However, he did get to work with some skilled veterans, not least in X-Men: The Last Stand, in which he co-starred alongside Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Sir Ian McKellen.
In a movie career that now spans a decade Vinnie has rarely gone short of work. Certainly much of the work he has produced has been less than top-flight, but that was arguably due to the lack of opportunity suffered by many novice actors, and to typecasting in the early days. More recently, he has found his range of opportunities expanding.
One recent project of which Vinnie is particularly proud is The Riddle, written and directed by Brendan Foley. The cast includes Sir Derek Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave, but Vinnie gets top billing, and the main role. Once again, there is a link with his previous career (he plays a sports reporter with more serious journalistic aspirations), but the sporting reference in this movie is superficial, and largely irrelevant. As far as Vinnie is concerned, this one has given him a real chance to get his teeth into a substantial acting role.
“I’d like to do some comedy,” Vinnie says, but so far, it seems, the more light-hearted parts have not been forthcoming. “You get sent scripts, but unless you’re an A-list actor you can’t dictate your roles. Until I can do that there will be two reasons I take on parts: either I love the script or the money is great!”
The impression one gets is that Vinnie Jones is revelling in his new environment. He clearly loves working with actors he has admired, and he is still new enough at the movie game that the thrill of meeting Hollywood superstars has not completely faded away. “When I did Gone in Sixty Seconds my first scene was with Angelina Jolie and Nicholas Cage. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Does he miss football? “No. I was getting sick of it, to be honest. I still go and see matches sometimes, but playing… well, you’d have a bad game and you’d get slaughtered. You’d have a good one and no-one would say a thing. “Despite all that, the football did help. It’s where I started.”
Interview: Angela Banh
Photography: Stan Thompson
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