Straight-talking, politically fired up… Stylist’s Helen Bownass discovers Jaime Winstone is a force to be reckoned with
Photography: Elisabeth Hoff
Jaime Winstone is up a sunny mountain in Cianciana, Sicily. She is eating a traditional dish of salami, lentils, onions and oil, cooked by her dad. She’s staying at the family house there and it’s the christening of her five-month-old son Raymond (named, of course, after her father and who she had with partner James Suckling) in a few days. It’ll be quite the affair. “My dress is very ‘Dolce & Gabbana mum vibes’,” she laughs. “We’ve got a beautiful [christening] font, a priest flying in from Rome and holy water that the Pope sent. It’s a 150-people event, a lot of my friends are here. It’s like a wedding!”
If that all sounds rather charming, I can’t help but agree. Especially as I’m definitely not in Sicily. I’m in angry, muggy, central London trying to find a solid Wi-Fi connection so I can call Winstone on Whatsapp. It says a lot that she’s taking time out of an important family holiday to talk to me. The reason? Her new TV project Ellen, and it’s one she’s particularly passionate about.
The feature-length drama tells the story of 14-year-old Ellen (played brilliantly by Jessica Barden, from The Lobster) who is neglected by her mum (Winstone) and society at large. She forms a powerful and fizzing friendship with a girl called Kayla, but she’s also preyed on by older men. Safe to say, it’s not an easy watch, with echoes of both Fish Tank and My Summer of Love. It’s part of Channel 4’s Coming Up scheme, which finds and develops new talent, and as such was created by two newcomers: writer Sarah Quintrell and director Mahalia Belo.
Winstone, 31, has form in gritty dramas – most famously, Kidulthood in 2006. But there have been more family-friendly dramas since, like Made in Dagenham and Love, Rosie, as well as producing Elfie Hopkins and her recent role as food writer Jack Monroe in a Radio 4 drama. Right now her life might feel a million (or at least 3,550) miles from the drama’s council-estate set, but that doesn’t mean she can’t empathise. And Winstone certainly does…
You were a new mum yourself when filming Ellen. How did you find that experience?
I was filming within five weeks of having a C-section. I shouldn’t have, but as it wasn’t physical work I felt empowered by the whole process. There were all these new emotions and feelings that I was going through, then I had to be someone else. I’d never played a young mum before, either – my character was supposed to have had [Ellen] at 15.
Why was the project so appealing?
I read the script and it just grabbed me. It was very beautiful and dark. I felt like I could relate even though my love life doesn’t compare. It’s easy for society to let these young women slip through the system. To say, “Oh she’s just a bit troubled,” when actually she’s really neglected. It’s also about how vulnerable young girls are to the male gaze. I know I was exposed to a lot of things at that age. I grew up on an estate in north London, and I had a lot of friends who – now I look back – I think, ‘God, they were from a broken home and there was no place for them.’ It comes hand-in-hand with addiction, poverty and lack of opportunity. It makes people vulnerable and exposes them to all kinds of exploitation.
I spent the whole time watching thankful I’m not a teenager anymore…
Yes! It’s so painful going through all those changes. It takes me back to those nights wandering the streets not really knowing what to do, sitting outside McDonald’s with your mates because there’s no place for you in society. You’re not an adult, but you’re not a child. You’re in this weird stage where you’re kind of a pain in the arse. I was never exposed to drugs at a young age, but I was hanging out in parks drinking cider. I don’t know a 15-year-old who wasn’t.
As well as older sister, Lois , you have a 15-year-old sister, Ellie Rae. Did filming give you a glimpse into her life?
Oh, completely. The pressures are immense – way more than I had. It’s really scary. My little sister’s very confident, but you can’t help but worry. There’s constant pressure to be a certain way, to look a certain way. Having an Instagram feed of people knowing who you are – I just find it exhausting. I tend to be that older sister going, “Your phone’s out at the table, put it away.” It’s so important to connect.
Your dad is a renowned actor, and you’re often referred to as “Ray Winstone’s daughter”. Is it frustrating being defined by the man you’re related to?
I find it quite lazy. I’m very proud of where he’s come from and what he’s achieved, but I’ve been on set when people have been talking about him and I have had to say, “Excuse me, I’m at work, this is important to me. You’ve got to hold your chat about how you got off your face with my dad at the pub.” Would they do that to Sir Ian McKellen’s nephew? No.
The divide between London’s rich and poor is really exposed in Ellen. As someone who grew up in London, is that something you’ve seen becoming more and more prevalent?
This film could have been shot in the Nineties – nothing’s changed. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and [politicians] just seem to be filling the holes without understanding where the cracks in society are happening. It’s so bullsh*t what you have to do to be in a safe position.
I lived in an amazing house in Notting Hill and opposite was an amazing estate – that’s the beauty of London: no divide. We’ve always had this really strong opinion on unity and society and community and there’s a certain breed of f**king politicians who have got people’s backs up and forced them into corners to vote for certain things. And it’s like, hang on a minute…
I don’t know whether I’m going to put my son in a public or private school – if he goes to a private school, will he get shot down because of his background? I went to a very lovely state school, it was incredible. I feel that’s all getting chipped away and it’s broken society. Certain people are very vulnerable and that’s what politicians are doing, I’m afraid; they’re exposing people’s vulnerable tendencies. It’s gross.
You sound pretty passionate about class and politics – has becoming a mother increased that?
Yeah, all while sitting on a mountain in Sicily… [laughs]
What else will you be doing in Sicily?
I do quite a bit of stargazing. Me, my mum and dad are really into astronomy; at the moment Saturn is above Mars. I’ve been watching The Planets, an amazing old show about the solar system. And my sister has been reading me the Harley Quinn chronicles – my lovely friend Cara [Delevingne] is in Suicide Squad. We’re mixing it up in the Winstone household.
Ellen is on Thursday 1 September at 10pm on Channel 4