Since his chilling performance in Scum back in 1977, Ray Winstone has cultivated a hard-man image that has become something of a British film institution. The Londoner, who has stolen the show in gritty Brit classics Nil By Mouth, Sexy Beast and Love, Honour and Obey transitioned seamlessly into Hollywood, where roles in Anthony Minghella’s screen adaptation of Charles Frazier’s best selling novel Cold Mountain and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed have showcased Winstone’s acting prowess beyond that of the archetypal tough guy.

His autobiography, Young Winstone, also shows our man Ray in a more versatile light, frequently touching on difficult and surprisingly sensitive subject matter. The book recounts his rise to stardom, which he admits wasn’t always an easy path, despite numerous comical nods to chance meetings with infamous East End royalty such as Ronnie Kray. In fact, he pissed on him – literally. Winstone’s dad was friends with the notorious gangster, and once gave him baby Ray to hold, with watery consequences.

A family man and Londoner born and bred, the actor, 58, now resides in Essex with his wife Elaine and is father to three daughters, of which the two eldest, Lois and Jaime, followed in his footsteps and became actors themselves (and shining lights of the capital’s party scene). He claims they have followed in the family tradition of never crumbling under pressure. “They all have their frailties, but come into their own when the chips are down,” he says, beaming with fatherly pride.

It's just like boxing. The nerves create energy and if you don't have any nerves going on, you're in trouble.

Working on Young Winston, detailing his journey from the lad whose parents owned a greengrocers in Enfield to Hollywood hard man staple, was a cathartic experience for the actor, and one he didn’t find as daunting as his day job. “I actually really enjoyed it on the whole,” he says, thinking back over the writing process. “Going down memory lane, seeing where you’ve come from. That’s a good thing, for the most part.”

“It wasn’t too intellectual, which was fine because I’m far from being an intellectual,” he says. “I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

He explains that some of the more personal experiences detailed in the book were painful to relive, though. “My mum passing away from cancer when I was quite young was hard,” he admits. “That’s how the book ends, which probably wasn’t the cheeriest. But that’s what happened. It was life. It is life,” he says, typically no-nonsense. “If anything, the book helped me remember all the good times, all the laughs and the cries and lovely memories I have of her. It was bittersweet.”

Winstone has worked with Hollywood’s heavyweights, from Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon to Johnny Depp and Russell Crowe. In The Gunman, released earlier this spring, he shared the screen with Sean Penn, an actor Winstone holds in extremely high esteem. “I think he’s probably one of the best screen actors in the world – and has been for a while,” he says. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to work with him.”

Something the actor credits with helping handle the pre-shoot nerves with some of the industry’s biggest names is his background in amateur boxing. As a schoolboy, Winstone was a local legend and champion in the ring at Repton Amateur Boxing Club, winning a none-too-shabby 80 out of 88 bouts. He compares the pre-fight feel with being on set with stars like Penn – in a good way. “It’s just like boxing. The nerves create energy and if you don’t have any nerves going on, you’re in trouble.”

For Winstone, physical and mental strength have always been paramount to his career progression. “There were more tough times than I would care to remember,” the actor laughs, giving us that famous furrowed brow. “It was hard for a long time. There were moments where I’d think ‘right, fuck this, I’m done’”.

He was forced to mature early on in his career (as a family man) but was determined to balance putting food on the table with personal pride. “Sometimes it was my own fault. I was stubborn when I wanted to be,” he says. “I do remember years ago, turning down a job when I needed to work. Work wasn’t that great at the time but there was no fucking way I wanted to do this one.”

His wife Elaine, who he met on set of the 1979 film That Summer, was instrumental in helping Winstone grow, as a man and as an actor. “I said to my wife, ‘I’ve got this choice; I can go to work, I need to go to work, but I don’t want to go,’ and she said ‘don’t do it; I don’t need you being miserable around here.’ I didn’t do it, and you live and die by the decisions you make. It’s down to you and that way you’re in control of your life,” he says. “We were badly skint for a few months, but then another job came through and we were alright. It worked out good in the end.”

A mantra Winstone has lived by since his childhood boxing days up against the ropes rings as true today as it did then: “You get by. You struggle, you duck and you dive. You just do what you have to do.”

Winstone, along with fellow square mile cover star Idris Elba, was offered a part in what is widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows ever produced – The Wire – back in the late 1990s, but he turned the part down in favour of staying at home.

F••• that! The only way I'm jumping out of a plane is if it's on fire. Sorry, but that's just me

“I had my girls growing up at home and I didn’t want to move to Baltimore [to shoot]” he recalls. “Nothing wrong with the place, but we don’t come from there. I guess I’m old-fashioned,” he says. “Being from London and all that, you’re proud of where you’re from. Had the offer come through when I was younger, I would have thought about a move there.”

Another hit show that came calling was HBO’s Game of Thrones, which actually stars one of his daughters. “There was interest at one point. They did come at me with a part. A part that’s still there in the show now,” Ray reveals. “I’d like to have done it because it’s a great show. I haven’t seen all the series; I miss a lot of them because I’ve been travelling eight months out of the last year, although when I get a bit of time, I’m going to start watching from the beginning.”

This year sees Winstone foray further into Hollywood’s upper echelons, as he stars in the highly anticipated remake of cult classic Point Break; Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 crime caper that catapulted a young Keanu Reeves into super stardom alongside the late Patrick Swayze. Warner Brothers’ retelling of the story stars Winstone alongside a young cast, in a more global take on the action thriller.

“It’s a really interesting concept; they’ve taken it across the world,” Winstone reveals. “I think there’s one American in there, the rest of the actors are from all around the world; Venezuela, Spain, Australia, Sweden, England, it’s really international.

“They’re all young actors, I’m the oldest, by a mile,” he laughs. “I play Gary Busey’s part from the original,” he says. “We literally went all over the world making it with some guys who throw themselves out of planes without parachutes and the surfers from California.”

Now 58, Winstone assures us he left the stunt work to the professionals. “The jumping out of planes and the surfing? Fuck that! The only way I’m jumping out of a plane is if it’s on fire. Sorry, but that’s just me. But shooting this has been an incredibly bumpy ride, I think it’s going to be something very special.”

Winstone pays no heed to his advancing age – and insists his career is anything but slowing down. “If anything, it’s ramping up, which I’m grateful for,” he says. “I still like to work. I probably overdo it and think, bloody hell, what am I doing here? But it’s the worker in me.” Ingrained in him from an early age, Winstone has always had a strong work ethic and subsequently, he no longer has to worry about much else. “I don’t worry about the next job like I used to. If it comes through, great, pack my bags. And if not, I’ll just go somewhere and sit in the sun until it does.” Nice work if you can get it – or not.

With major roles in upcoming features like Point Break likely to further cement his position among Hollywood’s top players, sitting in the sun will have to wait, perhaps to Winstone’s frustration. With so much story still left to tell, and with his rise to globally recognised name still to be reflected in writing, perhaps Old Winstone is a title in the works. One thing is for certain; Winstone won’t be finished writing the story of his career any time soon.

The full interview can be found in the May issue of Square Mile. To see if you qualify for a free subscription, click here