Timothy Spall has played two of Britain's most highly regarded painters. He portrayed JMW Turner in Mike Leigh's film Mr Turner and now plays L.S Lowry in Mrs Lowry & Son.
Lowry is famous for his matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs pictures, backdropped by stark images of industrialised northern Britain - pictures which now sell for millions of pounds.
While Turner and Lowry are very different artists, Spall says they share some similarities.
“They’re both working class and they both worked from sketches and then worked up their work in studios. In my opinion they also share something which is; their landscapes were self-portraits as well as depictions of their environment. There’s an emotional quality in their paintings that is extraordinary.”
Spall says the films explore this side of Lowry’s paintings, the bleak beauty and tension.
Lowry was a bit of a loner and spent around half of his life caring for his mother. Despite that, he did have friends and wasn’t a recluse. However, there’s no record of Lowry ever having an intimate relationship with another man or woman.
In preparation for the the Turner role, director Mike Leigh ordered him to learn to paint. It’s something he’s kept up ever since, with some success.
“When I did the Lowry film, I just couldn’t stop painting, and then I started copying and doing Lowry-esque type paintings and ended up painting, after I finished, lots of my own landscapes which – without trying to sound lofty or conceited – had elements of both those artists. Somewhere along the line I ended up painting a bit like me, and they took.
“The Lowry [gallery] has a companion exhibition and, much to my surprise, they asked me if they could have some of my pictures… one of them, which is a copy of a Lowry, is next to the original and I still feel like some dreadful upstart, but no one’s defiled them.”
That’s led to his own upcoming gallery show in Chelsea, London.
“You never know what’s coming around the corner, do you? You stick your neck out and it either gets chopped off or you stick it out further.”
Spall says that even after 40 years of acting when he finishes a job with nothing else lined up, he thinks his career is over.
“My daughter rings me up and says, ‘How’s it going Dad? All over is it? Career finished?’.”
Turner was Spall’s first real leading character role and it’s what he’s been pursuing in the years since.
“As you get older you want a chance to be subtler in what you do.”
However, Turner was a role that took a toll on Spall.
“It went well but it was a massively exhausting experience. I changed my lifestyle after that as well.”
Spall lost so much weight after the role that people were concerned for his health. He acknowledges he got a bit too skinny but was playing a dying man at the time.
He says if he was asked to put on weight for a role now, he’d refuse. He believes padding can easily help the process, but you can’t unpad yourself if you’ve actually gained the weight.
For now, Spall is looking forward to Christmas with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Following that, he’s off to Spain to work on a film called It Snows in Benidorm directed by Isabbel Coixet.
“They keep putting up with me. Every time I think it’s over again and get the brushes out, they send me off and I go and do my day job.”