Ronnie O’Sullivan on his new Amazon documentary: ‘It was harrowing watching it back’

Ronnie O’Sullivan: ‘Visually you could see I was going through it a lot at times’

Through the door of a swish London hotel, held open by a concierge; into the dimly-lit lobby, past an open fire and smart dinner guests, into a shiny lift; down a corridor lined with abstract art, around a bend to the very end where the last door waits in semi-darkness; through to a suite with a long table scattered with sandwiches and cream scones – Ronnie O’Sullivan’s favourite food – where his agent and various publicists mill; to a leather sofa at the far end.

This is where O’Sullivan is holed up, an hour before his movie premiere in London’s Leicester Square. He emerges from another room with a smile, offers a fist bump and sits down. He is dressed in a blue jumper, dark jeans and smart shoes. Executive producer David Beckham is among the famous guests coming to celebrate O’Sullivan, journalists are here to ask questions and fans are sitting in cinemas around the country to watch the film and a live Q&A afterwards. And he’s dreading it.

“If I’d have looked at the contract before doing this and it said, you’ve got to do a premiere, I’d have probably said, ‘that’s me out then’,” O’Sullivan says with a wry grin. “When we started, they said there’s going to be a film festival and I was like, ‘I’ve got to go to that?’ They were like, ‘yeah’. I was like, ‘f**k’.

“It’s not my sort of thing really, but I’m trying to learn to embrace it. I’ve not been very good at taking compliments or a pat on the back. If people say, ‘Oh, I’ve always followed your game’, I’m always cringing inside. I’m trying to work on not being like that and letting people be happy for [me].”

This is O’Sullivan in a nutshell, thrown into places he doesn’t want to be, often of his own choosing, and having to deal with it. It is his life story, of two sides butting heads: the introvert with erratic mental health and the sporting genius. In his film, you see that contradiction in the eyes of the shy teenager thrown into the limelight, in the celebrity who never courted fame, in the star who hates crowds, in the snooker player who despises the “evil” Crucible Theatre.

So it is a little surprising that O’Sullivan opened himself up so nakedly for this two-year project, The Edge of Everything. The director, Sam Blair, spent the first three months earning his subject’s trust before bringing in a single camera, although he needn’t have: O’Sullivan felt safe immediately on meeting Blair, a low-key character.

O’Sullivan in ‘The Edge of Everything’ documentary

“I said to Sam at the start of it, ‘I’m not going to tell you that you can’t film this and can’t film that’,” O’Sullivan says. “Just assume you can film everything. And if there is a time I don’t want them to film, I’ll let you know, Sam. It’s easier that way otherwise we’ll be driving each other mad. Just assume you’ve got carte blanche. We became really good friends. There’s a lot of trust between me and Sam, so I just thought, OK, go for it. There wasn’t one point where I said, ‘no, you’re not coming in’. I thought, if we’re going to do it, let’s do a proper job.”

The result is a revelatory documentary. Thousands of words have been written about the seven-time world champion, but nothing digs under his skin and into his mind quite like this. There is a rawness to the footage, which captures O’Sullivan crying, urinating, smoking, burping and swearing. It shows an intimate hotel-room breakfast with Jimmy White in which they argue politely over who should eat the first meal to arrive. There are moments when O’Sullivan is aware of the cameras and others when he seems to have forgotten.

I wouldn’t want to be that brutal with my kids and I couldn’t be

One of the most eye-opening parts is his family’s memory of his father’s arrest for murder. Ronnie O’Sullivan Sr gave his son inspiration, advice and discipline. Then he stabbed the driver of gangster Charlie Kray to death in a nightclub fight, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. O’Sullivan was only 17, and in the film, he cries while remembering his dad’s final words as he was taken down from the dock: “Tell my boy to win.”

“When he went away, I had a really special, close relationship with my dad,” O’Sullivan says now. “We’d been on that march together [towards professional snooker] and for him to not be there, I just thought half of me had been sliced out and taken away. It was just horrible. When he said that, I knew he meant it, that was the thing. It was tough, but I think that’s what drove me on to play because I didn’t want to make him feel bad or be disappointed in me. I was doing it more for my dad at times than I ever was for myself, but is that a bad thing? I’m not sure. I think it kept me playing.”

The film shows how O’Sullivan Sr would make a young Ronnie go running to shed weight. His dad would drive in a car behind him, which O’Sullivan describes as “humiliating”. O’Sullivan is a father himself now. He doesn’t see his 27-year-old first daughter, but he does have a close relationship with teenage children Lily and Ronnie Jr after years of battling over custody.

“I wouldn’t want to be that brutal with my kids and I couldn’t be,” he says. “Maybe there’s an inbetween somewhere. Maybe I’m a little bit too easy and slack with them in certain things. It’s hard. Your parents just do the best they can possibly do and that was fine. But there’s certain things you go through as a kid where you think, maybe I don’t want to put my kids through that.”

O’Sullivan poses with his children, Lily and Ronnie Jr, after winning the 2022 title

Blair was careful to win over O’Sullivan’s father and spent a year getting to know his mother, Maria, before proposing an interview. Even then, their conversations were held without cameras, and in the film his parents’ voices play over the top of old home video and Polaroid pictures.

At times, the film is an uncomfortable watch, because you witness a man endure what looks like a serious mental-health episode. He is sitting in his dressing room during the 2022 World Championship final, utterly tormented by the idea of losing his enormous lead – which, gradually, he is losing. As he talks to the people around him, his voice speeds up. His face twitches. He looks pained. It seems like a possible panic attack, though O’Sullivan describes it as “stage fright”.

He found the whole documentary hard to watch back, not least his problems with addiction in his 20s. “It wasn’t a great experience to be honest, it was quite harrowing watching it. It looked a lot worse than it felt, if you know what I mean. Visually you could see I was going through it a lot at times.

“I was on a plane going to China and watched a documentary about people who’ve done documentaries and how it’s affected their lives. They’ve needed counselling and therapy and this and that just to come out of it, because it was a bad experience. So I thought, well at least I’m not the only one who has had that feeling.”

The film helps to understand why he might not like the Crucible. For someone who demands perfection of himself and simultaneously suffers from crushing self-doubt, performing in a windowless room where you can hear a pin drop is not a recipe for a happy or healthy mind. It can be a lonely, mind-numbing place, watching your opponent unpick your lead one ball at a time, and it forces you to dig deep into your mental reserves.

O’Sullivan and David Beckham attend the ‘The Edge of Everything’ premiere

“I haven’t been prepared to do that for quite a few years in Sheffield,” O’Sullivan admits. “I know it sounds crazy but I just don’t think it’s worth it. If you haven’t won the World Championship then yeah, it’s worth it. But when I got to four, that was enough. I’m quite happy with that. It hasn’t been a total failure. And to get to seven is great. If I was ultra critical and hard on myself then I could possibly have gotten to double figures if I hadn’t lost those earlier years and things would have been different in my private life. But you have to think, do I really need this? Do I really need another World Championship? The answer is, for me, no.”

He puts his 2022 victory down to the cameras, which spurred him to deliver for his newfound audience. Could he summon whatever’s needed – mental resilience, physical endurance, the all-out survival skills – to win one more world title and surpass Stephen Hendry?

“I’m sure I’ll pitch up and play again. Whether I’ve got another one in me, I don’t know. I don’t think I have, if I’m being brutally honest with you. I don’t think I’ve got another one in me. But I thought that in 2011 and I’ve won a few since then so it’s strange how things can turn out.”

With that, O’Sullivan gives a smile and another fist bump, and wanders back into the other room. He attends the premiere, posing for photos on the red (green, in fact) carpet. Afterwards, he sits on stage with Beckham and Blair, and the final question asks for his favourite part of the film. He wriggles in his chair. “Maybe the family bits,” he says briskly. Much later, he posts on his Instagram, or at least someone does: “Wow. What a night.”

Source: Read Full Article