Film-maker Mark Cousins: Like Ewan McGregor, I switched from beer to wine to lose weight

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Co Antrim-raised Mark Cousins, film director and chairman of Belfast Film Festival

Mark Cousins – I think about death at least three times a day, in part because I’m so happy in my life Picture: Mal McCann
Gail Bell

1. Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I wake at 6.20am most days and then have a strong strong black coffee while checking overnight emails – as I work in film, I hear from people in various time zones. If I've time, I love to watch the sun come up behind the tree outside our window. It’s about 200 years old and I have pictures of it on my phone for when I’m away from home.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? As I’m always on the go and walk everywhere, I eat a lot. I'll have muesli and maybe a fish finger sandwich for breakfast.

Lunch? By 11am, I’m starving and keep asking Timo, who edits my films, if we can go for lunch yet. At one minute past 12, we often head downstairs from our edit suite to a Kurdish restaurant, where I have grilled meat, salad, grilled onions and rice.

Evening meal? I usually cook dinner for myself and my partner and meals vary between roast chicken, veggie Indian (roast cauliflower and daal), pasta with prawns and chillies, lasagne, Iranian food, Middle Eastern salads and fish cakes (secret ingredient – finely chopped pickled onions). This all sounds fancier than it is; I love cooking and try not to use processed food (except for fish fingers).

3. Is nutrition important to you?

Yes. My dad died aged 56 and had high cholesterol, so I try to eat healthily. I love typical Irish food – potatoes, cabbage, boiled ham, etc, but I seldom have butter. I will have loads of kidney beans, chick peas, lentils and tons of cumin instead.

4. Best meal ever?

A 60-something Italian countess once closed a restaurant just for us in Ravello, Italy, and then took me to 'La plus belle balcon du monde' (the most beautiful balcony in the world) and hired a violinist… but I have an old camper van and, parking it by a remote beach, cooking pasta, bacon and peas as the sun sets, then going for a swim is even better.

5. Do you have a guilty pleasure ?

Those tins of beans with sausages in them. I LOVE those. They’re a wee bit bland, though, so I put chillies in them.

6. Have you ever been on a diet?

If so, how did it go? I am a bit vain, like most people, so if my belly gets big, I eat more vegetables. I’m not one for cheese or cream (I have a stomach ulcer, so cream is the devil).

7. Do you take health supplements?

Never. Blueberries, red cabbage and vino rosso are my health supplements.

8. How do you relax?

Walking. I’ve walked across LA, Beijing, Paris, London, New York, Stockholm, Lyon, Moscow, Istanbul, Tehran, Cairo and Mexico city. I love walking and I also love wild swimming. Most of all, cinema is my relaxation, my consolation, my magic carpet – especially in the afternoon, when there’s hardly anyone there. It should be on the NHS.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

Tipple. Like many Irish, I drink too much.

10. Stairs or lift?

Stairs every time.

11. Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I hardly sit down, even in edit suites – famously sedentary places – I’m up and about, pacing. At night, for about one minute, I lift weights.

12. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Don’t drive.

13. On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I’m 8/10 fit, which is pretty good for my age, I think. I notice that when I climb hills, I get less out of breath than a lot of younger people, which I hope they notice. But, I can’t really take credit for that – my twin brother is fitter than me. It’s in our genes.

14. Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I studied science, so am very evidence-based, I’m afraid. If there’s proof, I’ll believe it. I think that homeopathy is total nonsense.

15. Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

I hated school sports; I was weedy and un-macho, so dreaded sports days. Sport in our school was the domain of bullies.

16. Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

My dad’s death made me think about eating healthily. Also, I remember Ewan McGregor saying that to lose weight for Trainspotting, he switched from beer to wine... I did the same.

17. Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

I watch those health shows on TV – the ones with Angela Rippon, etc and, as a result, have said a sad farewell to the world of pies. I eat my greens like a good boy. My top tip is to put celery in everything – it’s cheap as chips, makes pasta sauce far better and is a world beater. I got this tip from Martin Scorsese’s mum’s cookbook.

18. Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

The Belfast film-maker Brian Henry Martin seems remarkably fit to me, but that might be an illusion. I admire people who dance every weekend.

19. What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I go to bed about 10.30pm. I’m not a good sleeper and when my partner started snoring, that made things worse. But now she’s got a gum shield thing that makes her look a bit like Barry McGuigan when he was boxing, but it’s worth it because she sleeps sweetly and, as a result, so do I.

20. Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I think about death at least three times a day, in part because I’m so happy in my life.

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