Best known for his brief role in HBO's hit TV series Game of Thrones, rising star Ed Skrein, a Londoner of both English and Austrian-Jewish descent, has made his way to the spotlight starring in a few gritty British crime actioners such as Ill Manors (2012) and The Sweeney (2012).
In a Bond-like fashion, with the upcoming release of The Transporter Refuelled Skrein will be taking over the role of Frank Martin – previously played by Jason Statham – and rest assured he does a phenomenal job. In November he is also going to star alongside Nicholas Hoult in Kill Your Friends, a dark comedy thriller set in the Britpop era whilst next year he's playing supervillain Ajax in Fox/Marvel's Deadpool next year, moving further into leading-man territory.
Candid managed to catch Ed on the phone, leaving the impression of a very comfortable in his own skin, down-to-earth actor who's committed to his career. During our chat we went over his journey through filming Transporter, making the character of Frank Martin his own and applying his Transporter skills to moving a certain Deadpool prop as well as embracing his villainous character Ajax’s feelings (or lack thereof) in the anticipated Marvel movie.
Had you seen the previous films in the franchise?
I’d never seen the first trilogy when I stepped into it but I knew it was important for me to watch them once and to learn what they were all about to gauge the vibe, the energy and the makeup of them film and most importantly the variables there that the fans are going to expect and what’s been there so far. After that, it was just important for me to just leave it in my mind and approach the role in my own way, trying to live in each scene as honestly as I could.
Did Jason Statham provide any parting words?
I tried to reach out to him, just to talk, be respectful and see if he had any advice but I didn't manage to get through to him with my connections. However, I look forward to seeing him some other time, get a beer and reflect on our different experiences on the franchise.
You don’t have a background in martial arts, so how did you prepare for the action scenes?
With a lot of hard work. I went to Paris and worked with Alain Figlarz and his incredible stunt team three weeks before the shoot, 9 hours a day just going at it. Everything I did was functional, I didn’t pick up the weights for four months or go to the gym. It was all functional, all designed so that I would have the stamina and the physical capacity to last a whole shoot, be strong and keep my immune system up and obviously to learn the choreography.
I suppose that would be similar to the character's methods, I doubt he’s a guy who spends a lot of time in the gym but does a lot of heavy lifting anyway.
Yeah it was interesting being there 3 weeks beforehand, just working on the physical side of things, and then obviously behind the scenes in my hotel room where I was working on the paperwork and studying the script and analysing, doing all my research but also I wasn’t doing anything out loud. I was shaping up this character in silence, which was a great thing for me because this guy is an island, he would be in a room full of people and yet be by himself.
He is a disciplined man and it was great to live out those weeks in his shoes and crafting him as a character just inside my head and in silence. In a role that is so physical you also need the personality to emerge and obviously they were linked. I really wanted the actions to be informed by the emotion, that’s why I wanted it to be quite almost animalistic in the fight scenes because they are led by an emotional reason for each fight. It’s not just dancing with weapons. There’s a reason, an emotional narrative that needs to be justified and so that was interesting.
My favourite fight scene in the whole movie was when you had to set the car on drive and get the bad guys away from the vehicle and take them out at the same time. I thought that was really well done.
Yes, I thought it was great writing as well and the sound effects are great.
What made this film an attractive choice for you? What made it stand out?
There were a number of reasons that pointed at it as the right choice. To be number one on the call sheet and to lead a film wasn’t something I had done previously. I shot 51 out of the 55 days so it’s like when a young footballer needs game time. I’m in a developed mental stage in my career and I need to grow and learn, I need game time, I need to be on camera just like a young footballer needs to be on the pitch. Obviously, having that volume of work was an attractive position to grow. There was also the question of whether I would be able to handle the ‘pressure’ of taking over a franchise. From day one I never felt any pressure, so that box was ticked, then there was expanding the skillset, learning martial arts and something I’d never done before and of course we’re talking about learning from a visionary like Luc Besson. On top of that, we’re talking about living in Paris and the south of France for four months.
You are the new stage in the franchise. As it’s going to develop how do you see the longevity of these films compared to Mission: Impossible, Fast and Furious or even Bond?
I don’t know man, I’m not a romantic. I don’t really think of such things in that sense; I leave that to the marketing and PR department. I think about the characters and the scenes and the emotional content. I never really like to look at the monitors unless the director asks me to because I like to just exist in it and make it as emotionally honest as possible rather than see it as a movie or as a franchise. I never look much further forward than today. My mind isn't really on how far this can go and what possibilities might happen in the future. If we make some more of these, then it's great, as long as they’re going to be interesting, with a great script and more innovative stuff.
Which scene was the toughest to prepare for, physically and mentally?
I would say the one you called your favourite, the scene with the moving car, because we could prepare that but we couldn’t prepare that with the car. So we prepared the choreography but we kind of only had the day to practice with the car, then we had the night shoot. That was my first fight scene I’d done and that was the only time in the shoot where I thought “I’ve done all this prep, is it going to pay off?” and “how it’s going to be?” and after that I thought “okay, I’m chill”. I was relaxed after that, it was nice to get that out of the way but in the end everything is in the prep. It’s like sports, once you prep enough you can relax on the day. I’m pretty much in that mind-set “do every little bit of homework, every single thing you can beforehand”. It’s the same with auditions – you do everything you can and enjoy it but try not to dwell on it.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve had to transport in real life?
Well the funniest thing was when I finished Deadpool and one of the stunt guys gave me one of the Deadpool Samurai swords – the stunt swords which are plastic obviously but look like real swords and I remember trying to get that through airport security. Trying to transport that from Vancouver to London was fun and bizarre. In the end they said absolutely not, there’s no way you’re getting through. So I had to go back and get it covered up with stuff and I was up against the clock and my plane was going to leave and I managed to check it in after speaking very politely to the lady behind the check-in desk and when I got back to Heathrow all I could think was “Oh I hope my sword is there” and when I got there I was just so happy and I showed my son “Look I’ve got Deadpool’s sword”. Now every time I see it I think about that journey and how difficult it was to transport it back.
I’m glad you touched on Deadpool because I was wondering – knowing you can’t say too much about it – is that dynamic between you and your Dad (Ray Stevenson) in Transporter with him being the cheeky one and you the straight-man similar to the one between Ajax and Deadpool?
Yeah I’d say Ryan (Reynolds) and TJ Miller take the humour side and times it by a hundred and they’re just ridiculous and they’re so silly and so irreverent with their sense of humour and by the same token I am the straight guy but I’m not as straight as Frank Martin. Although Ajax has had his nerve-endings removed hence he can’t feel any pain, which would make him really serious, we actually wanted to play it really light so he was lighter than Frank in a lot of ways. He doesn’t really care about anything really, he’s the definition of a sociopath and a psychopath I suppose.
My last question is why did you settle on the name “The Dinner Lady Pimp”? Is that your rapper name? I saw it on Wikipedia…
Yeah bless Wikipedia for putting something out that’s completely incorrect. It was a silly nickname that we used to mess around with, I usually just went by my last name but that was just funny. We were having a mess around, it was quite funny back then and it’s quite funny now.
The Transporter Refuelled is released in UK cinemas on September 4th