Entertainment & Arts

Ed Skrein: Britain's new Hollywood action star

Ed Skrein Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ed Skrein studied art and was involved in music before turning to acting

You may not have heard the name Ed Skrein (rhymes with shine) much before now. But prepare to hear it more over the next year.

The British actor is starring in no less than four films over the next six months, one of which is in cinemas this weekend.

The Transporter Refuelled is a reboot of Luc Besson's action franchise, with the 32-year-old in the role made famous by fellow Brit Jason Statham.

But the actor's new-found fame is a far cry from his modest beginnings in north London.

After falling in with the wrong crowd during his teens, Skrein was stabbed and spent five days in hospital. Now, though, he plays down the seriousness of the incident.

"It was pretty much the same trouble all kids get up to - a bit of mischief rather than real trouble," he says.

"But it helped make me realise the person I am, which is someone who wants to stay on the positive path. You've got to know the dark side so you can go to the light."

The incident made Skrein turn his life around and focus on being creative and giving back to his community.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Plan B (right) worked with Skrein in the music industry before casting him in Ill Manors

He enrolled in art college, graduating from the prestigious Central Saint Martins, and dedicated more time to coaching swimming - something he began at 15 and kept up between acting jobs until about a year ago.

"I was trying to maintain it over the last three years and juggle the two, but it was just too much," he says sadly. "I probably kept on teaching longer than I should have done because I felt such an allegiance to the kids.

"I wish there were 60 hours in a day and I could fly back from my shoots to keep nurturing them, but there's not enough time."

After college, Skrein turned his hand to music, releasing his first EP as a rapper in 2004 and his first album in 2007.

It was his friendship with Ben Drew - musician turned actor-director Plan B - that landed him his first lead role, in Drew's 2012 film Ill Manors.

Skrein says both art and music were "wonderful preparation" for his acting career. "The skills I learned at college helped me in terms of the conceptual and imaginative side of things," he says.

"Then the music industry taught me this street-level entrepreneur mentality of making things happen yourself. Like working hard and staying up until six in the morning because you want it, not just because someone is paying you."

After a short stint on Game of Thrones in 2013 and a couple of Norse and Saxon action flicks, the Transporter franchise came along.

Although taking over an established role will inevitably invite comparisons to his predecessor, the actor says he tried to put it out of his mind.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Skrein plays Frank Martin - a character made famous by Jason Statham - in The Transporter Refuelled

"I wasn't preoccupied with what Jason had done. I just worked as hard as I could on doing a good job and didn't preoccupy myself with any other pressure or comparison to anybody else.

"If you are in an athletics race, you don't want to be looking at the person next to you or thinking about them in the warm-up."

Other films Skrein has coming up include Kill your Friends - a big-screen version of John Niven's novel about the music industry during the Britpop era - and Marvel film Deadpool, in which he plays the villainous Ajax.

As a comic book fan, the star says Deadpool was "a dream project" to work on, but he's not concerned about being tied into another franchise if the film is a box office hit.

"I don't think you can ever worry about being tied into the Marvel universe," he says. "The possibility is there for both [Deadpool and The Transporter] to be explored further, but there's also a possibility they won't be explored.

"I accept there are changing variables in this career and with some positive things, all the negative things come. So I'm not going to worry about the future until the future arrives."

A fiercely private person, Skrein says he's in a "sweet time" of his career where he is still able to enjoy his relative anonymity. "It helps me focus on the creative part [of the job], not all the jazz and glitter.

"When I was at Comic Con I could just walk around - I got stopped for two photos in an hour and the rest of the time I was stopping other people for pictures."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Skrein attended this year's Comic Con with Ryan Reynolds (second from left) and other Deadpool cast members

Although acting could be seen as Skrein's third attempt at a creative career, the actor says it's the craft he's sticking to and that he has no immediate plans to return to the previous two.

"I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be right now. Art is something I'll probably go back when I'm older, but when I did my own music I felt a bit of a fraud like I wasn't supposed to be there.

"I don't feel like a fraud on this, but I'm fully aware I'm playing catch-up and learning the craft as I go. There is definitely no entitlement on my part - if anything, I feel like it's the opposite.

"I feel like I don't deserve it to be here from my unorthodox training, so I need to work harder than everyone else. I need to be punctual, respectful and polite; I need to learn from my mistakes and learn really quickly.

"I've got a lot more to learn and a lot more to offer, but I'm excited about the possibilities."

The Transporter Refuelled is out now in the UK and US.

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