Mark Strong

The Kings­man ac­tor on not play­ing the fame game, the hit-and-run joy of char­ac­ter act­ing and his punk-rock past

The Observer - The New Review - - AGENDA - Kings­man: The Golden Cir­cle is in cinemas from Wed­nes­day

Mark Strong is one of the UK’s most suc­cess­ful cinema char­ac­ter ac­tors, with al­most 60 film cred­its in 25 years, in­clud­ing Tinker Tai­lor Sol­dier Spy,

Zero Dark Thirty and the Kings­man se­ries. On stage, he won the 2015 Olivier award for best ac­tor for his role in A View from the Bridge . An only child, Strong was born in Lon­don and brought up by his Aus­trian mother, who worked as an au pair. His Ital­ian fa­ther left when he was baby. He lives in north Lon­don with his wife, the pro­ducer Liza Mar­shall, and two sons.

You stud­ied con­sti­tu­tional law at Mu­nich Univer­sity. You could now be an anony­mous func­tionary in the Ger­man le­gal sys­tem. What made you want to be­come an ac­tor?

I had fan­tasies of be­ing a Euro­pean lawyer, but I quickly re­alised I prob­a­bly just had fan­tasies of wear­ing a rain­coat and car­ry­ing a brief­case and driv­ing a BMW. I thought that would be cool. But the study of law is so dry, es­pe­cially con­sti­tu­tional law in Ger­man. I came across a class in Mu­nich – only Ger­mans could have a course called The­ater wis­senschaft , which means the­atre sci­ence – and it was way more in­ter­est­ing than what was go­ing on in the lec­ture halls. I just man­aged to get in on that some­how, and that opened up the whole world of the­atre, act­ing, per­for­mance.

You’ve forged a very well re­spected ca­reer but you’re not fa­mous in the celebrity sense. Has that been a con­scious de­ci­sion?

To­tally. At the be­gin­ning I didn’t know what fame was or how it could af­fect your life, so I was prob­a­bly ea­ger to be no­ticed and try to be­come well known, be­cause I be­lieved then, like most young ac­tors, that it would lead to more work. What ac­tu­ally hap­pens is that good work leads to more work. Over the years I’ve been do­ing it I’ve seen peo­ple I know very well be­come ex­tremely fa­mous and there is noth­ing about it that I would rec­om­mend. I can’t imag­ine any­thing worse than be­ing in a po­si­tion that you’re not al­lowed to live your life pri­vately.

In 12 years you’ve been in 44 films. That doesn’t in­clude your work on stage or TV. Do you ever take hol­i­days?

The rea­son it seems like so many is be­cause I’m a char­ac­ter ac­tor. I can be in a film and only do a cou­ple of weeks’ work. And the glo­ri­ous thing about film is that you only need four or five good scenes and you’re in it. I def­i­nitely have that work­ing-class thing of you’ve got to keep work­ing. You’ve got to keep oc­cu­pied and make sure there’s food on the ta­ble. I do get antsy if I haven’t got lines to learn. But yes, I do take hol­i­days.

Were you con­scious of be­ing dif­fer­ent as a child?

I knew I was out­side the reg­u­lar fam­ily sys­tem that most of my friends came from. That didn’t bother me at all. All it made me do was fall back on my own re­sources to de­cide what kind of per­son I wanted to be. I’d look at one per­son and see how they’d come bound­ing up to you and every­one would think, “Wow, what a great guy.” So I thought, “I want to put that out into the world and have peo­ple feel re­laxed in my com­pany”, but then you don’t want to be taken ad­van­tage of, so you’d need to de­velop some steel – and I’d ob­served that in peo­ple who were very good at get­ting what they wanted. I just lit­er­ally put to­gether be­hav­iours be­cause I didn’t in­herit [any] from a fa­ther and my mum wasn’t around be­cause I was at board­ing school.

I like to shoot the breeze with ac­tors. When else will you get 20 min­utes’ down­time with Halle Berry?

You’ve come across a lot of ac­tors. Do you find your­self gaug­ing their abil­i­ties? If so, what hap­pens if you’re work­ing with some­one you don’t rate?

Yes, you do look at other ac­tors and per­for­mances, be­cause that’s your busi­ness. I’m not sit­ting at work tick­ing off whether I think the ac­tors I’m work­ing with are any good, but in­stinc­tively you watch peo­ple’s choices and won­der whether you would have made the same one. And that hope­fully makes you a bet­ter ac­tor be­cause you need to get in touch with what you do best. But we’re also in a busi­ness where per­haps if you’re hand­some or beau­ti­ful you might find your­self get­ting roles that you’re not de­serv­ing of in terms of your tal­ent, be­cause there are a ton of ac­tors I know who are re­ally good and not work­ing, and many who aren’t that good who are.

In Kings­man: The Golden Cir­cle you’re along­side Colin Firth, Ju­lianne Moore and Jeff Bridges. Do you en­joy hang­ing out with other ac­tors or do you pre­fer to stay in your trailer with a good book?

De­pends who the other ac­tors are. Gen­er­ally I like to shoot the breeze. When else do you get to have 20 min­utes’ down­time with Halle Berry? Most of the ac­tors I’ve worked with and re­spect, I want to have a con­ver­sa­tion with them and find out what they’re re­ally like. I’m like any­one; I make a lot of my as­sump­tions about ac­tors I don’t know from what I read about them. And then I’ll find those judg­ments are of­ten com­pletely con­founded when I meet them in real life.

Elec­tric Hoax and Pri­vate Party are names of bands you sang in. Did mu­sic lose an undis­cov­ered tal­ent?

Ab­so­lutely not. I en­joyed be­ing in punk bands for the per­for­mance. They were school bands. I was house elec­tron­ics cap­tain which meant I was in charge of the amp and the speak­ers. That was the time of punk and here’s three chords, go and form a band. We lit­er­ally did that and played very loud bad mu­sic that we loved. I think the mu­sic world is bet­ter with­out me.

You are also an Ar­se­nal fan. Should Arsène Wenger stay or go?

I was asked just re­cently who was my man of the year and I said Arsène Wenger, just to be con­trary re­ally, be­cause the hur­ri­cane of dis­sent is just down the coast. I’m pro-Wenger be­cause I think he’s rein­vented English foot­ball. You can’t push him out. The man should be af­forded the dig­nity of go­ing when he wants to. In­ter­view by An­drew An­thony

Por­trait by Richard Saker for the Ob­server.

Mark Strong: ‘I had fan­tasies of be­com­ing a Euro­pean lawyer, but I prob­a­bly just had fan­tasies of wear­ing a rain­coat and car­ry­ing a brief­case.’

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