ONCE UPON OUR TIME

There is a timely and se­ri­ous side to this Dis­ney block­buster one of its stars tells James Wigney

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

Ed Skrein has never played a part quite as fan­tas­ti­cal as he does in his new block­buster Malef­i­cent: Mistress Of Evil. For his role as the dark fairy Borra in the se­quel to An­gelina Jolie’s bil­lion-dol­lar 2014 hit, the UK rap­per turned ac­tor sports wings, horns and claws as he flies and fights in a quest for war and vengeance.

But strange as he knows it may sound, Skrein in­sists there is a se­ri­ous side to the Dis­ney block­buster, and hopes it will start con­ver­sa­tions be­tween parents and their chil­dren about “to­geth­er­ness, cultural di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion”.

“It felt very real and very grounded,” he says on the phone from LA ahead of the world pre­miere, “which is a funny thing to say when I have wings and horns and ex­ist in this fan­tasy world.”

Lon­don-born and raised Skrein has con­tin­ued the great Hol­ly­wood tra­di­tion of Bri­tish vil­lains in re­cent years, thanks to scenery-chew­ing turns op­po­site Ryan Reynolds in Dead­pool and the cy­borg bounty hunter Za­pan in this year’s Alita: Bat­tle An­gel. But, as much he says he’s al­ways some­one who cheers for the an­ti­hero — “Joe Pesci in Casino is al­ways go­ing to be the char­ac­ter that I am most drawn to and in­ter­ested by” — he’s loath to lump Borra in with those out-and-out vil­lains. He’s not all bad, Skrein says; he’s just scared and mis­un­der­stood.

“I have played a lot of bad guys and vil­lains in my time but I don’t think he would be de­scribed as a bad guy or as a vil­lain,” he says. “How­ever I think he would be de­scribed as an an­tag­o­nist, which is an in­ter­est­ing, del­i­cate fine line. He’s some­one who is op­er­at­ing from a po­si­tion of fear.”

Which is where Skrein’s as­ser­tion that the fan­tasy film has real world im­pli­ca­tions and in­spi­ra­tion comes in — his char­ac­ter firmly be­lieves he is do­ing the right thing for his op­pressed and shunned peo­ple, just as the hu­mans led by Michelle Pfeif­fer’s icy queen be­lieves she is serv­ing hers by want­ing to ex­ter­mi­nate the dark fairies.

“All this leads to is this no­tion that we are all fight­ing for the same things and with em­pa­thy and love and re­spect for each other’s dif­fer­ences and val­ues and di­ver­sity, that we can live to­gether and co­ex­ist and we will ac­tu­ally re­alise that we have so much in com­mon and we can learn so much from each other,” Skrein says.

“It echoes some of the trou­bling re­al­i­ties that we are see­ing world­wide from the global refugee cri­sis to the clos­ing of the bor­ders in Amer­ica and the rise of na­tion­al­ism all around the world and this fear of oth­er­ness. It’s wor­ry­ing and it’s trou­bling.”

While Skrein says he doesn’t think it’s the role of ac­tors to stand on soap­boxes, hit­ting the au­di­ence over the head with their agen­das, he be­lieves that art has a way of con­nect­ing op­pos­ing views and en­cour­ag­ing di­a­logue in a way that po­larised so­cial me­dia and politi­cians can’t.

“It feels that we are so camped in our op­pos­ing bub­bles — and these data bub­bles that we are all sort of forced to ex­ist in on­line — and that means we never re­ally get to have these con­ver­sa­tions,” he says.

“There is stuffy, repet­i­tive, rhetoric that we hear from our politi­cians in an age of apa­thy and mis­trust, but art is able to pen­e­trate the con­scious­ness and hearts and minds of peo­ple in a way that politi­cians will never be able to.” To trans­form into the ter­ri­fy­ingly strik­ing Borra, Skrein en­dured 3am starts and four-and-ahalf hours in the make-up chair — plus an­other hour at the end of a long shoot­ing day to take it all off again.

But he says the very act of ar­du­ous trans­for­ma­tion helped find the feral phys­i­cal­ity of the char­ac­ter, as well as bring his A-game to act along­side an A-list cast of Os­car-winners and nom­i­nees that in­cluded Jolie, Pfeif­fer and 12 Years A Slave star Chi­we­tel Ejio­for.

And then there was the de­mand­ing wire work that en­abled him to soar through the air for elab­o­rately chore­ographed fight scenes, which look spec­tac­u­lar but Skrein re­mem­bers as “a whole lot of chaf­ing”.

Skrein, 36, grew up in cul­tur­ally di­verse north Lon­don, where he started out in mu­sic re­leas­ing his first EP in 2004 ad his de­but al­bum in 2007. He’s since trav­elled the world as an ac­tor — from Morocco for Game Of Thrones to The Trans­porter: Reloaded In Paris, as well New York City for the ro­man­tic drama If Beale Street Could Talk and Hawaii for the com­ing World War II block­buster Mid­way. But his home re­mains dear to him and he says it shaped him into the per­son and the artist he is to­day.

“I grew up in a very cul­tur­ally di­verse, mul­ti­cul­tural com­mu­nity and it was beau­ti­ful, it is beau­ti­ful and I hold it dear and it’s why I feel I will never leave that com­mu­nity as much as I love this won­der­ful di­verse world I get to travel in,” he says.

“I thought ev­ery­where was like my com­mu­nity when I was grow­ing up and the more I have trav­elled, the more I have seen that’s not the case.”

MALEF­I­CENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL OPENS ON THURS­DAY

“It echoes some of the trou­bling re­al­i­ties that we are see­ing world­wide

Ed Skrein and Chi­we­tel Ejio­for are ter­ri­fy­ingly strik­ing in Malef­i­cent: Mistress Of Evil.

An­gelina Jolie re­turns as Malef­i­cent.

Ed Skrein at the world pre­miere of Malef­i­cent: Mistress Of Evil.

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