Interview - Mark Strong
Jackboots and sideburns
You’ve seen him here, you’ve seen him there. Jan Gilbert talks to Mark Strong
‘You cannot play an “evil” character without finding the humanity in them. That’s what I find very interesting. You’re not asking for sympathy, but you’re not just painting a one-dimensional character,’ says Mark Strong. Having played his fair share of menacing men, he speaks from experience. Who can forget his performance as gangster Harry Starks in the small-screen version of Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm? Or his penchant for ripping out fingernails as the Iranian agent Mussawi in Syriana? Or even his murderous pursuit of the throne as ruthless royal Septimus in Stardust?
It’s twenty years since Strong’s television debut in the comedy After Henry, and thirteen years since his breakthrough role in the BBC series Our Friends in the North. He’s been ‘doing movies seriously’ for the past five years, during which time he’s packed in plenty, including Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist, three Guy Ritchie features (Revolver, RocknRolla, Sherlock Holmes), Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies.
In his latest role Strong plays Sir John Conroy (pictured), the relentlessly ambitious royal adviser in the lavish costume drama The Young Victoria. Strong’s interest in Conroy was piqued by his research. ‘I read about his relationship with Victoria and it got me fascinated. I saw his picture at the National Gallery and thought it just looks like me! So I got the sideburns and a small piece made and, although it’s a Victorian character rather than a modern one, I feel I got him.’
The 45-year-old actor is currently on something of an historical roll, with upcoming films set in 1940s Siberia (Peter Weir’s The Way Back), at the fall of apartheid (Endgame), and in 1930s Germany (Good). His part as a Nazi censor in this last film, adapted from CP Taylor’s play, may be small, but it’s no less signficant for the actor. ‘As a young man wanting to get into the business, I’ve very strong memories of seeing Alan Howard on stage in Good. I’ve just one little scene in the film. At the time I was playing bigger parts, but it really was a labour of love.’ Strong’s scene may be brief, but his powerful performances make any film with his name in the credits well worth watching.
The Young Victoria, general release, Fri 6 Mar. Good, general release, Fri 17 Apr.