[M]ark Strong is a master of metamorphosis – as inconspicuous as he is recognisable. His compelling screen presence and often stony inscrutability in high-profile films like Sherlock Holmes, Body of Lies and RocknRolla has never diminished his ability to disappear into a role. It’s a facility for transformation that has elevated him, like Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Malcolm McDowell and Terence Stamp, into the pantheon of Hollywood’s go-to British villains. His talent now sees him shifting again, beyond the bad guys, to the pursuit of true greatness.
The Hunger: You seem to have a real knack for picking great films. Is choosing a good role down to instinct?
Mark Strong: It’s got to be. Ultimately, you receive scripts which are just black words on a white page. They all come to you in the same form, whether it’s the tiniest TV script or the biggest studio picture. I agonise over scripts, I have to say. There has to be that something that makes it worth doing.
Where does that instinct come from?
I’ve always felt on display in life – a bit of an outsider. My mum moved abroad when I was really young and so it was just me, and boarding school. I was always watching other people to see what kind of person I wanted to be. My instinct comes from years of making up my mind about what has value and what doesn’t.
“MY INSTINCT COMES FROM YEARS OF MAKING UP MY MIND ABOUT WHAT HAS VALUE AND WHAT DOESN’T.”
Have you ever done anything just for the money?
Never, I can say that honestly. I don’t think I ever will. An old actor friend of mine who died far too young, said, ‘There’s no substitute for quality.’ I turn a lot of things down where I just can’t shoehorn myself into the character. Sometimes I read something and I really don’t know the way in there. It’s like trying on a coat that’s the wrong size. Other times, I’ll read a script and there will be something in there that I just get, I have an idea in my head of where I can take it.
Are there any parts that you regret not taking?
No. If I turn something down I’ve made the right decision at the time. I was up for the part in No Country for Old Men, eventually played by Javier Bardem. It was me and him. I went to New York and met the Coen Brothers. The casting director said to me, ‘They won’t say much to you. They’ll just get you to do the scene once or twice, so don’t be surprised.’ I was in and out in 30 minutes. I thought, ‘Well, that doesn’t bode well.’ Then I got a call saying, ‘Stand by your bed, because it’s you and Javier Bardem.’ He won an Oscar for that, and the film was absolutely amazing. He was better cast than me. That wasn’t the issue for me – it was the thought of working with the Coen Brothers. I love their films. But that’s my job – you just have to go up for it and hope for the best.
Read more of our exclusive interview in Issue Two of Hunger.