We chat to Essex’s Line of Duty actor Daniel Mays
- Credit: Archant
Essex actor Daniel Mays has never been busier. Denise Marshall caught up with the newlywed father of two on a rare lunch break to find how he is adjusting to his soaring profile alongside family commitments | Photos: Dave Wills
Daniel Mays has graced our screens for two decades after making his mark with esteemed film director Mike Leigh, fresh out of RADA. A steady stream of hit prime-time roles followed, but demand for the Essex-born star is now at an all-time high since acquiring a new legion of fans from crime drama Line of Duty.
With huge new series Good Omens by Terry Pratchett set to air at the end of May, and an unrelenting schedule, things have never been busier for the incredibly personable Danny, flawlessly switching from comedy gold to intense thrillers.
His longstanding versatility has proven he's impossible to pigeon hole, as he makes an impact in roles ranging from sci-fi parts to period drama.
A latest incarnation of Jack the lad Anthony in the hilarious Porters sitcom on Dave, was a real diversion from heavier projects and is due for release this summer.
'Sometimes I can't even pause for breath with it all, especially recently,' laughs Danny about his spiralling workload. 'There's so much television now with Netflix and Amazon, the job opportunities are ever increasing.'
He is currently filming Code 404, another new comedy this time for Sky, and brimming with enthusiasm for both the concept and his co-star.
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'We shot a pilot last year. Sky loved it and asked me to come on board. I then got a friend of mine involved; Stephen Graham who was Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire. He's an old mate of mine and we've got great chemistry.'
'It's just a really funny script about two coppers ten years in the future. They're partners. I get killed and come back part man, part AI robot.
'It sounds a real "out there" idea, but it's one of the funniest scripts I've ever worked on,' reveals Danny about the six-part series. 'I'm cornering the market with coppers at the moment,' smiles the 41-year-old. 'It's either Ronnie from Mrs Biggs or Line of Duty that people recognise me the most for.'
It was exactly two years ago Danny was nominated for a Bafta for the part of Sergeant Danny Waldon in series three of Line of Duty. Diving into new territory in March, he landed the lead role in feel-good movie Fishermen's Friends, a big screen biopic, with some touching romance weaved in with Tuppence Middleton.
'I'm over the moon with the response to Fishermen's Friends,' says Danny. 'It did really well at the box office. Now there's Porters and Good Omens (a fantastical Harry Potter-esque drama by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett). After 20 years I'm lucky I can gauge a good script and see if it takes me in a different direction, but I'll always be involved in gritty dramas. It's part and parcel of who I am.'
Last year saw Danny star as a caravan site owner in the indie film Two For Joy produced by Sadie Frost. Samantha Morton and Billie Piper played broken mothers in Tom Beard's directorial debut that focused on their damaged offspring.
This year sees Danny in a batch of glossier projects working alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, yet he remains notably grounded at press events, without a shred of high handedness often radiated by veteran performers. He's a real engaging interviewee who takes the time to ask your opinion on his work.
Graduating from RADA at 21 he could have easily got swept up in the glamour and fickleness of the business, but he is very disciplined, honing his craft from day one with one of the best springboards — direction from Mike Leigh.
'Last year I did Mother's Day, the Warrington bomb drama, and the Tony Martin drama Interrogation, back to back. They were really quite intense experiences, you have to pour your heart and soul into it.
'More than anything I need a change in direction to lighten the mood, otherwise I'd go completely stir crazy,' he explains.
Danny is clearly in a position where he can pick and choose jobs, but remains cautiously modest and mindful of his two young children, Mylo, 12, and Dixie, six.
'If people really want you in their shows, your agent steps in to accommodate the schedules. It doesn't work out like that when you're younger, but your source of motivation changes the older you get.
'When I was young, free and single in my 20s it was all about the work. You didn't have any responsibilities as such. When you have a family, it forces you to be even more determined and focused. It's lovely to have a good reputation, I'm always committed. Hopefully I'm easy to work with, I'm not a diva,' he laughs, when asked about the plaudits of fame.
'The thing is I don't really have a game plan. Some actors think five to ten years in advance. I don't. It's so precarious this industry.'
Danny doesn't hide the fact that a strong unit to go home to, coupled with his idyllic upbringing in Buckhurst Hill as the third of four boys, have been crucial to his success. Last summer he tied the knot with his partner of 14 years, make-up artist Louise Burton, enjoying an emotional day with their children alongside the sad absence of Louise's late parents.
'It was an incredible day. It just cemented everything. I'm very blessed. I've got a beautiful, understanding and supportive wife. It's never lost on me how difficult it is to bring up kids. Lou has been incredible on that front. As soon as I come back from set my family always bring me back down to earth.'
A happy upbringing allowed him to pursue his dreams, while fostering a strong work ethic.
'My mum would have had more kids if she could. She was very maternal and loving. I'm lucky to have had two super parents get behind me. You have to have a real compulsion to be an actor, there's too many knock backs and rejections.'
It was a love for dance and a spell at Loughton's Stage One stage school that led to discovering his talent for drama.
'My party piece was Michael Jackson dancing at West Hatch School in Chigwell for two years, where all the kids made a circle round me. The whole thing with that recent Netflix documentary (Leaving Neverland) has really spun me out. It's so difficult to get my head round. I went to the Dangerous tour and got there at five in the morning, so I could be seven feet away from Michael.
As his career took off Danny triumphed playing deprived young men, the opposite to his adolescent self.
'I'm really close with my brothers and I've got a core group of friends from Essex. I've just had my younger brother's stag do. My stag do was last year and there are never any other actors at those events. My friends from Essex are very separate to my acting mates, so I get the best of both worlds.
'In general the cast and crew are lovely on a film set. It's a weird surrogate family as you work such long hours. But I'm back in Essex a lot and watch Leyton Orient with my cousins.
'My childhood consisted of making camps in the Epping Forest with my mate Matthew Farr on our BMXs. I played for Leyton boys' football. I was sports mad. Home was a mad house with a lot of love. My mum and dad are so gregarious with a huge group of friends. My best friend Matthew was one of four boys so it was the Mays, the Farrs, and the Gibsons, another family with four. It was a proper laugh.'
Daniel's mum was best friends with Matthew's mum Rita and the families would regularly decamp to Cornwall and Center Parcs. Daniel has respectfully spoken out about the industry being harder for working class people to enter.
'I went to Itali Conti stage school so knew what I wanted from an early age. I did have some help with a grant from Essex County Council. Mum and dad stumped up some cash as well.
'I want there to be a balance of all stories being told. You can have stories about kings and queens and politics, but you also need stories about people living on council estates. That's not just about actors, but producers, directors, writers. Mike's (Leigh) not going to be around forever.'
Back in 2009, Mays starred alongside Anna Friel in Jimmy McGovern's poignant series The Street, playing a single dad heartbroken to discover his father had visited his new girlfriend who made ends meet as a prostitute.
'McGovern is a vital component in getting that social message out,' agrees Danny. 'He's one of the sole politically-led writers we've had. I've also done his one-off drama Common, about common law. Again, more heavy subject matter.'
But being so busy can be hard to balance with family life.
'I feel like I'm in a bubble. I've hardly seen my kids,' he admits, having just arranged for Dixie and her friend Athena to be extras on Code 404 for the day. 'I might have a job coming up in Spain and hopefully they can come out in the summer holidays. It all works out in moments like that, but it's quite bohemian before they start school. No one wants an unhappy actor, so people are quite accommodating.'
And there are even more chances to see Danny with appearances soon including a part in action thriller The Rhythm Section alongside Jude Law and a role in Sam Mendes World War I epic 1917 out in January. There are sure to be even more Daniel Mays fans by the end of 2019.
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Good Omens starring Daniel Mays launches on Amazon Prime on May 31