ED SKREIN IN NEW YORK, JUNE 2015. STYLING: ANDREW MUKAMAL. TANK TOP: CALVIN KLEIN UNDERWEAR. GROOMING: EMI KANEKO FOR SK-II/D+V MANAGEMENT. SET DESIGN: JULIET JERNIGAN/CLM. SPECIAL THANKS: SALT STUDIOS.
In his previous guise as a rapper, Ed Skrein performed at Britain’s legendary Glastonbury Festival on more than one occasion. Surely nothing in the Londoner’s burgeoning acting career could ever top that for sheer heart-thumping exhilaration. “Of course there is!” the 32-year-old actor exclaims before listing a few recent examples. “Last week I was fighting Deadpool with two axes on the set of the Marvel Comics film. And last summer, for The Transporter Refueled in the South of France, I was wearing a three-piece suit on jet skis, and the director, who was wearing shorts, said, ‘Go out there and tear it up.’ ”
It’s fair to say that in the latest—and, for the record, third—creative career of his adult life, Skrein has found his calling. He studied painting at Central Saint Martins, but, in his own words, “I thought I was a fraud, as I made marks and couldn’t draw a still life.” He also made music with his friend Ben Drew, a.k.a. Plan B. But even here he felt rapping should be about struggle, which wasn’t his experience: “I just wanted to crack jokes.” Drew always told Skrein he had a face for film, so when his friend wrote and directed the London gangster drama Ill Manors (2012), he cast Skrein in one of the main roles.
Because of his imposing frame and chiseled cheekbones, Skrein has been scoring roles as the villain. And yet the moniker “gentle giant” seemed invented for him. Starring in the upcoming Transporter reboot marks him out as an action hero in the vein of Jason Statham, but he’s also starring in an adaptation of John Niven’s novel Kill Your Friends, about a Britpop A&R man trying to create the next hit. In The Model, he plays a renowned fashion photographer who hooks up with a catwalk fledgling. He used the photographer Gavin Watson, famous for his photos of British skinheads, as his own model for the role. “I focused on my body language rather than the technical side,” Skrein says. “I realized there was a whole craft there. I like making art.”