A Principal Supporting Player In Big-League Movies: The Kingsman Series

A proposed title sequence for the coolly offbeat new drama series Temple featured multiple shots of the face of Mark Strong. Tightly cut, it was built around endless close-ups of the actor — “looking, turning, frowning”. Strong watched the result with acute discomfort. “Frankly, I was embarrassed. I just looked so pleased with myself.” In a meeting room high in a Soho members club, Strong sits straight-backed, here to front the publicity push for a show of which he is both star and co-producer. He has played leads before in a long and busy career. More often, he has stepped back into the space of the character actor, a principal supporting player in big-league movies: the Kingsman series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Guy Ritchie’s remake of Sherlock Holmes.

 

 

 

In a meeting room high in a Soho members club, Strong sits straight-backed, here to front the publicity push for a show of which he is both star and co-producer. He has played leads before in a long and busy career. More often, he has stepped back into the space of the character actor, a principal supporting player in big-league movies: the Kingsman series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Guy Ritchie’s remake of Sherlock Holmes.

 

 

More often, he has stepped back into the space of the character actor, a principal supporting player in big-league movies: the Kingsman series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Guy Ritchie’s remake of Sherlock Holmes.

 

 

In Temple, though, the story is his, playing London surgeon Daniel Milton, alternating hospital duties with running an illicit operating theatre in the tunnels by Temple Underground station. A starring role has a certain psychic load. You don’t feel it filming, he says, but now, when the project is about to meet the public. “Because if people don’t gravitate to it, you wonder, is that because I didn’t captain the team properly?” In fact, the show is never less than moreish, the possibilities of that ticklish premise smartly teased out. In a world defined by genre, the pleasure of Temple — and its challenge to the marketeers — is a refusal to fit a box. The jokes are deadpan; there are thriller-ish cliffhangers but no histrionics. As a series, it creeps up on you.

 

 

 

A starring role has a certain psychic load. You don’t feel it filming, he says, but now, when the project is about to meet the public. “Because if people don’t gravitate to it, you wonder, is that because I didn’t captain the team properly?” In fact, the show is never less than moreish, the possibilities of that ticklish premise smartly teased out. In a world defined by genre, the pleasure of Temple — and its challenge to the marketeers — is a refusal to fit a box. The jokes are deadpan; there are thriller-ish cliffhangers but no histrionics. As a series, it creeps up on you.

 

 

 

It also has a past. In 2017, Norwegian television began airing Valkyrien, a show about a respected surgeon with a second professional life underground. Temple took shape after Strong and his wife, the producer Liza Marshall, brokered a deal with the creators in Oslo to make a British version. (Largely, they just bought the premise; scripts have been written by Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe.) For Strong, it offered a plum role, but also the chance of mid-career reinvention, sampling the trials and privileges that come with producing a project.

 

 

 

“I was nervous, because I wondered what I could actually contribute. But I realised I did have things to say that were useful. For a start, after 30 years speaking other people’s words, I knew dialogue and actors. And from there, it started to get interesting.”

 

 

 

Alongside Marshall, what Strong calls “the putting-it-together” included negotiations with Oslo, commissioning the score, scouting locations. The subterranean clinic was a set built in Southall, suburban west London, but the shoot took place in the disused Aldwych Tube station. Strong, a life-long Londoner, was keen to create an authentic sense of the city. He also got to veto that much-disliked title sequence. note: Gold Agent: Kingsman Origin Movie

 

 

 

The more familiar business of character research saw time spent with surgeons at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark. He was struck both by visceral medical realities and a pleasantly humdrum atmosphere. Traditional portraits of the operating theatre, where Wagner plays as life and death do battle, began to feel absurd. “Actually, everyone is chatting about their weekends.” note: Dream Love Song Movie

 

 

 

The fit between actor and character is neat. If you were ever to find yourself in a nightmare in which surgery was to be performed on you by a prominent British actor, Strong would be the one candidate who might ease your panic. Off camera, he is a less intense variant on his screen persona; measured, rational, drawn to the big picture. Even the crisis in British politics has found him trying to keep perspective. “I definitely sometimes lose hope, but there have been crises before. I mean, I grew up in 1970s Britain with the power going out, having to find the candles twice a week.” note: Soul Hunter Movie

 

 

 

His early life was challenging all round. Strong was the son of an Austrian mother in London who raised him as a single parent; his Italian father left shortly after he was born. She supported him with one job in a factory, another in a bar. (Armchair psychologists may be tempted to draw a line from there to his fearsome adult work ethic.) At the end of his teens, he began university in Munich. A career was planned in German constitutional law. Only on realising this would be less glamorous than imagined did he return to Britain to study acting. But even that future was complicated, at least in his mind, by losing his hair in his twenties and his indifference to the hero roles rival actors longed for. note: Fake Criminals Movie

 

 

 

The sense is of someone obliged to carve out a singular place in the world, who then did the same as an actor. His filmography brims with villains and spies. One of the most satisfying aspects of Temple, he says, is the sense of Daniel on a moral tightrope. “It’s fun to play that back-and-forth.”

 

 

 

That kind of ambiguity has rippled through what we call the golden age of television, from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad. Strong starred in one of the projects that in Britain prefaced it — Our Friends in the North, the BBC multi-decade social history drama broadcast in 1996. Afterwards, he and co-star Daniel Craig both graduated into film.

 

 

 

Now, the balance of power between the mediums has shifted. “The truth about television that doesn’t apply to cinema is you’re at the mercy of the remote control. But when the audience stays, you have time to really dig into human behaviour. What would I do about this, what if it gets complicated by this, what if later this comes into play?”

 

 

 

While he appears in all kinds of films, the highest profile projects — blockbusters such as Kingsman and this year’s comic book movie Shazam!, heavy with CGI — demand less of the nuance of which he is capable. “Actually filming that stuff can be tedious. The flipside is that the result looks amazing.” He mentions a spectacular fight scene from Shazam! — “The reality was four weeks in a blue warehouse, being hung off harnesses making tiny incremental movements for 10 hours every day. First world problems, I know.”

 

 

 

The frantic workload that has long since paid the mortgage has recently been scaled back. “After many years I appear to have got to a stage where I can get paid more while doing less work.” He says he can’t imagine ever stopping acting, but the role of a producer clearly has the shine of a new car — being in the conversation from the start rather than arriving later as a generously paid hired hand.

 

 

 

Another series of Temple would be ideal for his next credit, he says, but if a project presented itself he wasn’t right for on-screen, he would still give it consideration. “You know, I wouldn’t mind that. It’s funny. I do feel like I’ve stumbled into something here that suits me.”

 

 

 

He, like the rest of Britain, just needs to survive the current chaos first. He nods towards the window as if a No Deal Brexit were directly outside. “It’s the realisation all this is only the beginning, isn’t it?” And then, like any good producer, he brings the subject back to his show: “Yep,” he says. “Temple. A strange series for strange times.”

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