HUCK talks to Ed Skrein, the rapper-turned-actor about winging it in the film world and using his skills to spread the love.
“It’s nice to have a platform to chat some sense instead of just stupid shit in interviews,” says rapper-turned-actor Ed Skrein over a mid-morning coffee near his home in Dalston, East London. “So many rappers rap about violence, gun talk and all that madness, but when I speak to them off camera, they are lovely, intelligent, kind people. Why do they feel the need to chat this madness on record when they’ve got a lot more to offer?”
Ed Skrein is known in UK hip hop for his dynamic, rasping raps, but now, at twenty-nine, he’s gone from being a “rowdy, hungry youth” to a father and actor set to appear in his first feature film, Ill Manors, directed by long-time friend Plan B, aka Ben Drew.
Having shared an interest in film for many years, Ben invited Ed to play the part of “an ‘orrible cunt” in his short film Michelle in 2007. Despite being unhappy with his own performance, Ed landed similar parts in Ill Manors, Piggy with Neil Maskell and Nick Love’s The Sweeney without having to audition once.
“It’s really organic but mad,” reflects Ed, on his unexpected career turn. “I’ve been completely winging it so far, but I feel focused and clear about what I need to do. I’m not going to get picked to be inDowntown Abbey or any period dramas. I don’t want to get pigeonholed, but I know my role and my position in the art form, and my life experience is preparation for it.”
The unsavoury roles he plays stand in contrast to Skrein’s warm and friendly nature. And since he had no formal acting training, he drew upon the performance aspect of rapping to help him get into the character.
“It’s mental preparation more than anything else,” he explains. “If you train well, you will be fine on race day. It’s a process; the preparation, the performance, the buzz afterwards and the evaluation. You can apply that to sports, music and acting. I’ve always been pretty self-critical. Everyday I was coming home from set, physically exhausted but I would be buzzing and couldn’t sleep. I’d be there lying in bed until five in the morning just working out what I’d done that day.”
However, Ed has far from abandoned hip hop for this new career, but with this new stage in his life is being reflected in his music. Nowadays, he’s playing world music and folk festivals in a “hip hop freak show” with Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee and his band.
“We did one show where everyone was sitting down. There were people in wheelchairs with cerebral palsy, grey-haired hippies and grannies. I thought it was incredible. We’d lost the pretentiousness and self-importance that hip hop has become and branched out,” he says fondly. “Now, it’s more about trying to surround myself with musicians. I don’t want to take anything away from the early days cyphering outside clubs at five in the morning with bottle of Jack Daniels in my hand. It was a great time but it’s an evolution. I hope in ten years, I’m not doing what I’m doing today.”
Away from the pedestal of celebrity, Ed continues to have an influence on others through his work as a swimming coach, an activity that’s been his main source of income since he was fifteen. Teaching, says Ed, can be something of a buzz, provided you take your knowledge and pass it on.
“I’m very passionate about the use of sports in young people’s lives to build self-esteem and self-discipline and self-confidence. It’s been a big thing for me,” says Ed, who recently, opened his own swimming academy in Islington, North London. “It’s not as drastic as turning kids lives around but it’s about planting positive seeds. However we can spread love and progression, we’ve got to do it.”