In your new movie The Crew, you play yet another nasty little psycho called Franner. Was he based on anyone?
Yeah. When I was a kid and we used to go to clubs back in the days of happy house music. There were always these shady fellas sitting in the corners with a dead expression on their face. They would shake your hand one minute and then be battering someone out back the next. I tried to think of those old type gangsters I’d heard of, because kids these days are just running around shooting and stabbing people. At least Franner’s got a few morals.
He does nail a kid to a tree, though…
Yeah, he does. That was a really good scene to do, actually. Those scenes are good fun. I’m never going to play Mr Darcy, am I?
No. What does your family think when they see you beating the crap out of people on screen?
I’d like to play a ‘loving father of two’. But I think people find them boring. I’ve just done a thing called Occupation – it’s about soldiers in Basra and I don’t beat anyone up in that. It was nice to play a character who wasn’t violent, he’s just a bit of a jack the lad.
Did you do military training for that? You did a lot for Band Of Brothers, didn’t you?
Yeah, I did. You had to put your gear on, carry your weapon and then you’d have to march to set every morning. It put you in the right frame of mind. On Occupation we had to do the ground exercises and went out with a proper military advisor. You really appreciate that your life is in this man’s hands – and if he fucks up or makes a mistake, you’re dead. It’s about getting that understanding, because at the end of the day we’re actors and we pretend.
When you did This Is England, did you ever leave the skinhead tattoos on after work?
I did once. We went bowling in Sheffield, and I forgot to take all my tatts off. This lovely Asian family walked past and they were horrified. I even smiled at them, which must have made it even worse. I thought the lad recognised me from Snatch, I gave him this beaming smile and walked back to bowling. And Shane [Meadows, This Is England director] said, “Fucking hell, you’ve still got your tattoos on.” The family looked at me like I was going to kill them all.
You did Gangs Of New York and you’ve got Public Enemies with Johnny Depp coming up. Are there times when you catch yourself and think, “Wow”?
Obviously. When I was playing footie in my nana’s back garden I never thought I’d be running around with machine guns being Baby Face Nelson with Michael Mann [director of Public Enemies]; I never thought that shit would happen. And now, Scorsese is doing a television serial for HBO, and I’ve been offered the part of Al Capone. So it’s not too bad at the minute.
Did you get on with Johnny Depp?
Johnny’s a lovely man. I was away filming Public Enemies and my wife Hannah was at home helping with her mum who was terminally ill. We decided to get married because we wanted her to be there. I was a bit lonely and it was a hard time, so I used to sit with Johnny and I told him we were getting married. And on the day of the wedding he sent 36 bottles of pink champagne. So we had a champagne wedding and everyone that came went home with a bottle, courtesy of the lovely Mr Depp.
Are you ever nervous when you meet massive actors? Like with Gangs Of New York: were you nervous that Leonardo DiCaprio might be a dick?
I’m not that nervous really. I think it’s because I met Kenny Dalglish when I was a kid and that was it for me. No one else can touch that. Once you’ve met the king…
Talking of dated footballers – you’re playing Billy Bremner in the adaptation of The Damned United. Are they putting you in a ginger wig?
I have the scariest ginger wig you’ve ever seen! I sent Hannah a picture and she said I looked like Wes Brown’s older brother. Wes is a nice lad and all that, but he’s not the best-looking fella in the world is he? So, for my missus to say I looked like his older fucking brother was not nice. My Dad was worse. He said I looked like Charlie Drake…
How do you think The Damned United will be received? Being mainly about Leeds United and Brian Clough in the ’70s, it’s pretty ‘niche’.
Michael Sheen’s performance [as Brian Clough] is unbelievable. There was a moment when we were waiting to do a scene and he walked onto the pitch and I was like ‘fuck me, that’s it.’ I don’t want to sound wanky and actor-y, but he made us believe we were there, at that moment in time. He was Brian Clough, there’s no two ways about it. It was amazing.
Is it true you got the role in Snatch by accident?
It wasn’t the Snatch gig – it was called The Hard Case, Guy Ritchie’s first short film. I think Guy was watching a tape and I popped up being a little funny Scouse builder and he said “I want to get him in.” He phoned me up and I went in. But for some reason I pretended I was a cockney. I felt like such a twat. Guy said (adopts cockney accent): “What are you doing? You’re a fucking Scouser.” And I went, “Yeah I know. But I heard you only wanted cockneys.” It was awful. And then he went, “No, sit down and shut up.” So it was really nice. I’d like to work with Guy again.
What’s the sickest you’ve ever been?
The sickest I’ve ever been was also the moment when I realised how in love I was. I had food poisoning and I was sitting on the toilet shitting through the eye of the needle and Hannah was holding a bowl in front of me to be sick in. I was going “I… love… you…” in between vomiting and she just kept gently stroking my head. There was a moment of clarity within my sickness when I realised how much I loved this woman and how much she loved me…
Wow, we’re weirdly jealous. What was the last fancy dress costume you wore?
Actually it was pretty good. Me, Hannah and some friends went to a party dressed as Kiss! We looked amazing, we had the hair, the make-up and everything! I went as the one with the lightening on his face.
You mean Ace Frehley, aka The Spaceman?
Yeah that’s him, it was a good effort all round.
Finally, you’re playing a knight in Season Of The Witch, have you learnt to ride a horse?
Yeah, I actually cracked it the other day. I galloped. I’ve got my own horse for the film as well, he’s called Fuego! It means fire! He’s a proper stallion. I think he’s a bit horny, though. he keeps bowling over to the lady horses and neighing. It’s quite scary.
The Crew is out now on DVD