Ed Skrein was all cockiness and confidence in The Transporter Refueled, but almost no one noticed. He was Daario Naharis in a few episodes of Game of Thrones before the role was recast. But this year, Skrein seems to be garnering the exposure he deserves. He was the brawny foil, Ajax, in Deadpool, and now the actor turns in a flinty performance as photographer Shane White in Mads Matthiesen’s glossy cautionary tale The Model.
In a nice change of pace from his recent action roles, the model-handsome Skrein is allowed to show more of his range as Shane White, a hotshot photographer who’s tough on his models and tender in his relationship to Emma, (Maria Palm), a Danish model who’s come to work in Paris. After being fired by the Shane, Emma meets and seduces him at a nightclub, and as their affair escalates, alongside her career, things get more complicated and out of control after a series of betrayals.
Skrein sat down with me on the eve of The Model’s release to discuss his new role and, naturally, the part his body plays in his body of work.
The Model seems to be a real change of pace for you after The Transporter Refueled and Deadpool. Can you speak to your shifting gears to play in less genre-driven work such as this?
This film is me going back to what I’m all about. I’ve had fun gallivanting about and doing silly stuff, but my heart is in the underground arts. Not to take anything away from the blockbusters, but my first movie was shot for £150, with me and my friends. I’m trying to get that feeling back. For me, at this point in my career, to be in this position, and to jump between the bigger studio movies and arthouse films—that satisfies me. I’m not your next action hero, and I’ll be doing more action roles, as I love being physical, but my heart is in the arthouse.
I was surprised to discover you never modeled. What are your feelings about your looks? Do you like to look at yourself on screen?
I’m real comfortable in my own skin. I sabotaged my looks for a long time by shaving my head. From 11 to 28, I didn’t have any hair. I wore what I wanted to wear, which was London street fashion. It was two fingers up to “the man.” Handsome wasn’t in my thoughts. I’ve always been confident. I play romantic alpha males, but I never play those guys in real life. I’ve never been smooth or suave or fashionable. But I have writers who write me lines that are suave and smooth, and costumers and hairdressers who make me look suave and smooth. So I just need to connect emotionally with the characters. It’s for other people to judge my aesthetics. I’m not an egomaniac. I enjoy having this opportunity to work with stylists who make me look pretty with textures. I’m lucky to be able to experience this sophisticated side of life. But when I get out of Saville Row suits and silk socks, I put a basketball shirt, my tracksuit bottoms, and my Nike Air Max 90s.
You play a photographer in The Model, but as an actor you’re always being photographed. On which side of the camera are you more comfortable?
I’m most comfortable when I’m in front of the camera playing someone else. When I’m being photographed as myself I feel like a fucking lemon. When they tell me to pose like Blue Steel, I feel stupid. I don’t feel comfortable. Modeling doesn’t feel right for me. I enjoy the emotion of acting, exploring sides of my or your psyche and personality, but to stand still and look interesting that doesn’t satisfy me. There’s a fucking art to it. I did some press photos for Transporter Refueled, and the girls in the film were models. They were killing it at posing; they looked like a million bucks. I would go out there and stand still. I didn’t know what to do. I was told, “Just relax, don’t make a face.” I look like an idiot making a face. Modeling is a craft I respect, but doesn’t come naturally to me.
The women in The Model are seen topless, and one male character is full-frontally naked. While you have a sex scene, you expose only your back. What are your thoughts about doing nudity?
For me personally, I feel I don’t need to. And I suppose that becomes I don’t want to do it. I want to convey emotion through my eyes and body language. I train like an animal six days a week and I eat like an athlete. So it would be an option for me to get my body out. But I told my publicist I don’t want to be known as Mr. Abs and Torso. That doesn’t define me, and not what I want to be known for. By the same token, I do take my top off. When you Google actors, you just see the images from one racy shoot 10 years ago, and that cheapens the effect of them ever playing president. Some folks are comfortable with their sexuality, and they do get their kit off, but that will never be me. When I see actor’s willies, I always look at them differently.