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Why screen tough guy Stephen Graham is really a big softie at heart

On-screen, thuggish roles may come naturally for Stephen Graham, but it’s a more laughter-prone, affable persona that greets Keeley Bolger when they meet to discuss tonight's drama The Watchman.

Published 24/08/2016

Hard act: Stephen Graham in his new TV drama The Watchman
Hard act: Stephen Graham in his new TV drama The Watchman
Stephen Graham with his wife Hannah. Photo: Ian West/PA Photos

Stephen Graham is in an odd predicament. Back in 2006, his performance as skinhead neo-Nazi Combo in This Is England was so convincing that, for months afterwards, directors shied away from offering him roles.

Then Martin Scorsese came calling, hand-picking Liverpudlian Graham - who'd previously appeared in the director's 2002 film Gangs Of New York - to play Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire, and his fortunes changed.

Now that work is abundant, with roles as Scrum in Pirates Of The Caribbean, Inspector Heat in The Secret Agent and the lead part in new Channel 4 drama The Watchman, casting agents have another reason for deliberating.

"They go, 'We had you in mind, but we just thought (you'd be busy)', and I've gone, 'I can do it if it's good,'" says the 43-year-old with an exasperated laugh.

"If it's a good script and a good director - it doesn't matter to me whether it's a big role or not. There's no small roles, only small actors."

Graham, a far chirpier presence in real life than the characters he tends to portray.

Off-screen, hardman he ain't. The Liverpool FC supporter is happily married to his "lovely missus" Hannah Walters, who he met while they were studying drama in London 23 years ago. They now live in Leicestershire with their two children, Grace and Alfie.

He lovingly refers to Walters as his "buffer", adding that because of his dyslexia, she reads scripts first, alerting him to any which look promising.

Growing up in a close-knit family in Kirkby, he drew on the well of support from his social worker mum and paediatric nurse dad to help with school work.

"It's not severe, it just meant I had to work that bit harder," he explains of his dyslexia.

Drama was his passion, and he says getting involved with the Everyman Youth Theatre was "life-changing".

He's full of enthusiasm for The Watchman, a thought-provoking one-off drama, directed and written by documentary-maker Dave Nath.

Graham plays Carl, a dad and CCTV operative whose growing frustration with local police officers forces him to intervene in a dangerous situation.

"What sets off as a normal night shift transcends into this huge thing which spirals out of control," he explains.

Ultimately, family - not work - comes first for Graham. And his children appeared as extras in the latest Pirates film. He's turned down roles which involve long stints away from home, adding "my family is the most important thing to me".

  • The Watchman is due to air on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm, and will then be available on 4OD

Belfast Telegraph

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