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Daniel Mays wanted to perform after seeing Michael Jackson but 'when I try to dance like him, I last 30 seconds'

In Channel 4's dark new drama Born To Kill, Daniel Mays plays a single dad whose daughter gets close to a teenage psychopath. The actor tells Jeananne Craig about the role and the moment he realised he wanted to be an actor


Varied career: Daniel Mays has starred in big films and TV series

Varied career: Daniel Mays has starred in big films and TV series

Complicated tale: Daniel with Lara Peake in Born To Kill

Complicated tale: Daniel with Lara Peake in Born To Kill


TV role: Daniel with Vicky McClure and Martin Compston in Line Of Duty

TV role: Daniel with Vicky McClure and Martin Compston in Line Of Duty

Family time: Daniel with his partner, Louise Burton

Family time: Daniel with his partner, Louise Burton

Getty Images


Varied career: Daniel Mays has starred in big films and TV series

Few young actors would turn down help from acclaimed star Daniel Mays, but his son, Mylo, is confident enough in his own abilities.

The 11-year-old has grown up visiting his dad on film and TV sets - including a six-month stint in South Africa, where Mays was recording sci-fi drama, Outcasts - and now stars in the West End hit, Matilda The Musical.

"He's done school plays in the past and I say to him, 'Do you want me to give you a hand'?, and he's like, 'No I'm absolutely fine'," says Mays, (39). "He's quite dogged and determined and assured really, with his own ability."

The Vera Drake star admits show business can be a precarious career choice - "like playing snakes and ladders" - but if his own career is anything to go by, it's certainly a varied and interesting one.

Since attending Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in his youth, Mays has starred in big-name films such as Atonement and (much to Mylo's delight) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, TV series including Line Of Duty and Mrs Biggs, as well as acclaimed theatre productions.

His latest project is Born To Kill, a four-part Channel 4 drama about Sam (played by newcomer Jack Rowan), a teenager experiencing psychopathic desires.

Mays - who also has a four-year-old daughter, Dixie, with his partner, Louise - stars as Bill, a single dad whose moody daughter, Chrissy (Lara Peake), forms a bond with Sam. To further complicate matters, Bill finds himself attracted to Sam's mother, Jenny (Romola Garai).

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"It's not your bog-standard serial killer drama," says Mays. "It becomes something much more evocative, which makes it as much a coming-of-age story as watching this boy succumb to his evil tendencies."

Having played dark characters - from an abusive boyfriend in Mike Leigh's All Or Nothing (2002), to a convicted murderer in 2012 TV drama Public Enemies - Mays admits it's "nice to play someone on a relatively even keel" this time.

As for Sam, he says: "Even when you play dark characters like him, you have to see them in the round, and you have to humanise them. That's what makes it really interesting."

A scrap on a school bus in episode one did remind Mays of his own school days - up to a point.

"It made me think of fights that happened in playgrounds and things like that; that thing where people form a circle, quite gladiatorial. It's very brutal, the violence that happens in playgrounds," the Essex-born star muses.

"But then I went to stage school and it was fine. It was just leotards."

The decision to become an actor was "kind of a left-field decision" in a "sports-mad family", but Mays' loved ones have always been supportive.

He first discovered an interest in performing after going to see Michael Jackson in concert at Wembley Stadium. "I had sort of a light bulb moment," Mays recalls. "I had this compulsion to perform, or at that stage, dance.

"I can remember going to school discos, and Billie Jean would come on and everyone around me would be like, 'Danny's gonna do his dance'," he adds. "The last time I attempted to was at my best friend's 40th, and in about 30 seconds, I was off panting in the corner..."

Despite his impressive film credits, he doesn't seem to attract the same amount of attention or scrutiny as some other stars.

To date, he's dabbled in Hollywood rather than fully conquered it, but is, he says, looking to focus more on La La Land.

"It's something on the horizon I'd like to have a crack at, because there are lots of brilliant British actors doing it.

"But I wouldn't necessarily want to decamp the whole family," he explains. "I think it would be a great place to work, but not live necessarily.

"It's so different. So vast. You go out there for meetings and spend half the day in the car. You have to wrap your head around it."

For now, he has plenty of work on his plate at home.

On top of Born To Kill, there's upcoming Sky Atlantic show Guerrilla (which will also air in the US), BBC Two drama Against The Law, and The Limehouse Golem, alongside Bill Nighy.

After that, he's not sure. "We just sort of see what role's coming next.

"As much as I want to be creative in the choices I make, I still have to look out for the family, pay the bills and all that. It's a juggling act, really."

With a smile, Mays quips: "Mylo will be the one to crack Hollywood, and I'll put my feet up."

Born To Kill begins on Channel 4 on Thursday, April 20 at 9pm

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