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Daniel Mays: I don't want to go to LA and do bad work

Uplifting drama Fisherman's Friends follows the unlikely story of 10 Cornish fisherman who achieve a top 10 hit. Georgia Humphreys hears more from in-demand star Daniel Mays

Touching tale: Daniel Mays with Tuppence Middleton in Fisherman’s Friends
Touching tale: Daniel Mays with Tuppence Middleton in Fisherman’s Friends
Stars of the show: Daniel (front) with Sam Swainsbury, David Hayman, James Purefoy, Dave Johns, Tuppence Middleton, Maggie Steed and Meadow Nobrega
Daniel Mays

If there was a word to sum up Daniel Mays' workload right now, it would be "mental". The Essex-born actor (40) has a new film out - comedy drama Fisherman's Friends, based on the real-life story of the sea shanty group from Cornwall who, after being discovered singing on a harbour, were signed by Universal Records and achieved a top 10 hit.

This month also sees him star in the new series of Porters on the Dave Channel, he's in the hugely anticipated adaptation of Good Omens (due to be released on Amazon Prime in May) and he's just finished filming comedy-thriller Temple with Mark Strong for Sky One - and that's just scratching the surface of his busy schedule.

"That's my next project, there," he exclaims, pointing to a sizeable script sat on the arm of the sofa on which he's perched.

"Temple ran over by three weeks and I start that on March 18, so I'm scared I'm not going to get the lines in my head.

"It's good to be busy, but I just want to make sure I've got a clear head for each project that comes along."

Even though he's clearly a little weary, down-to-earth Mays is pleasantly easy to talk to.

He seems like, to put it simply, a genuinely nice guy.

I particularly appreciate his enthusiasm when I tell him I'm Cornish myself - he starts asking me the questions instead of vice versa.

"When you come over the (River) Tamar, it's a different world, isn't it?" he asks.

Indeed, that's what you get a sense of in the heartfelt Fisherman's Friends, in which Mays plays cynical music executive Danny.

While on a stag weekend in the tiny village of Port Isaac, Danny's pranked into trying to sign a group of shanty-singing fishermen.

But, after ditching London life for a while, spending time with the band and getting to know the other locals, he starts to question the life choices he's made so far.

"He's someone who's been completely married to his job. He's never had a real, steady relationship, he's always been in the rat race and he knows where he's going. He's become very successful - he's got the Range Rover and the gadgets and the gold discs," Mays explains.

"Everyone can relate to that - when they maybe come to a crossroads in their life and they think, 'What is important? How successful am I?'"

The role meant five weeks filming in picturesque Port Isaac (ITV's Doc Martin is shot there too).

Mays followed this with a holiday in the county with his wife, Lou, and their kids, 11-year-old Mylo, and Dixie (6) - an "idyllic" week which included him going surfing with his son.

"It's such a beautiful part of the world and I would love to go back - I will go back," he tells me.

"It's good to get out of the city, isn't it? Recharge the batteries."

Even though he was relieved to leave the Cornish accent to co-stars such as James Purefoy and Tuppence Middleton, Mays found the sea shanties infectious (personal favourites of his include South Australia and John Kanaka).

"When we weren't filming, we would be in the pub and, invariably, we would all break out into song," he recalls joyfully.

"And then I got to sing with the real Fisherman's Friends at the wrap party when they held a big concert. So, it was a fitting end to it all. It was a lovely experience."

Doing such a feelgood film was some welcome light relief for the Line Of Duty star, considering that he's done so much heavy work in the past.

Notably, early on in his career, for dramas All Or Nothing then Vera Drake, he was directed by Mike Leigh ("I would simply say that he made me the actor that I am"), who is known for intense working methods.

As for how Mays - the third of four sport-mad brothers - got into the industry, he signed up for the Italia Conti stage school as a young teenager, before winning a place at Rada.

Something he's spoken about previously in interviews is the need for more opportunities for underprivileged and working-class actors.

"People are much more aware of that struggle now," he says when asked if it's something that's improved as his career has gone on.

"There was a period a couple of years back when that argument was in the public domain quite a lot ... (there were) privileged actors that were getting every award under the sun.

"My argument with that, always, is there needs to be people from poorer backgrounds who are writers, directors, producers and the executives in the upper offices that make the decisions, to give working-class voices a platform to tell stories.

"We should always have a place for that. All I'm saying is, there just has to be a balance of things."

Discussing his landmark birthday last year, Mays says he feels "much more confident at 40 than I did throughout my 20s".

He adds: "So, maybe that confidence will keep growing and growing, who knows?"

On the topic of what's next, he doesn't scoff at the suggestion of heading to LA for roles.

"I would be lying if I said that isn't something I'm attracted to because there's lots of English actors doing well out there," he says, suggesting he's possibly got a Netflix show lined up.

His tone changes slightly as he adds, warily: "I don't want to go there and do bad work, though. That's the only thing, do you know what I mean?

"I feel like I've got a high calibre of work going on here, so I don't want to damage that.

"It would have to be the right thing, but it's always hard - I have children and it's whether or not you uproot them."

Do his kids have any desire to follow in his footsteps?

"Well, Mylo was in Matilda in the West End for nine months," he says, before adding with a chuckle: "But I think it had the reverse effect.

"He's just enjoying just being a normal boy at school at the moment.

"I mean, if they want to do that at a later stage, I've always said whatever they're enthusiastic about... you just want your kids to find their passion in something. And I'll support them to the end."

Fisherman's Friends is in cinemas now

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