Rupert Penry-Jones : I've always wanted to play a baddie, I could be as charming as possible and then become more psychotic
Rupert Penry-Jones is best known for playing chiselled good guys, but with the third series of Stan Lee's Lucky Man now back on TV, James Rampton talks to the actor about why finally playing the villain is 'an absolute joy'
The first thing I see when walking on to the set of Stan Lee's Lucky Man, Sky One's popular superhero drama, is two actors engaged in some serious martial arts. Given that I've travelled to Hong Kong to get a glimpse of the new series, this only seems appropriate - it's the home of Bruce Lee, after all.
Entering a room decorated with ornate dragons, the fists and feet are flying like a scene from, er, Enter the Dragon. Meanwhile, items of heavyweight furniture are sailing across the splendiferous interior.
This is The Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a huge, iconic six-storey barge which has previously played leading roles in movies such as Skyfall and Infernal Affairs 2.
Our hero Harry Clayton (played by James Nesbitt) is being attacked by his dastardly nemesis, Samuel Blake (Rupert Penry-Jones), a dementedly driven villain who is immune to pain. Blake is pursuing him to the ends of the earth in order to steal the bracelet which endows Clayton with his particular superpower: that he is always lucky.
From the impeccably mannered Captain Wentworth in Persuasion and the upstanding MI5 agent Adam in Spooks to the elegant QC Clive Reader in Silk and the righteous DI Chandler in Whitechapel, Penry-Jones has "previous" in playing chiselled good guys.
So it is a neat thought to cast him as the charismatic psychopath in Stan Lee's Lucky Man, the third series of which began on Sky One last night.
Taking a breather on one of the seats that has just been turned the right way up again after the fight, Penry-Jones explains that it was this idea of "no more Mr Nice Guy" which drew him to the character of Blake.
Sporting a black V-neck T-shirt, khaki shorts and immaculately swept-back blonde hair, the 47-year-old actor explains: "I've always wanted to play a baddie. I'm used to being the good guy, so I wanted to be the bad guy here. I could be as charming as possible to begin with and then gradually become more and more psychotic."
The actor, who in person brings all of that charm and none of that psychosis, is slowly getting his breath back, and continues: "Playing a baddie is an absolute joy. You're able to dig out all those things about yourself which you try to hide in the rest of your life. What's especially fun is to play someone who is doing innately bad things, but nevertheless believes he is doing the right thing.
"Nobody believes they are in the wrong. As far as he's concerned, he is the good guy and everyone else has got it wrong."
Throughout this third series of Lucky Man, which is based on characters created by the comic book legend Stan Lee, Blake and Clayton are locked in an exhilarating fight to the death.
The two characters are linked by an aura of superhero invincibility. Penry-Jones says: "How do you beat someone who doesn't feel pain? And how do you beat someone who is always lucky? Blake and Clayton are two sides of the same coin. They're both charming - it's a real charm-off between them. Also, the parents of both men died in fires, so Blake and Clayton are both forged in the flames."
Gazing out from the Jumbo Floating Restaurant over Hong Kong, a teeming harbour fringed by some of the most valuable real estate in the world, Penry-Jones reflects on how visiting a country like this is one of the perks of the job.
"Spending time in Hong Kong was one of the big selling points for me. It's been absolutely fascinating to be here and have the opportunity to dip your toe into such a different culture."
Penry-Jones, whose wife, actress Dervla Kirwan, has quite by chance also been filming the ITV drama Strangers in Hong Kong at the same time, continues: "I've never been anywhere like this before. It's an incredible melange of Western and Chinese cultures. You could never replicate this vibrancy in a studio in London."
The actor, who has two children with Kirwan, has been travelling quite a bit of late. He has just returned from three years in Toronto, where he was starring as Mr Quinlan, an ancient half-vampire alien with a melted face, in The Strain. This is Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro's acclaimed American TV series about an evil strain of vampirism threatening to destroy New York City.
Funnily enough, being encased in such major prosthetics only added to the appeal; the actor was attracted to the idea of vanishing behind an entirely different face.
"I was getting stuck with the same roles, and people were getting sick of me," he says. "I felt I was trapped in shows like Whitechapel and Silk where I was all suited and booted. Producers wouldn't think of me as anything apart from policemen or lawyers.
"So I wanted to do something different, and you don't get more different than a half-breed vampire who is over a thousand years old."
With a wry grin, he admits that after a short while spending several hours a day in the make-up chair, he began to regret the decision. "But in the end, it was great working with the new face. I do feel that I disappeared behind the mask of Mr Quinlan. I discovered that the less I did, the better. I didn't have to do much work as Mr Quinlan - the face did it all for me."
Penry-Jones adds: "Guillermo Del Toro comes with a certain amount of weight, and to work on a show run by him was great. I don't know if I would have got this part as Blake if I hadn't done The Strain."
The actor closes by underlining how playing the character of Blake in Lucky Man has fulfilled many of his childhood fantasies.
"It's real Boys' Own stuff. Every day I'm doing something really fun. We just shot a scene where I'm on a speedboat firing a machine gun at people. If the producers had told me that I was just doing that scene, it would have been enough to convince me to sign up."
Penry-Jones concludes that, "Blake is one of those characters who has all the best bits without having to explain to the audience what's going on or do any exposition. He's constantly blowing people up, beating people up or shooting people. It's perfect".
Stan Lee's Lucky Man, Sky One, Friday, 9pm