Birmingham-born actor Adrian Lester has played Hamlet and Henry V, but as he returns to television with a new series of Hustle, he tells Wil Marlow he would have liked a crack at Spider Man...
One thing you might not know about Adrian Lester ? he of the acclaimed stage acting, and star of films with the likes of Emma Thompson, as well as sophisticated BBC drama Hustle ? he loves comics.
?I prefer the term graphic novel,? he says with a shy grin. ?It makes me sound older and a bit more mature. I love that stuff because you?ve basically got a storyboard, you?ve got characters, what they say, the look, where the camera?s pointing, everything.?
The Birmingham-born actor pauses, slamming a professional break on his fanboy enthusiasm. ?But maybe we should talk about Hustle.?
Before we do, the actor, who returns to the small screen tonight in the second series of Hustle, reveals his excitement at the new Keanu Reeves film Constantine, which is based on the Hellblazer graphic novels.
?When I heard they were doing it I was jumping up and down,? says Adrian. ?I was demanding my agent to get me a role as third demon from the left or something, anything.?
His dream didn?t come true this time, but with so many films being made from comics and graphic novels at the moment it may well do in future.
?I would love to have done Spider Man,? says Adrian. ?I?m a big fan of him. And I?m a big fan of Daredevil. That got destroyed didn?t it? It was crap.
?But what?s left that I?d like to play is Iron Man. With most of the superheroes from comic books they don?t take risks with casting. It would be what they call adventurous casting. But I?d love to do that.?
For now though, Adrian will have to make do with playing an anti-hero ? the Robin Hood-like con artist Mickey ?Bricks? Stone in Hustle.
And as well as battling his usual nemesis ? the greedy and corrupt ?Marks? he and his gang quietly relieve of their wealth ? in the first episode we see him battling one of his own gang, in a bet he has with his younger rival Danny Blue, played by Marc Warren.
?The first con comes from a bet between Danny and Mickey,? explains Adrian. ?Danny says, ?I bet I can con this guy with my methods? and Mickey says, ?I bet you can?t?. So off Danny goes. He takes over deciding what to do and Mickey just does what he says.
?It?s a very funny episode. But there is still this friction between them. You see their different styles and methods but eventually they start to complement each other.
?Mickey?s very stiff and knows all the rules and sticks with them, but then Danny, while not being fully aware of all that, is brilliant at the moment-to-moment improvisation. Mickey has to cover all the bases, Danny just goes in and does it.?
Adrian is one of those actors who believes variety is the spice of life and doesn?t hang around in a role too long. As such, Hustle is the first long- running series he?s got involved in, but it suits his way of working.
?Every week I?m playing a different character,? he says. ? Although I?m playing the same person, that person isn?t doing the same thing in the same place week-in, week-out. I?m not behind the bar or in a shop with my problems and my family all the time.
?We?re pretending to be different people from different places with different accents and styles of dress every single week, and that?s how I like it. Whenever we get a script we have no idea what we?re going to be called upon to do.?
Brought up in Edgbaston, with his older brother, by their mother (Adrian?s father left when he was nine ? he also has a younger sister from his mother?s second marriage), Adrian started his acting career with Birmingham Youth Theatre before attending RADA.
It was there he met his wife, actress Lolita Chakrabarti, with whom he now has two daughters ? Lila, four, and one-year-old Jasmine ? and set off on what was to become an impressive stage career which has included an Olivier award-winning performance in Sweeney Todd, and, even more notably, the female role of Rosalind in Cheek by Jowl?s all-male production of As You Like It.
Then in 1998 he was unexpectedly chosen to star opposite John Travolta and Emma Thompson in Mike Nichols? political drama Primary Colors. It was his big Hollywood break ? but much to his surprise and everybody else?s, he ended up not working for a year afterwards.
His film career has limped along with roles in Brit-flicks Maybe Baby and Born Romantic, and more recently blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, while the theatre career has continued to flourish, playing Hamlet for lengendary director Peter Brook and Henry V at the National Theatre. But with Hustle, the world of television has been opened up to Adrian.
He has already done a series of American sitcom Girlfriends, but you sense it was to pay the mortgage. He doesn?t like talking about it and grimaces as he reluctantly discusses how he had to dress up as a lobster for one episode.
?It was about romance and love and the things you do to win the heart of the person you love,? he says, in a half-hearted attempt to make it sound good.
His playing of all the fields does seem to pay off ? at one point in 2003 he was so busy he had a weekend where he finished The Day After Tomorrow in Montreal, came to the UK to do a performance of Henry V, flew to America for two episodes of Girlfriends, flew home and did a day on Hustle, then went back to Henry
?Not with two kids. I mean it?s hard to say no to because that?s a lot of pay packets coming in. But it?s hard because you need a good night?s sleep to recover, but with two kids you need a week because each night is broken sleep.
?I haven?t had a week of sleeping all the way through for two years,? he laughs.
Although Adrian obviously adores his other, most important, role of being a father, for now he?s happy with things as they are and hasn?t even courted the idea of a third addition to the family.
?No, we?re not looking at three,? he says. ?We?re sure. At least I think we are. I believe in many ways that that might be pushing things. Whether one comes along or not, I don?t know, but for now two is enough.?