Daniel Mays has been one of the most in demand actors over the past few years
He has “been particularly busy of late” says Daniel Mays, almost apologetically. But it’s true. This most in-demand of actors has been all over our screens in the past few years, playing some of the most memorable characters in TV drama.
Ronnie Biggs in Mrs Biggs; policeman Danny Waldron in the third series of Line Of Duty and the demonic Jim Keats in Ashes To Ashes. He’s got a ton of projects about to be released, too.
But thankfully, he still has time to talk about his latest role in Swimming With Men, a movie that could be described as The Full Monty in Speedos.
He plays Colin, one of the members of a male synchronised swimming team – Swim Club – joined by Rob Brydon when his character Eric is having a simultaneous marriage and mid-life crisis.
Other members of the team are a who’s who of the best of British acting talent: Jim Carter, Rupert Graves, Adeel Akhtar and Thomas Turgoose; and the film’s a sweet and heartwarming tale of male friendships, with men expressing their emotions as well as their bodies.
Was 40-year-old Daniel encouraged by the production team to get a body like an Adonis for the movie? “No!” he laughs. “I think they very much invited the ‘dad-bod’ thing!
“I remember on our first day at swim camp [where the actors learned their underwater skills] we were in the changing rooms getting undressed in front of each other – there’s a line in Swimming With Men about men not wanting to get their bodies out – but in that changing room, we were overcoming that fear and embracing what we look like.
“We’re all different shapes and sizes; but just getting on with it.”
To be convincing as a synchronised swimming team who end up entering the world championships, they had to do a two-week intensive swimming course at the London Aquatic Centre, taught by a specialist coach, explains Daniel: “We’re really proud of the film, but it was hard work being in a swimming pool most days.
Daniel as Colin as Swimming with Men
I’d just come out of doing three heavy dramas and I fancied a change of direction. I’d worked with director Oliver Parker on Dad’s Army and wanted to work with him again
“We had a swim test to start with, and the results somehow got back to my agent. ‘He needs to work on his butterfly but he’s very good at holding his breath underwater’,” he laughs.
“The most difficult move was the ‘windmill’, where everyone goes round and round holding on to each other – I was right on the end and you don’t know when you’re going to get dragged underwater.
“It was a bit of a weird feeling being underwater with those guys, our bodies bumping against each other and holding on to other people’s wrists and ankles for the routines.”
Swimming With Men is as much about the men’s emotional journeys as their insane sporting one and it’s a trip Daniel enjoyed.
“I just loved Aschlin Ditta’s script,” he says. “I’d just come out of doing three heavy dramas and I fancied a change of direction. I’d worked with director Oliver Parker on Dad’s Army and wanted to work with him again.
Thomas Turgoose, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays, Adeel Akhtar, Rob Brydon and Rupert Graves
“The film is obviously in the same ball-park as The Full Monty and ticks all those ‘feel-good British film’ boxes. In this genre, if you get it right and you like the characters and enjoy being with them, a film like this gets you in the right place and you can’t help but go on the journey with them.”
The Swim Club team has a rule: don’t talk about your life outside. But we gradually get to know them and the reasons they’re there and the actors got to know each other too.
“Jim Carter is the most buoyant actor in Equity! The boy cannot sink,” laughs Daniel about his co-star, who plays the avuncular Ted. “I know him through working with his wife Imelda Staunton on Vera Drake, and I kept bumping into him at functions, but a lot of the cast I’d not met before.
“I’m a huge fan of Rob Brydon, he’s brilliant and incredibly funny, so with him in the lead role all the components were in place.
“I remember seeing him in Marion And Geoff, where he played another character who was having marriage problems and a midlife crisis, and he has those same qualities in this.
Daniel in Line of Duty
Everyone in the film has an engaging backstory and it’s a sweet and proper laugh-out-loud funny film, too.”
Daniel’s character, Colin, attempts to keep an eye on Thomas Turgoose’s Tom, a Jack the lad with a gift for getting into trouble. In real life, Daniel is a mentor at his old drama school, Rada, and really enjoys the experience.
“Rada has a buddy scheme when it pairs working actors with a graduating third year student.
When I graduated my ‘buddy’ was Timothy Spall, who was amazing. It’s a very scary time when you leave drama school and try to start a career, so to have someone who knows the business to talk to about the pitfalls and things you should try and focus on is incredibly useful.
“Tim is a wonderful bloke. I’ve worked with him a few times now, so things have come full circle.”
Swimming With Men is in cinemas on Friday.
Daniel has been working on a number of high-profile projects that he’s already hugely proud of: “I’ve done a piece called The Interrogation for Channel 4, about Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot a burglar on his land.
“Steve Pemberton plays Martin and he’s one of the greatest actors I’ve worked with. He’s got the comedy chops, obviously, but as a serious actor he is amazing.”
He has also made Good Omens, an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book, starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, and Fisherman’s Friends, another male bonding film, a true-life story of the Cornish fishermen who became a superstar choir.
He seems especially fond of his role in Mother’s Day, about the Warrington IRA bombing in 1993. Daniel plays Colin Parry, father of 12-year-old Tim who was murdered in the attack and who has gone on to be a peace campaigner.
“To be asked to play Colin was an honour,” he says. “The idea had been percolating in my head for a while and the character was something I didn’t want to get wrong, as it’s such a responsibility to get the story right. The way he and his wife Wendy conducted themselves afterwards was so eloquent, and they didn’t descend into anger or bitterness. I’m completely honoured to be asked to play him.”
Swimming With Men is in cinemas on Friday.