Exit stage right on his skateboard

Steven Mackintosh takes a break from rehearsing for 'My Zinc Bed' to talk to Madeleine North
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The Independent Culture

Under the Westway. It's where all the discerning London actors are hanging out these days. At least, it's where you might find Steven Mackintosh, star of Lock, Stock ... and Land Girls, of a weekend, trying out the latest skateboarding moves alongside some considerably more nimble lads of half his age. "It's a passion of mine," Mackintosh confides almost sheepishly during our interview in the vast rococo rehearsal space for his latest project, My Zinc Bed.

Under the Westway. It's where all the discerning London actors are hanging out these days. At least, it's where you might find Steven Mackintosh, star of Lock, Stock ... and Land Girls, of a weekend, trying out the latest skateboarding moves alongside some considerably more nimble lads of half his age. "It's a passion of mine," Mackintosh confides almost sheepishly during our interview in the vast rococo rehearsal space for his latest project, My Zinc Bed.

Perhaps he thinks his current boss, the esteemed playwright David Hare, wouldn't approve of such non-cerebral activities. Hare enters just as Mackintosh is revealing his hobby; one senses it's not a detail he's shared with the writer/director, or fellow cast members, Julia Ormond and Tom Wilkinson.

"I tried a few stunts and fell dreadfully," he recalls. "I went smack on to my spine and I was like, 'OK, I'm definitely 33'." Not that he'll get any reproving remarks from his actor wife of 12 years. Mackintosh says she's also a fan of the sport. The couple have just penned a short screenplay on the very topic and are hoping to co-direct it. (Mackintosh is characteristically self-effacing when he mentions the project. He's not spoken about it before, he says, and initially he talks of having written it with a "friend", concerned, perhaps, that the partner angle will compromise its credibility.)

Mention Mackintosh's name and most people will draw a blank, but his face is a familiar one. He has appeared in 17 films and numerous TV dramas, most notably the BBC's Undercover Heart and their award-winning Dickens serialisation of Our Mutual Friend. Antonia Bird's new BBC film, Care, is his latest screen outing. In many ways, he's the British equivalent of Hollywood's Kevin Bacon: prolific, low-key and versatile, although Mackintosh does menacing far more convincingly - it's those wiry, watchful eyes.

David Hare's latest constitutes a tentative return to the theatre for Mackintosh, who last graced a stage eight years ago. By his own admission, he's been resisting theatrical roles. "I'd had some previous, fairly unrewarding experiences in the theatre and it left me feeling, 'Ah no, it's not for me'." Hare's script (carefully guarded by the PR woman when I tried to sneak a peek) was special enough to tempt him back. Mackintosh plays a poet, employed by Tom Wilkinson's entrepreneur to spice up his internet site. As far as one can deduce from the cryptic press release, Mackintosh has an equally invigorating effect on Wilkinson's wife (Julia Ormond).

Asked to elucidate, Mackintosh (no doubt under orders) is oblique. "All I can say very clearly - which was what attracted me to it in the first place - is 'addiction'. It's a theme of the play. It relates to all of the characters."

It's hard to imagine Mackintosh being addicted to anything: he's far too level-headed. It's a disposition he's clearly trying to inspire in his two young daughters, who, he is relieved to say, are currently unimpressed by their parents' occupation. When I suggest that they might catch the acting bug by osmosis, he looks alarmed. "Christ! Don't say that." Would he actually not like them to become actors? "I would not like them to become actors," he states unequivocally. Why? He considers long and hard before answering. "Particularly for women, I think it's quite difficult. Just in terms of competition and their perception of themselves, the whole physical nature of it, the sexual element ... Do you understand what I mean?"

Clearly, his thoughts are of dishonourable directors and semi-nude publicity shots on the fronts of magazines. Mackintosh himself is famously self-conscious. He hates having his picture taken for interviews (I am surprised to find him perched like a gargoyle on top of the mantelpiece for the photographer when I arrive). How does he square this shyness with the inherent exhibitionism of his profession? "Yes, it's a very weird one that. Because it's me, I suppose. I guess it sounds a bit naff or maybe it sounds pretentious, but it's true. There's something exposing about someone saying, 'Let's have you, Steven, being relaxed for us': suddenly I'm like (he bangs his mug down on the table to make his point), now I'm lost. I'm happy when there's something projected on to me, I feel like I can deal with it." Does he have to hide behind the role, then? "Are you talking about in life? No! I'm talking about in the glare of cameras. In costume - fine, do what you like. But me, Steven, being in front of a camera somehow projecting something of me is just confusing. Suddenly I have to think about, who am I? What am I presenting myself to be?"

For one so unusually grounded (he is not emotionally neurotic like so many of his profession), his insecurities are perhaps surprising. But he is essentially a private man and his greatest pleasure (away from the Westway) is a simple one. "Nothing makes me happier than a bowl of pasta and something mindless on the telly. But then, if I'm fulfilled in other aspects of my life then I am happy to do that."

'My Zinc Bed': Royal Court, SW1 (020 7565 5000), previews from Thursday to 28 October

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