In America I'm more recognised because I'm in a TV show that's been on for three years [West plays detective James McNulty in the HBO drama The Wire]. I'm quite big in the 'hood and with uniformed people, the police, the army and immigration officers. They always come up to me and say, "Hey you're McNulty, what's goin' on man; can I have a photograph?" Being in America is a complete fantasy for me. I'm a fool in England, but I go over there and I'm this working-class hero.
English actors are usually cast as the baddie, the drunk, or the gay man. I'm usually cast as the drunk arsehole boyfriend. In the past it's happened because I've been supporting a well-known actress [Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile, Renee Zellweger in Chicago, Sandra Bullock in 28 Days] who needs to remain single at the end. So I have to prove that ultimately men let beautiful women down or something. In my last film, The Forgotten with Julianne Moore, despite starting off as the drunk jerk I ended up being the hero; it was a major step forward for me.
I went to America to get away from constantly being cast in costume dramas, playing posh people. It's interesting that I've been cast as a working- class cop because I doubt that would happen at home. The films I most enjoy in England are by Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, but it's very unlikely I would be cast in them; I've tried a few times, but I'm perceived as posh.
I'm from Sheffield and I'm very solidly middle class, one of seven Irish Catholics. I was the show-off in the family. I suppose I felt I had to compensate for people's indifference, it happens quite a lot with actors.
I'm not unduly vain; I don't mind looking foolish. It's nice looking good, but it usually just doesn't work out that way, there's a certain resignation about me. I'm enjoying getting older; I think I'll really come into my own when I'm 70. I suppose in my twenties I was a bit awkward, so the older I get the more I come into my self. I'm definitely a bit of a fogey at heart.
Usually I wear ill-matched clothes. I wear actory things too often, like velvets and cords and all those ghastly things; I suppose I'm a bit of that English actor cliche. I've realised I'm becoming more and more embarrassing the older I get. I keep turning up to my six-year-old daughter's school in cycling shorts. I thought she was amused, then today she said, "Please don't pick me up in those shorts any more." I'm fairly unconsciously lacking in taste and style. I do love dressing up smart, but it's better if someone dresses me up rather than me doing it myself, or it ends up in me looking silly.
I shave my head as regularly as I can but it stops you getting parts because people don't believe you can wear a wig or grow hair, and I look pretty severe with a skinhead. I had hair extensions in when I was filming Rock Star [with Mark Wahlberg] and people treated me with such contempt. I think they just thought I was a bit of a dork, which was quite amusing. I was in LA as well and there's not a hell of a lot of sense of humour about your image there. Admittedly I did look like a Springer Spaniel.
`The Wire' starring Dominic West is on the FX289 channel on Wednesdays at 10pmReuse content