How We Met: Eddie Marsan & Richard Brake


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The Independent Online

Eddie Marsan, 43

Best known for his villainous and psychopathic roles, such as the spouse-abusing husband in the Bafta-winning 'Tyrannosaur', Marsan (left in picture) has also appeared in blockbusters including 'Sherlock Holmes' and 'War Horse'. He lives in London with his wife and children.

I met Richard at a drama school in London in 1988. I was a naïve, uneducated, working-class guy from Bethnal Green with a limited scope of experience. Richard was this tall, blond, worldly Californian who was the wild man of the school; often drunk or taking illicit drugs. He was a maverick; I'd never experienced anything like it before – and he took me under his wing.

I've never been a big drinker, as it makes me feel nauseous, but I drank a little back then, and it was Richard who gave me my first joint. We were in the local park one weekend and after just one drag I was running around giggling hysterically. He was laughing his head off at me. Hours later I stumbled back to his flat and raided his fridge. After that I was worried he'd be a bad influence.

But as it turned out, over the years I've learnt a lot from him about how to be. He's this calm, Zen-Buddhist kind of bloke. Initially I was the type of guy who wanted to take the world on every day, with this working-class chip on my shoulder; maybe I should have smoked a bit more pot. When I first came out to America to do [2003's] 21 Grams, I thought things were going to take off for me, but they didn't. I felt that if it had been any young Oxbridge actor, they'd have been the next big thing, but no one took any notice with me. But Richard was always there to soothe things.

I believer great art is the absence of ego. As an actor, Richard has a complete lack of vanity and like me he's made a career playing really horrible people such as Bobby DeWitt in The Black Dahlia, while I've taken roles such as [abusive husband] James in [Bafta Award-winning drama] Tyrannosaur.

One of his enduring qualities is his effortlessly cool image; he wears clothes with style and my kids think he's the coolest man in the world. Has some of it rubbed off on me? I may live in a middle-class area, but I still look like a bloke from the council estate. I can't help it; if I put on a tux, I still look like I'm on the door.

Richard Brake, 44

An American stage and screen actor, Brake has appeared in films including 'Batman Begins', 'The Black Dahlia and 'Water for Elephants'. He lives in California.

We were in the same year at drama school; I was the wild one, he was the disciplined one. We were in different classes but we bonded socially as we were both outsiders; me as the American, him as the working-class boy from London. I gave him his first spliff, too, and after that he was worried about what I was going to get him into next.

I first saw him performing in our second year. I was undisciplined, so when I saw the level of risk and imagination in his performances it had a huge impact on me. I thought, OK, it's time to get my act together. Back in those days there was a tendency to celebrate the handsome, resonant-voiced, RP-speaking student; Eddie looks more like a boxer than an actor and I was some lanky man with a Yankee accent, so we knew it wasn't going to happen right away for us.

The 10 years after were lean for both of us. You have to spend a long time simply getting better. I can't tell you how many times I saw Eddie performing above some pub doing an awful play, four people in the audience and not a sniff of anything. But we just stuck with it, doing fringe plays and getting better. I got into meditation and Buddhism by that point and I was no longer drinking. We still talk about [meditation] and all that as it helped us both – it still does and over the years I've probably helped him with some of his working-class hang-ups.

Wherever we are in the world we talk every day, supporting one another. Once, when I had a scene in Munich, it was one of those days where, following several takes, I honestly forgot how to act. And leaving the set after that first day, I remember thinking [the film's director, Steven] Spielberg must think I'm an arse. The first person I called was Eddie, and he told me about when he was on the first day of filming Miami Vice he experienced a similar fiasco; he reminded me how that first day on a film set you often feel everything you do is wrong.

I've never felt a sense of competition with Eddie, partly because what we do is so different and partly, maybe, because it was the friendship which came first, so I never felt like saying, "Look at that bastard, that's his second Bafta"; I suffer from that [feeling] with other friends in the business – just not with him.

Eddie Marsan stars in 'Playhouse Presents... Walking the Dogs', a comedy drama based on the real-life incident of 1982 when Michael Fagan broke into Queen Elizabeth's bedroom, on Thursday at 9pm on Sky Arts 1