My Secret Life: Lennie James, Actor, age 42

Interview,Charlotte Philby
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:31

The home I grew up in... was a bog-standard, turn-of-the-century terraced council house, converted into flats. My mother, brother and I lived upstairs, an Irish man lived downstairs, with a Jamaican family to our left and a Greek family to our right.

When I was a child I wanted to be... Daredevil, the blind superhero. I spent hours walking around my house – in fact, the whole neighbourhood – with my eyes closed, trying to increase my senses.

The moment that changed me for ever... was when my mum died. I was 10, and my brother and I went to live in a children's home. Having shared a home with my mum and brother, I found myself sharing a house with 18 other children.

My greatest inspiration... is my mum. She was a dynamic personality and is my touchstone for everything I do – even now. At all times her voice is there with me.

My real-life villain... is anyone who tries to justify ignorance, particularly those who use religion as an excuse for war, or those who use a fear of the unknown as an attempt to excuse racism.

If I could change one thing about myself... I would be less understanding of other people's faults. I seem to spend a lot of time making excuses for people who screw me, just because it saves on confrontation.

At night I dream of ... being a superhero!

What I see when I look in the mirror... is my brother, which is very, very scary. The older we get, the more alike we look, and I can tell you now: I am not happy about it.

My style icon... is Marvin Gaye.

My favourite item of clothing... is a Gucci suit that was given to me for the premiere of Snatch. Not only does it look pretty damn good, but as it was tailored to my body a few years back, it's an incentive to keep me at my fighting weight. One suit, two purposes: great!

I wish I'd never worn... leg warmers.

It's not fashionable but I like... an old, classic, Levi's denim jean-jacket.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at... hairdressing. I have three daughters who are now teenagers, but when they were growing up I did the whole lot: washing, moisturising, plaiting in different styles – bespoke, of course. I can do braids, extensions, cane-row, zig-zags ... shall I go on?

You may not know it but I'm no good at... balancing.

All my money goes on... hair products, ballet lessons, piano classes, cello classes, various items of women's clothing and cosmetics, and none of it for me, might I add. I'm a chequebook and a taxicab.

If I have time to myself... I visit the National Parks in southern California. There's no one ever around, so I walk with my daughters, say stupid things and do stupid impressions.

I drive... a Lexus hybrid in Los Angeles. In London, we have a Renault Megane Scenic for the family, and for me, a Habana Retro scooter – the version with sensible handlebars. I call her The Babe, and miss her deeply.

My house is... in the UK, it's a four-bed detached house in Willesden Green, north-west London, with a lovely garden, big rooms and high ceilings. It's a real family home. In LA, we rent a big wooden house about six minutes' drive from the sea, all open-plan with a sunken front-room and wood-fire.

My most valuable possession is... my laptop.

My favourite building... is the Hoover Building [on the A40 in west London].

Movie heaven... Harvey, followed by Mr Smith Goes to Washington, followed by It's a Wonderful Life, then The Sweet Smell of Success, before a cup of tea. Finally, Toy Story.

A book that changed me... was Beloved, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison.

My favourite work of art... "Try a Little Tenderness" by Otis Redding.

The last album I bought/downloaded... was the first Roachford album, because I heard "Cuddly Toy" on the radio last week and remembered going to see them in concert years ago. They're just great, though a little Eighties at times: all drums and big hands.

The person who really makes me laugh... is Richard Pryor, who was not just possibly the funniest man ever born, but a vehicle of truth.

The shop I can't walk past... the Apple Store.

The best invention ever... is football. Sure, there might be more important inventions – I'm not being flippant – but football is not only a fantastic game, it does a lot of good, bringing people together and breaking down barriers.

In 10 years' time, I hope to be... back in London and doing what I have been doing, because I'm lucky enough to be working at my dream job, having failed to find work as a blind superhero.

My greatest regret... is never getting to know my mum as an adult.

My life in seven words... lights up and lights down, taxicab, chequebook.

A life in brief

A film and TV actor, Lennie James was born in south London on 11 October 1965 and trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He made his screen breakthrough as Sol in Guy Ritchie's Snatch, starring Brad Pitt, and has now appeared in more than 20 movies, including a recent role in the British film Outlaw. He also stars in the new series of the US TV sci-fi drama Jericho which continues this Friday at 8pm on the Hallmark Channel. Lennie James is married with three daughters and divides his time between London and Los Angeles.

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