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60 Seconds: Actor Eddie Marsan on throwing co-stars off ships and his new thriller Entebbe

What were the challenges of playing such an identifiable real-life character?

I couldn’t just be me and play him. I had to try to change into him or give an impression of him at the period. I always do that anyway. Peres had a very weird Polish/Israeli accent that even Israelis find weird. I enjoy disappearing as much as possible.

So is it a compliment when people say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were in such-and-such a film’?

It is a compliment, although it’s not good for my business! It’s very good in a sense that it means people have different ideas of me but it means you don’t build as much momentum as other people.

Accent challenge: Shimon Peres

Is there a typical kind of character in the scripts you receive?

At the moment I’m being asked to play historical characters more. There’s a movie called Backseat about George W Bush and I’m playing Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy minister of defence. Before that, I was asked to play Heinrich Himmler and Bob Dylan. Because audiences don’t have a fixed idea of me, I can become something else.

What were you obsessed with when you were younger?

When I was 16, I became a born-again Christian for about six months. I had a bit of a breakdown, I think.

Wow, really?

Yeah, I got a bit crazy with it, I was a bit lost. I’ve always been fascinated by philosophy and politics, always trying to find an answer. I don’t think there is an answer but I’m trying to find it.

Tell us more…

My parents were divorced and I was a bit disorientated. I’d left school at 15 with no qualifications and a brother of a friend of mine was a pentecostal Christian. He was a very nice man but I took it too far. I went crazy, I became very similar to how young people react when they become extremists in other religions now.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

Try to have an ordinary life and an extraordinary career. My old drama teacher said have a mortgage, have kids, worry about normal things then you’ll love your work and take refuge in your work. Don’t go to work to be adored or have power… I’ve got a very ordinary life and a lovely career.

Have you ever witnessed that kind of diva-ish behaviour?

Oh yes, though it’s very rare. Most of them are nice, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I’ve done two films with Will Smith and you couldn’t meet a nicer man. Ryan Reynolds was lovely on Deadpool. But I’ve seen a few who’ve thrown their weight about.

Nice guy: Marsan’s co-star Will Smith

Naming no names, can you give an example?

One of them I threatened to throw off a ship [laughs]. A big star screamed at me, and my wife said, ‘try and be articulate’, because she knew I was losing my temper. And when he screamed at me — he’d been screaming at everybody, he was very depressed, I think — I threatened to throw him off the ship.

Did that shut him up?

Yeah. But I felt he was a bully. There was no choice.

Do you have any pet hates?

I can’t stand selfishness. This sounds really right on but I really don’t like racism or any kind of generalisation about people. I think it’s because I come from Tower Hamlets, which is very multicultural and multiracial. I don’t like dogmatism, I don’t like being around anybody who’s convinced they have the answer. And I’ll argue with them all day long.

You must have some heated conversations at dinner parties!

Oh, terrible. I love it and I love talking to people who I don’t agree with, people who have an opposite view to me but are reasonable. I find that fascinating.

What do you have coming up?

I have a movie with Matthew McConaughey called White Boy Rick, I have a new film I just made called Feedback, about a radio presenter whose studio is hijacked by terrorists, and the new season of Ray Donovan. There’s always a lot because I’m a character actor. We do six films a year.

Finally, do you enjoy travelling on the Tube?

I love being on the Tube and seeing people. I get a slight sense of where they live, what they’re having for dinner, what their life is like. I love watching.

Entebbe is in cinemas from tomorrow