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People In Film | Mark Strong

Mark Strong | Glamour and Sadness

In Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, Mark Strong plays Jim Prideaux, a strikingly handsome agent who maintains a shadow over his personal and professional history. Recruited by Bill Haydon in his Oxford days, Jim became a “Scalphunter,” an agent involved in black ops, who was disgraced when an action in Budapest went terribly wrong. Highlighting the character’s complexity, producer Tim Bevan says that “what you see with Jim Prideaux… is both a glamour and a sadness.” In playing the character of Prideaux, Mark Strong picked up on that complexity, noting, “Jim is very conscious of his sense of duty and service to his country; he would do the dirty work in the field and then come back to Circus headquarters, until he was sent out again. As a Scalphunter, he had to assume various identities in undercover work – and have more than one at the ready. He’s a very erudite Englishman, but emotionally he’s quite stunted.” In mapping out this complex emotional geography, Strong has created a figure at once fascinating and resonant. The Playlist noted in its review, “Mark Strong is heartbreaking as [Haydon’s] best friend Prideaux, hopefully demonstrating to studio types that he’s capable of a far greater range than he’s mostly played so far—watch the way that his eyes light up as he spots Firth at a party.” While Strong has often been cast in supporting roles, and then mostly as villains, his filmography showcases an artist able to craft the most remarkable characters out of any role.

Mark Strong | Becoming an Actor Despite Himself

Mark Strong in “Speed the Plow”

Born Marco Giuseppe Salussolia to an Italian father and an Austrian mother, Mark Strong grew up in England, always a bit on the outside. The name Strong was later given him by his mother to help him fit in. Athletic and a good student, he never dreamed of being an actor. Indeed, his childhood dramatics were more of a lark than a revelation. In the school production of Derek Benfield's farce “The Post Horn Gallop, he told The Independent, "I played a scout-master and the whole gag of that character was his knobbly knees peeking out from his shorts…I only did it as a giggle really and it never made me want to do any more." Still he developed a stage presence in the 70s playing in a punk band called Private Party. Then after moving to Germany to study law, he decided to try drama instead. As he told The Times, “I thought, perhaps I should become a lawyer because it would make my mum happy…But I very quickly realised how dull it was and that it wasn't for me. So I chose acting as something that wasn't dull.” Yet while he had never planned to be an actor, Strong soon gleaned how his experience had trained him anyway. As he told The Guardian, “I was not the product of a family, but a product of observation – of watching what went on around me, of watching who I liked, what I didn't like, what I thought was good behaviour and what I thought was bad behaviour and tailoring myself accordingly. I think now that means I can see things from a distance and work out how to build a character.” After leaving the University of Munich, he returned to London to study drama. And while he quickly moved into TV and film, Strong continues to act on stage, as in the 2000 London production of David Mamet’s “Speed The Plow.“

Mark Strong | A Familiar Face on the Telly

Mark Strong in ITV's “Emma”

Before showing up in feature films, Mark Strong was a featured player in British television. In fact, he found his acting style perfectly fitted for the screen. As he later told The Guardian, “the first time I was in front of a camera I wasn't self-conscious because I didn't really know what I was doing. I played the Porsche-driving boyfriend in a series called “After Henry”....I got out of a car, walked up to a house and got chucked. I played the scene as if I was in the theatre, without artifice.” After appearing in a number of British TV shows, like “Inspector Morse”, “The Buddha of Suburbia”, and “Prime Suspect”, Strong broke out in the BBC series “Our Friends In The North,” in which he played a young man who goes from failed ‘60s rocker to flourishing businessman. Strong later described the role to The Independent: “There's a kind of simpleness about him but that doesn't mean he's stupid,…and a kind of hardness but that doesn't mean he's not vulnerable. He's just someone who's working his bollocks off to do something and get somewhere despite all the limitations holding him in." Subsequently, Strong was cast in several dramatizations of great literary works, including ITV’s 1996 adaptation of EMMA, in which he plays the dashing Mr. Knightley, and the 2000 TV version of ANNA KARENINA, in which he appeared in the role of Oblonsky.
Mark Strong | Great When He’s Bad


In David Evans' 1997 soccer drama, FEVER PITCH, Strong got noticed on the big screen as Colin Firth’s friend. (Interestingly, both had just come off playing Austen beaus -- he, EMMA’s Knightley and Firth, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’s Mr. Darcy). Following his soulful turn as the spiritually-minded prisoner of war in TO END ALL WARS, Strong began to find his groove as a character actor playing the dapper, sadistic gay gangster in the BBC series about London's criminal underworld in the 1960s, “The Long Firm.” The Telegraph wrote that “the success of the series is due to Harry [Starls]– or rather, to the subtlety and power with which he is played by Mark Strong.” Indeed Strong began to redefine complicated villains in a series of roles as memorable film baddies: the suburban father-looking hit man in Guy Ritchie’s 2005 REVOLVER; the colorful crook Toby Crackit in Roman Polanski’s 2005 OLIVER TWIST; the finger nail-pulling henchman in Stephen Gaghan’s 2005 SYRIANA; the cool, inscrutable head of the Jordanian Police in Ridley Scott’s 2008 BODY OF LIES; and the superbad, back-from-the-dead Lord Blackwood in Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES. As Strong told FirstShowing, “I think with good guys, you never really think, "Why are they good?" But with bad guys, you might find yourself thinking, "What's made them like this?" So, psychologically, I find them really interesting, and I can find different ways to differentiate them.”
Mark Strong | Many Faces, One Heart


The skills that make Mark Strong such a fearful onscreen nemesis are also what make him such a powerful performer. Strong told FirstShowing, “As an actor,....[y]ou want to be playing things that are as far removed from yourself as possible so that you can have the challenge of exploring those characters." When Strong took on the role of Sinestro in GREEN LANTERN, he relished even the digital and makeup transformation required for the character. He told the Los Angeles Times, “I loved coming in for makeup tests and working with the prosthetics and coming up with this really fantastic look that is true to the comics…The accumulation of props, accents, costume, setting, all of it, helps you transform yourself with a level of commitment that is very exciting. It’s very welcome.” But underneath all of that, Strong finds the emotional core that makes the character both strange and familiar. When THE EAGLE director Kevin Macdonald looked to cast the character of Guern, a Roman soldier in Ancient Britain who abandoned the army to live with the locals, he looked to Strong to make a long-ago, far-away character both real and immediate. As Macdonald notes, "Mark Strong is an actor I have always admired. He often plays villainous characters but I recognised a sensitivity in him.”


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