Stephen Graham: “I’m just a mixed-race kid from a block of flats in a little place called Kirkby.”

Get a sneak peak of our upcoming cover story with the Liverpool-born actor, who just might be the patron saint of British cinema. 
  • PhotographerRankin
  • WriterAmber Rawlings

From his breakthrough role in This Is England to his collaborations with Martin Scorsese, Stephen Graham has always been able to reveal the deep humanity within even his most gritty roles.

“I’m just a mixed-race kid from a block of flats in a little place called Kirkby,” Stephen Graham tells me over the phone. “For me to be on set with these people, it can be incomprehensible.” The “people” Graham is referring to include Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, with whom he worked on 2019’s The Irishman. That also marked Graham’s third time working with Martin Scorsese, after Gangs of New York and the series Boardwalk Empire. In the latter, he plays the gangster Al Capone – just the kind of no-nonsense role that Graham has become known for, especially since his breakout turn as Combo in Shane Meadows’s 2006 film This Is England. In lesser hands, this could seem like typecasting, but Graham evades that with ease by finding the specific humanity in every role. It’s what has earned him a reputation beyond the boundaries of British cinema, with him having made his mark on Hollywood in franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and action blockbusters like Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. Still, Los Angeles hasn’t taken away his northern edge. “They say don’t meet your heroes,” he tells me, “but that’s only when they’re twats.”

Graham, 50, clearly focuses deeply on his characters– he tells me he creates a “character book” for each of his roles and that phone calls with his children are his antidote to getting too lost in the work. But in conversation he also plays this off, saying there’s something “incomprehensible” about how far he’s come and revealing that big roles have at times come almost by chance. That was the case with Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000), where he just happened to be tagging along to the audition with a mate.

My call with Graham was punctuated by him lauding the work of other actors, but what was less clear was whether he sees himself as among their ranks. “I still pinch myself. You can’t see it, but I’m talking to you now with a big smile on my face.”

Talking before the release of his new film – Disney’s Young Woman and the Sea, based on the true story of Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle, the first woman to swim across the English Channel – Graham tells me about castmates who have become family, working on both sides of the Atlantic and the importance of sustaining British film.

This excerpt was taken from HUNGER Issue 31: The Dreamers. Full story is available in stores worldwide now. 

  • StylistMark Anthony Bradley
  • GroomerJosh Knight at A-Frame Agency using HORACE
  • Photographer's AssistantsJody Evans, Marcus Lister
  • ProducerSarah Stanbury
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