'In Darkness' Actor Ed Skrein Talks 'Alita', Sex Scenes, and Working With Someone Playing a Blind Person

Ed Skrein isn’t just a major player with juicy genre fare like Deadpool, Game of Thrones, and the forthcoming Alita: Battle Angel and Maleficent 2 to his name – he’s a fan, and he’s just as over-the-moon about the comic book stories he loves.

But occasionally he steps out of the blockbuster realm for a passion project like In Darkness, a twisty psychological thriller starring his Game of Thrones cohort Natalie Dormer, who co-wrote the screenplay with her husband, director Anthony Byrne (Ripper Street, Peaky Blinders), who’s behind the camera. Set firmly in the tradition of suspense classics like “Wait Until Dark,” the film sees Dormer as a blind studio pianist embroiled in the intrigue surrounding the murder of her neighbor (Emily Ratajkowski) and Skrein as a mysterious man who enters her orbit and may aid or even further imperil her.

Skrein joined ComicBook.com for a wide-ranging chat about the film and his fondness for old-fashioned thrillers, navigating on-screen sex scenes with his director’s wife, his comic book reading habits and the roles within that he covets, and, as the Merc With a Mouth’s first on-screen nemesis, the verdict on Deadpool 2.

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(Photo: Fox)

ComicBook.com: Were you a fan of this psychological thriller genre before? Because it's become a lost art, to a degree.

Ed Skrein: Yeah, it's interesting – obviously Hitchcock explored them, and in the ‘70s we had some real classics, but it has become a lost art. I'm not sure if that is indicative of the cinema audience, that we have shorter attention spans and people just want to see bams and bombs and cars and stuff rather than engage in something and put the other devices away and really intellectually connect with a narrative.

But they did start writing this eight years ago. That was before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and all of the Scandinavian thrillers that have come along since. I think that they saw a gap ... that they realized that people aren't making these genre movies as much anymore, and they wanted to add to the canon and history of thrillers. It is a privilege for me to be involved with it as well.

To join somebody's passion project in the way that these two really believed in this and were working as a team, and believed in you and invited you on board, what was fun about supporting your friends' creative vision?

Anything I do, I want to be working with people that it's everything to them, that's all they can think about. They wake up in the middle of the night and have to write down notes about it. I don't want to do no half-assed shit, you know? If we're gonna make art, let's commit. Let's commit until we fucking finish it and then let's move onto something else and commit fully to that.

So it was their passion and how personal it was to them from the beginning, which was the reason I joined it. To enter into this triangle, this relationship, this dynamic – the talent that they have as filmmakers, actors, storytellers, and then, evidently as writers when I read the script, and then to see the personal investment that they had in it, as well, it was like, this is a dream project. This is what I want to be working on. I'm always looking for projects like this. I don't want to do no half-assed shit.

I haven't talked to Natalie yet, so I don't know how method she got in trying to maintain a state of blindness for herself psychologically. Tell me about it, though, from your perspective, working with somebody who has to convincingly give the appearance of not seeing you.

Yeah, she'll tell you, she did her research. She's a very diligent, analytical actor. I mean, for me it was weird at first. We came to a rehearsal, which was a scene in the café where she gives me the scarf, and we rehearsed that scene to start with. It was strange that we never had any eye contact. It was bizarre, but it was also informative and gave me a feeling of separation between us. So even though there was this attraction ... emotional attraction as well as physical attraction between Mark and Sophia, there was a wall there, and it's that wall which maybe led to the attraction and added to the attraction.

So I'd sit there analyzing her, looking at her face in a way that would be rude for me to stare at you now, or at least fucking weird to stare at you like that. So that was interesting in and of itself and indicative of how unique the whole dynamic of the whole project was.

Actors always tell me how weird and uncomfortable sex scenes are. How much more weird and uncomfortable does it get when the director is your leading lady's husband?

Yeah. I may be a weirdo actor because I don't find them uncomfortable at all. It's like the same as a fight scene: It's mechanical. It's our job. There's no feelings involved, or whatever, so I'm pretty good at just executing it objectively, but there are moments in your acting life where you just turn around and go, "This is fucking mad. This is crazy. What is going on?" And that was one of them.

Now, it didn't ruffle me, it didn't hinder me in any way, but I was like, "This is funny, man. This is an interesting dynamic." It's kind of a better story to tell rather than the reality of it, because you know, me and Nat have such a close relationship and shorthand that it just wasn't awkward, and it just wasn't weird, and we just had a job to do. Again, we're so invested in the project and the three of us just want to make every scene as good as we can, and get through the pages, and get everything on the day, so there was no time for awkwardness or anything like that. But certainly I could see from the outside how it would seem fucking weird.

Let's pivot to comics for a second. I know you're into ‘em!

Big time.

When you're here in L.A., have you found a store that is like the right store for you when you're hunting for treasures?

No, not in L.A. I just go anywhere ... any comic book store I see, I go to. No, I've built them up. In Vancouver I've got Golden Age, in Austin I have Austin Books and Comics ... ABC. All around the world I build them up and go there, and you know, when I check in my bag to leave for a project, it'll be 25 kilos or whatever. When I come back it'll be like, 35 kilos because I'll have bought, like, the whole Transmetropolitan series or some crazy shit.

Yeah, I love comic books so much, and there's just such a rich, diverse range of stories and characters in it that I think we've kind of yet to see fully explored in the comic book universe, which is exciting for us that know, you know? Because people, I think, think it's getting played out. People think, "Oh, it must be coming to an end," and me and you are like, "Uh uh uh. This is just the beginning," because once people really start embracing like, what Fox did to Logan, and doing some film noir shit, doing some Western comics narratives, and the real love stories – the unashamed love stories and the really violent stuff. Once people really start getting into the real unique stuff, it's just gonna start over and over again, so it's a dream time for us comic book-heads.

Is there something that you're super into right this minute. where you're like on it every time a new issue comes out. Or are you more of a trade guy?

I'm a trade guy, 100%, which is exactly what I'm like with TV series. I'll never watch a TV series while it's on, because I can't wait a week. I want to consume it like a fiend. I want to go for it, go for it. I'm a page turner, you know? So you know, I watch box sets as a whole probably in like, three days or whatever, and I read graphic novels most of the time. At the moment I'm reading Transmetropolitan. What a great book and story.

Yeah, I listen to recommendations of people. I buy a lot of first edition graphic novels to see if I can get into stuff and see what clicks and what fits, and I just like to ... I just love the realm of comic books so much that I'll read books I'll get and be like, "This is shit. I don't like it…but I'm still gonna read it! I still got to get all the way and see what happens."

I’ve got to give you props for your decision to move on from Hellboy [following concerns over being inappropriately cast as the Asian character Major Ben Daimio].

Thank you.

Was that a difficult decision to come to, or was it just sort of a lightning bolt where you're like, "It's the right thing to do, and I'm just gonna do it?"

Yeah, it wasn't a difficult decision at all. It was, as you said, the right thing to do and the only thing to do. It was a very simple decision in that regard.

We have public personas and such that build up through what people translate in our images, and our aesthetics, and creating their own narratives to that, and the narratives that we create through our interviews. People build up ideas of us from the characters that we play, but people that know me personally would not be surprised by my reaction to that and that there was no option, and they would have known that that was something that I just wouldn't have been able to enter into.

Anything I do I have to do wholeheartedly, so no, it was a very simple decision, and it meant a lot to me that it meant a lot to other people and that it resonated so much with people.

Tell me about your Alita: Battle Angel experience, because you’re working with Robert Rodriguez, who's gotta just be a blast to go to work for.

The coolest guy in the world!

And then Cameron's got all the resources in the world to put into it.

The cleverest guy in the world! We're also talking about Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly. These are my heroes in many senses, you know? So to be able to watch them block, to watch Christoph rehearse the scene, and to sit in Video Village with Robert and watch Christoph perform, and to speak with Mahershala – I learned so much from those guys, let alone Rosa Salazar and Keean Johnson. You know, it was a sacred experience to go to Austin and spend time there, and I was working with training and having the wonderful experience at the Onnit Academy down there, as well as some amazing people.

It really was a sacred experience. It was like a pilgrimage to Austin where I just went and ... Even just in terms of where I was at in my life and all of that, I was ... our dynamics and our inner-dynamics are constantly changing and stuff, and it's only in hindsight that we realize when we get to crossroads internally. I was supposed to be in Austin at that time and to be around a mensch such as Robert ... a calm, a still lake, a strong rock like Robert. To be able to perform and have fun ... like, the character is so fun, maybe the funnest character I've ever played.

I was really having a lot of fun. I have no idea how it's gonna look or even really what I did. I just know that I let everything go and I really had a lot of fun, and then kind of spiritually and internally, working with the guys at the Onnit Academy, and meeting friends for life there, and spending time in that liberal, interesting, open-minded, wonderful place that Austin is, was amazing. You know, it really was amazing. I came back with gusto, with strength, with clarity, with purpose, and I'm so thankful for that.

Did it test you in a way? Did you find a new level of acting that you had to get to to make it work?

Every job is testing and is a test, and we have to make it work. We have to find the truth and make it work. I do a lot of prep before, so I kind of in my head got everything mapped out before I go, but every time I get on I have to start again from scratch with the new variables and stuff.

So it was a challenge in that regard, but actually that job was very natural and organic, and I'd kind of walk up to set feeling calm and relaxed, step on set feeling calm and relaxed, and go home feeling calm and relaxed. It was a lot to do with Robert's energy, and the energy at Troublemaker Studios down there, and a lot to do with Austin as a whole.

And you've got Maleficent 2 lined up. Have you started work on that?

We're starting shooting in two weeks.

That's such an interesting project, because the first one was already a riff off of the classic animated story and the fairytale. This is going to be building out of that world further, so tell me what got you excited about it. I'm sure number one is the first lady on the call sheet.

Yeah. I was talking about Christoph and Mahershala and Jennifer earlier on, and now I'm talking about Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Elle Fanning. This is a dream come true. This is people that I can learn from, people that I can grow as an actor with, and people that are gonna bring the best out in me. Worthy adversaries, as such, or wonderful teammates, whichever way you want to look at it. So that was exciting. It was also exciting for me to step into the Disney realm. I did a rom-com last year for Disney, which was good fun, but this is proper Disney, you know? This is for the kids.

And also, I make such subversive kind of choices and a lot of the time I'm attracted to the dark side, and there's so much violence and bad language and stuff in my movies my son and my nephews, they can't watch my movies. So finally I'm getting some movies that the kids can watch, and that they can enjoy, and maybe they'll think Uncle Ed's a bit cool, because at the moment, yeah, they can't watch all the movies. When they're 18 they'll look back, but by that time they'll be so dated that they won't think I'm cool anyway. Yeah, I'm so excited to go back and get started on that, and just so grateful to be able to go from something like In Darkness to going on to that.

Do you have a comic book property where you're like, "If I could get the rights to that, I want to see that movie made – and I want to be in it?"

I'm kind of weird because I'm such a comic book head that I want it to be done right rather than me be in it. So let's say there's ... my favorite set of books ever is The Boys. Seth Rogen's making it, and I'm so happy it's in Seth's hands. I've never met him, but I'm so happy it's in his hands. For me, Billy Butcher is like the character that I've always wanted to play, but for me, it's 10 years too early for me. I'm not the right character. I'd have to like, put on a lot of size and I should be older, so it wouldn't be right for me to take it even though it's a dream, you know?

Then you've got in The Invisibles, the King Mob is a character I dream of playing, but again, I think that's like five years down the line until I'd be right for it, you know? Even Transmetropolitan I was speaking with Jackie Earle Haley about that, because I was like, "You would be amazing in this!"

Yes, he would!

He would be so good, you know? But maybe in 10 years, or 15 years time, or whatever, maybe I could have a go at Spider Jerusalem or something like that. There's all of these amazing characters which I kind of dream of playing, but I would rather they're done right by someone else. Even if it's like in 10 years' time and my ego wants to play Spider Jerusalem but there's someone better, I want that person better to do it because I'm gonna be watching it as a fan.

It was the same with Deadpool. I would have been in the cinema as a fan and just wanting it to be done right, whether it's the villain or the lead role and whatnot. So yeah, it's just got to be done right, man. I'm so emotionally invested in these characters.

The other one actually is Fantomex. He always wears a mask, as well, so maybe that would be a way of me getting back. I think he's French, so I'd have to do a French accent and wear the mask and get away with it. He's super cool. He's one of my favorite characters, as well. There's just so many awesome characters, but I'm excited by the unknown, about the characters that I haven't read yet, the intellectual property that I haven't stumbled across, full of amazing narratives out there. It's just exciting. It is exciting.

Have you seen Deadpool 2?

I saw it last week. Loved it, man! I mean, watching the movie is like watching my old football team play and they're in the cup final. I want them to win the trophy even if I'm not wearing the jersey. I'm in the stands this time. I was watching it with my popcorn. I just wish them nothing but the best and have so many friends that were still working on it, and just want it to go through the roof and want it to be able to continue for as long as possible.

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In Darkness is now playing in theaters.