Interview: Mark Strong on Becoming a Sultan

From Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes to Sultan Amar in Black Gold, Mark Strong talks about taking on the role of an Arabian king
Thursday , 27 October 2011
Dashing: Mark Strong
Dashing: Mark Strong
Actor Mark Strong
Actor Mark Strong
Co-star Freida Pinto and Mark Strong share a moment during a promo shoot for Black Gold
Co-star Freida Pinto and Mark Strong share a moment during a promo shoot for Black Gold

British actor Mark Strong is revered as a bit of a legend in Ahlan! HQ. Unlike many of our other favourite celebs, he doesn’t get mixed up in scandals. He’s articulate, intelligent and polite – asking whether we’d like to do this interview in English or French as French is the first language of his Black Gold co-star Tahar Rahim who’s present during our chat.  

Also, unlike many of the sinister characters Mark Strong has played, from Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes to Sinestro in Green Lantern, Mr Strong is actually a gentle, mild-mannered chap. That famous “cold unflinching stare” of his, known to send shivers down spines, is obviously reserved for on set. But Ahlan! has been a fan of Mark’s long before he became known as the best British baddie in Hollywood. His film credits are extensive and impressive. Read on to discover what Mark had to tell us about his latest movie and his mate Daniel Craig...

Sultan Amar is a man of honour. What’s it like to play the good guy after often being cast as the villain so often lately?
It’s lovely. It’s a total accident in your career as an actor what path you end up going down. I know people like to feel that they’re choosing their parts, but what tends to happen is that parts choose them. About six years ago I played a bad guy and it worked, and, as is the way, lots of bad-guy parts came in. I have to say they’re great fun to play, and I thought, right, I’m going to play those parts until I get bored.

Which bad guy have you most enjoyed playing?
Maybe Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes, because he was into the occult and that’s about as ‘bad guy’ as you can get. Then this part in Black Gold came along, and I thought it’s about time to I get back to what I was playing before, which were nice guys, and I think Amar is a pretty nice guy. He’s a good father and a traditional man, and it was nice to get away from playing villains.

How did you prepare for your role as an Arabian sultan?
When I first saw this part, I wondered how I could play it as I have no connection – I’m not Arabic. But then [producer] Taraq and [director] Jean-Jacques showed me a massive book of photographs of Emirs over the ages, which showed me not only that I could look like them, but that I could be believable as that sort of character. Then, once you’re in the costume, out in the desert, with a hundred camels riding past you with soldiers, you don’t need to any preparation – you’re right there!

You starred alongside Daniel Craig in the early days in TV and later in film, and you’re both big-screen stars now. While you’ve maintained a relatively normal life, he’s hounded by the press and seems to hate it – why do you think some stars attract that sort of attention while others, like yourself, don’t suffer media scrutiny?
I’m very lucky. I still move around London on the tube, so my life hasn’t changed at all, except people might come up and say, “I like you in such-and-such”. Daniel is a very private person and values his privacy very much. But Bond is an iconic franchise. When he took that role on there was an enormous amount of interest in him, and that generally makes people want to hide, unless you are a naturally gregarious, very social sort of person. You’re first instinct is, “Oh my God, how do I deal with all of this.”

Has the media ever written anything outrageous about you?
It’s more a matter of inaccuracies – that’s what drives you crazy, especially as you have no way to reply. The most recent example was someone had written that Black Gold is coming out and ‘Mark Strong plays his usual evil self’, and that’s just lazy journalism.

INFO: Black Gold (*featuring Mark Strong as a good guy!*) is at UAE cinemas from Thursday 1 December, 2011.

Check out our red carpet moment with Mark Strong...

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