Daniel Mays on running, art and starring in Rogue One

The former Line Of Duty star, 39, is playing the dad of a girl who falls in love with a young serial killer in TV drama Born To Kill

Your character in Born To Kill is a troubled soul, isn’t he?

He is a bit. He’s at a low ebb — he’s lost his job, he’s a widower, he’s got a wayward single daughter and he has to go back to the town he grew up in to care for his mum. He’s a bit lost and lonely and he’s making it up as he goes along, as us parents do!

Has it made you think about your relationship with your two kids?

Oh, completely. Born To Kill is about a psychopath, and the notions of psychopathy and nature versus nurture, but it’s also about parents and the importance of nurturing your children. I think any parent that watches Born To Kill will probably want to hug their children a little bit tighter by the end.

Cop that: Daniel in Guerrilla

What were you like as a teen?

I’m one of four boys so it was a bit loud and boisterous. I was a relatively good teenager, I think. I wasn’t whiter than white but I always managed to get away with things. Maybe I just had one of those faces. I didn’t give my mum and dad too many grey hairs, bless ’em!

How do you wind down after an intense role?

Lots of running. It helps clear your mind and keeps you fresh. I like the solitude. It’s the only moment I kind of have on my own. You get a lot of thinking done.

You’re also playing a police officer in Sky series Guerrilla, which is set during the 1970s UK Black Power movement…

Yes. The reason I wanted to be involved was that the writing was of such a high standard. It’s a rich and complex subject that shines a light on a moment in history that’s uncomfortable to look at.

You’re sporting quite a ’tache in it... bet you were pleased to get rid of it.

I was! My fiancée was pleased! It was real. I hate that thing of sticking on beards and moustaches — it always feels like ‘let’s pretend’, like you’re in panto!

Guerilla and Born To Kill are both on Thursday nights. Do you worry about Danny Mays overload?

A little bit, yeah! I will go for one of my very long runs then…

Are you watching the latest Line Of Duty?

Yes, I love it. Having been part of the huge storyline where they killed me off — I couldn’t believe the end of the first episode of this series. I thought: “Oh my God, has Jed [Mercurio, writer] done it again?” I just think Jed’s a master storyteller — and he loves a plot twist, doesn’t he? The premise of that show — police investigating police — is gold dust. It was the best role I’ve had.

Was what the eureka moment when you knew you wanted to be an actor?

Teen idol: Robert De Niro inspired Daniel

I remember seeing Michael Jackson in the Bad tour at Wembley when I was about 13 and, in terms of a first performance I’d seen, that was a eureka moment. I don’t think there was anyone that could come close to him in live performance. When I matured a bit more I was hugely inspired by Gene Hackman and Pacino and De Niro. I remember doing GCSE art on the kitchen table and I would be painting, and in the corner I’d have the TV on and there was a retrospective of De Niro films on Channel 4 every Sunday. I couldn’t believe these performances were coming from the same actor.

Did you fail GSCE art, then?

No, I got an A! He inspired me!

Is there a piece of work you’ve done that you wish more people had seen?

The first movie I did with Mike Leigh was called All Or Nothing. It’s a really beautiful film. It got fantastic reviews but, of all of his films, it’s the one that’s probably the most forgotten about, which is a crying shame.

You popped up in Rogue One. Do Star Wars fans get in touch?

I had someone stop me on the street yesterday wanting a picture. I was only in one scene! It’s quite a thing to be in, though. I was on half-term break in Devon with my kids when the call came in and I had to do a Skype chat with the director from an NCP car park, and it was just surreal. Lo and behold I did Line Of Duty and I got killed off again. I think someone’s trying to tell me something! Could someone employ me in something where I at least reach the end of the show in one piece?

Born To Kill starts tonight on C4