From humble beginnings in Sawston, has forged an impressive on-screen career – Miriam Balanescu gets to know the formidable actor, Steven Mackintosh
Making his very first television appearance in 1983, Steven Mackintosh has essentially grown up on film and TV. With the eyes of the world upon him, his transformation from early teens to now is all recorded.
“Every year, when The Muppet Christmas Carol is wheeled out, I have to look at myself and go, ‘Wow, that is so long ago,’” he laughs. “I always remember Michael Caine saying that one of the more depressing things about being invited for a lifetime achievement award is that it’s all very flattering, but they put up a trailer of the highlights and – for him – all he watches is his age progress.
“Some of it will be seen briefly and then disappear,” he continues. “But some things really have a lifespan.”
Before making a break for drama school in London, Steven attended his local Sawston Village College in bucolic surrounds, where bike rides with his friends and making swings that flew over the river were ‘a big deal’. But quickly, he realised the academic track wasn’t for him. His mother, always part of the backstage crew on theatrical productions, had fostered this thespian passion in him from a young age. “Drama was somewhere I was continuing to thrive,” he says. “That’s why my parents made the brave decision to take me out of school and to an audition in London.”
His roles have been multifarious, from a cannabis-growing crook in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to a vampiric overlord in the Underworld franchise. Recently, Steven took on the villain role in ITVX’s flagship programme The Confessions of Frannie Langton, enthralled as the joint lead in Toni Collette’s Wanderlust, and chilled as a conniving adoptive father in Kiri.
In these roles, the actor has had to become comfortable with tapping into the darker side of humanity, especially as John Langton, a former slave owner who tries to scientifically prove that Africans are the inferior race. Post-abolition, the man attempts to navigate a new world. “As Steven Mackintosh, I see him on paper as a deeply unpleasant man,” says Steven, “but I suppose playing him I had to understand what drives and motivates him. He’s a man that’s trying to survive, really.”
And, with over 40 years in the industry, the decades have brought roles of varying seriousness and levity. Among the best-known is his Bafta-winning turn in Care, about a boy raised in a children’s home suffering abuse. “It meant a lot to me. I invested a lot in it. And then on the flip side with Underworld, I was able to put some leather on, some fangs in and pretend to bite people,” he jokes. “I wouldn’t want to literally just get stuck doing the same thing. There’s always a new aspect of each role you can find pleasure in.
“There have been memorable experiences that weren’t necessarily memorable pieces to watch,” continues Steven. “There’s a disconnect sometimes between the experience you had and the work that results. Sometimes it can feel incredibly difficult. It can be challenging to make a great piece of art.
Though the chameleon-like dramatist has run the gamut of roles, there are some undercurrents. “I did find I was gradually drawn to darker stories – the literature I read, the music I listen to – not always, of course!” he urges. “I’m interested in less obvious work that plays with the margins of things rather than the centre ground.”
It is a well-known fact that, with the advent of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and now ITVX, the landscape of the entertainment industries is shifting. And for those who have long worked within it, like Steven, its evolution has been unprecedented.
“When I first started, there weren’t even four channels on television,” recalls Steven. “We’re still in a transitional period where I think everybody is trying to figure out exactly what the new landscape looks like, particularly for the terrestrial TV channels who have been used to the standard way of everybody watching live together.
“It’s a very strange, transient business,” he muses, explaining the well-worn pattern of a fresh crew and cast congregating over a fixed period for filming, before saying their goodbyes. There have been countless highlights so far, he says, from The Mother with Daniel Craig and Anne Reid, to The Buddha of Suburbia, where ‘I was able to live out my rock star fantasies’. Up next, Steven teases that he will be making many more appearances on our television sets and cinemas this year – here’s to another four decades of incredible work.