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It's Rhys Ifans

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He’s a fine actor and could talk all day — just don’t make Rhys Ifans even think you’re asking him about Sienna Miller, as Andrew Lowry discovered

Rhys Ifans is no friend of the press. It’s easy to see why — if you were hounded by photographers every time you left home, you wouldn’t exactly jump in front of any passing Dictaphone and chat. At the same time, he can be a great raconteur on the chat-show circuit. Which Ifans would ShortList get when we interviewed him to promote his role as Howard Marks in Mr Nice? We got him on his mobile as he waited for a connecting flight in Paris and our hearts sank. Like anyone in an airport, the 42-year-old was tired, tetchy — and wary of our (we thought) harmless questions...

Is it true you had a gentleman’s agreement with Howard Marks that you would play him?

About 13, 14 years ago, just after he came out of prison, I met him at a Super Furry Animals gig in Pontypridd. I remember asking him to sign a packet of Rizlas. He signed the packet, but I told him I wanted him to sign every single Rizla — and so he proceeded to do that. I asked what he was doing now, and he said he was going to write a book. I said, “If you’re writing a book, I want to play you.” It kind of sounded a bit far-fetched at the time. I was too young.

Did you keep in touch over the years?

Yeah, we’ve kept in touch. I see Howard often. I know the family very well, we’re very close friends.

Is it daunting to play a good friend?

Of course. I was nervous if Howard wasn’t happy with it. We watched a screening of it like two naughty boys at the front, holding hands all the way through it. At the end we hugged and wept into each other’s jackets, so I think it went well. It’s strange — usually with a character you study them or you meet them, but in Howard’s case I didn’t really need to do anything — he was just there through 13 years of osmosis.

Did you go all method and wander about the set with a massive joint in your hand?

No, you can’t act when you’re stoned. The guys who made Apollo 13 didn’t have to go to space, did they?

Howard Marks has been very vocal on the point that drugs should be legalised — would you agree?

I agree with Howard, I think drugs should be legalised. Absolutely. For a plethora of reasons, the illegality of drugs causes more problems than it’s worth. It makes criminals of people who could actually be a benefit to society, and there are substances which are being sold out there which are dangerous and damaging to people. Prohibition in any culture has never worked. It’s been an unexpurgated failure from the beginning. The whole question of the illegality of drugs needs to be seriously looked at by adults, so, yes, I wholeheartedly agree with Howard on this.

In the film, Howard is pursued around the world — is that something you could relate to following all the media scrutiny you’ve had in recent years?

Yeah. Where is this going?

What’s it like to be on the receiving end of all that attention?

It’s a feeling of being hounded. What you (the public) don’t see or hear is the insults you have to suffer to try to get you to rise to the bait. Sadly, I’m a man of honour. If someone calls me a sheep-sh*gger, I’ll knock the f*ck out of them.

That must have been satisfying, that release.

Where I’m from, that’s how you deal with stuff. But thankfully, that’s all gone now. Some other poor c*nt’s probably getting it now.

With that, Ifans was off — an abrupt “I’ve got to go to the gate” and the line went dead. Panic ensued — we had half an interview, and had seemingly irked one of our favourite actors. A few days, and frantic calls to his PR, later, and Ifans was back on the phone. Thankfully, rather than getting on a plane, he was about to have a pub lunch, and was in a far better mood. Check it out, right here.

Main image: Colin Bell/Corbis Outline

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