FAULT Focus: iLL Manors star Ed Skrein

Ed Skrein, multi-disciplinary artist and star of Plan B‘s upcoming film debut, iLL Manors, spoke to Rebecca Unger about his work with the likes of Damon Albarn and Plan B, his rap career and the nature versus nurture debate…

All photography: Gavin Watson

FAULT: You studied fine art in your teens, what made you transfer from that to a career in music?

Ed: I think the two of them are quite related in terms of their creativity. For me the jump was completely natural. If you’re truly creative then you wont be a slave to one medium and you’ll always go between them.

Your music has taken you around all around the world. What has been your best experience with music so far?

My most memorable experience was the Africa Express gigs with Damon Albarn. The most interesting thing about it was taking the art form of rapping away from the street corner and underground hip-hop scene and taking it onto the world stage.

Is this something you’ll pursue – taking rapping into abnormal environments?

That’s all that excites me at the moment. We’re touring with Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee, playing at folk festivals in Belgium and crazy middle England festivals in the Lake District – mad places where I never thought I’d take rapping.

Hippie grand-mums and 8-year-old kids are all digging it! They’ve never seen anything like our show – completely organic with no backing tracks.

You have collaborated with many talented artists already (Nathan ‘FluteBox’ Lee, Asian Dub) is there anyone who you are interested in working with in the future?

Not really in sense of specific names. I just want to keep working with like-minded, creative people. The beauty of the creative process is that you don’t know what your next move will be and somebody or something is gonna trigger it. So picturing who I’m going to work with next defeats spontaneous nature of the process.

Recently you have taken on the film industry, what attracted you to acting?

I never had dreams of being an actor. It was purely through the belief of Ben, who wrote iLL Manors. He told me that he’d written this part for me and wanted me to do it. Creatively I’m always up for new challenges. I was quite confident because it was performance based so I knew I was capable of it. I ended up loving the acting world – it was liberating being somebody else and it was nice to come out of my comfort zone.

Tell me about iLL MANORS (coming out on the 6th June) and working with director Ben Drew (Plan B).

On face value it’s a film about east London gangs and the decayed state of London’s youth in the millennium. But underneath that it is about social responsibility. A lot of questions are raised about the reasons why our younger generations are so apathetic towards people in positions of power.

Working with Ben was great. We are old friends so it was a very natural progression for me because we whole-heartedly trusted each other.

It was a tough shoot. A lot of mistakes were made on set. But for me that lent to the whole ethos of the project: we were making a film about the chaos of east London inside the chaos of east London. It got me into an iLL Manors mentality.

Do you agree with the film’s central thesis: “we are all products of our environment. Some environments are just harder to survive in”?

100 %. To an extent we just walk the path that is laid out for us. People have broken free of the cycle but they have always been a minority and they are the lucky ones. That’s what’s heart-breaking about my character. He could have a positive and fulfilled life like me but he was lost a long time ago. By the same token as he could be me, I could be him, which is a scary thought.


Do you relate to your character, Ed, in the film in any way – any background experience with that kind of personality?

Yes! A lot of us when we were teenagers were extreme versions of ourselves.
I was very much in an aggressive cycle and a lot closer to my character from iLL Manors. I had to go back to that place to tap into my character.

Do you have any exciting upcoming plans?

I just filmed a music video for my first Dubstep song with an amazing crew called Run Dem Crew, a running community of creative heads from east London founded by Charlie Dark from Attica Blues. We’ve just done a song for them in association with Nike, which we’re gonna bring out for the Olympics.

I just filmed a new Foreign Beggar video for their single, Aphex, where I’m every single character. It’s all clones, sci-fi, apocalyptic! Then there’s two really exciting scripts in my inbox which I’m not going to tell you any more about.

Can you give us a hint?

One is a very original and interesting take on an urban love story. The other is completely removed from the urban scene – out in the middle of nowhere.

What is your FAULT?

Every mistake I’ve ever made.