Ed Skrein would not like to get into a fight with fellow British actor Jason Statham.
"He'd probably win," says the modest actor, who has been charged with filling Statham's considerable shoes in the The Transporter: Refueled, the fourth film in the successful action-thriller franchise.
Now that Statham has moved on to bigger things – with roles in Furious 7, which was partly filmed in Abu Dhabi, and The Expendables – there was a vacancy for someone to play The Transporter's Frank Martin, a driver for hire who will deliver anything, anytime, anywhere – for the right price.
The first three films in the series, released between 2002 and 2008, starred Statham as Martin. The third, the highest-grossing of the series, earned more than US$100 million (Dh367.2m) at the global box office so it was inevitable that the series would carry on – although it has been a long wait.
With Statham transporting himself into bigger movie franchises, the producers opted to reboot the series with a prequel trilogy, featuring a younger version of Martin. The big question is whether it can survive without one of the best-known action stars in the lead.
Meet Ed Skrein and you start to suspect that it can and it will. He is an actor on the rise – he has already appeared in HBO's smash-hit TV drama Game of Thrones (as Daario Naharis in season three, a role that was later taken over by Michiel Huisman) and will soon be seen as the villainous Ajax, in Marvel's eagerly awaited X-Men spin-off, Deadpool.
Frank Martin is a tough-guy role, but you suspect producer Luc Besson couldn't have found anyone nicer than 32-year-old Skrein to play the role. Standing 185cm tall, he really is a humble hunk, with defined cheekbones. A former art-school student, he rose to fame as a rapper under the alias The Dinner Lady P.I.M.P. As a musician, he was mostly in the shadow of his friend, Ben Drew, aka Plan B. But when Drew cast him in his movie Ill Manors, in 2012, Skrein found his calling. He is a natural.
He did not even get nervous when called by producer Besson – the director of hit movies including Nikita, Léon and The Fifth Element – to audition for The Transporter: Refueled.
“For me it was a dream,” says Skrein. “It was weird, with the audition process, how natural it felt, going on a train to Paris to meet Luc Besson.
“I should have been nervous and looking at the parts of the script that I’d been sent, but I thought I got it. So I was on the iPad looking at football results on the way. It was organic and natural – I was happy from day one.”
To prepare for the role, the actor reached for his Bond collection. “I watched a lot of action movies, watching Bond from Roger Moore to Daniel Craig.”
Yet Skrein is not just debonair and suave. There is a human side to the father-of-one and he chooses roles that will enable him to spend as much time with his young son as possible.
“My first priority when I take a job is what is the time difference – is there time for my 4-year-old son, Marley?” he says.
“On Transporter I would work Monday to Friday and he would come out for the weekend. While other people are fighting with studios over trailers and residuals, I want extra flights for my family.”
In The Transporter: Refueled, the action takes place in the south of France during a weekend in which Martin's dad, played by Ray Stevenson, visits for a bit of father-son bonding. Things don't quite go to plan – a group of femmes fatales kidnap daddy. In real life, everything was bliss when Skrein's dad came to the set.
“The nicest thing was my dad came to visit,” says Skrein. “We were shooting on a £12m [Dh 67.3m] yacht and the commute was on a military speedboat. About six months later, on a rainy day in London, my dad says to me: ‘I meant to say this to you in France, obviously I’m proud of how your career is going, but what I’m most proud of is how respectful you are to the crew.
“That was a beautiful thing. If he said I’m proud of you being on a yacht, riding a jet ski and wearing a Christian Dior suit, who cares about that? What’s important is that everyone is nice.” And now he’s reached the moment of truth – will the public accept him as an action-hero lead? Can the franchise survive without Statham?
Skrein has not met his predecessor and did not call him to ask for tips. But he hopes that one day soon they can compare notes. “I can’t wait to meet Jason Statham, shake his hand and wish him the best, he’s from a similar demographic and I look forward to meeting him.”