Many actors who start out working on television or the stage take the leap into film, but few do it in as big a way as Stuart Martin. After starring regularly on TV dramas like Medici and Jamestown, Martin made a huge splash in the wildly popular Zack Snyder comedy heist caper Army of Thieves, which shortly after its worldwide release on Netflix became the streaming service’s No.1 film in over 90 countries. In one of his first-ever film roles, Martin stars as Brad Cage, a walking action movie hero parody that Martin and director Matthias Schweighöfer made the conscious decision to not play up too seriously. Martin himself was a huge Snyder fan before signing on to Army of Thieves, which to him made his transition to the big screen all the more rewarding. Furthering his working relationship with Snyder, Martin was also recently announced as part of the cast of the director’s upcoming sci-fi fantasy epic Rebel Moon, which is scheduled to begin filming this April.
But Martin has by no means left the world of television behind. Currently, he stars on Alibi’s breakout drama Miss Scarlett and The Duke. Filming the second season in Serbia during the pandemic, Martin takes on the role of the eponymous William Wellington, nicknamed “The Duke.” Following his interactions and escapades with the titular Miss Scarlet, London’s first female private detective, the show dives into the Victorian era beautifully. The role shows off Martin’s range, a matter important to him as he looks for new and challenging characters with each new role.
We chatted with Stuart Martin about the success of Army of Thieves, as well as Miss Scarlet and The Duke’s upcoming second season. Read the full interview below.
You are certainly not new to acting, having studied drama at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. How did you get your start on screen, and what got you interested in acting in the first place?
I started out doing theatre, with companies like National Theatre of Scotland and the National Theatre in London when I came out of drama school. I loved it. I think it gives you a really strong base to grow from. When you learn how to play and build a character over the two hours of a theatre show you can then take those tools to building a character on TV or film. It teaches you stamina and creativity working in theatre. But my real love has always been film if I’m honest. It’s what I grew up being obsessed by, why I wanted to become an actor. So I was always pushing to try and be involved in film and TV.
One of your first major film projects, Army of Thieves, went on to be the number one movie on Netflix in over 90 countries. What was it like watching the almost overnight success of the movie? Did you expect the response it got?
The response to Army has been amazing. We were all hopeful it would be as loved as it was. I loved the script, the characters, we had a brilliant bunch of actors involved. Matthias [Schweighöfer] is an incredible director and we could see what was being shot every day and how it was coming together, so we were all really excited about what we had. And the fact that it was going on Netflix just opens the door to it reaching the audience you want it to reach. I don’t think I’ve ever done a show that I didn’t think wasn’t going to be good or have the potential to be loved, you wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t think that. They just sometimes don’t reach the right audience. With Netflix you know it will reach that audience which is an amazing thing.
Were you a fan of Zack Snyder’s other works before signing on to Army of Thieves? What was it like working with him and director Matthias Schweighöfer?
I was the biggest Snyder fan. I love him. I’ve seen every one of his films in the cinema and remember the screen and experience each time watching them. I remember as a lanky awkward 20-year-old seeing 300 in the Cineworld in Glasgow and being blown away by it. Thinking to myself, “I want to do that.” His films are experiences; mind blowing, beautiful, epic movies. And Matthias, he’s a genius. He’s an incredible director, and actor. Which I think is part of what makes him such a brilliant intuitive director. He’s great with actors, and great with getting more out of us and the script. He’s also one of the most brilliant, loving inclusive people I’ve ever met. We’ve become great buds.
What about the film attracted you to the role? How did you prepare for it?
I love Brad fucking Cage. I can see why a lot of people HATE Brad fucking Cage, but I love the character and how I got to play him. We don’t take him too seriously, we look for the chinks in his armor and where we can take the piss out of him. To play that kind of “action” role with that in mind is a joy, to not have to play it too seriously. That would be a bit boring. I loved the scale of the film, I loved the comedy, the fun. Its the kind of film I dreamed of being in as a young lad, and I think that for me is always a good judge of whether you should do something. Do you want to watch it? Would your 15-year-old self think it’s cool?
It was great fun training for it too. We did boot camp and training camp for a few weeks out in Prague. Stunts and guns and all the physical stuff. Brad is a muscle head, so I was just smashing the gym and training in the months leading up to try and give him that look and feel. And also shed my lockdown fluff.
You recently starred in the first series of Alibi’s Miss Scarlett and The Duke, with season 2 coming next year. Tell us about the program, your role of William “The Duke” Wellington, and how he interacts with other lead character Eliza Scarlet.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke is a Victorian detective show that follows London’s first female private detective as she tries to make her way in the world against all the odds stacked in her way. She enlists the help of her friend Inspector “Duke” Wellington to involve her and assist with cases. Although most of the time he is not that much of willing partner. He’s up against it in his own career as a detective at Scotland Yard, and very often she makes his position there all the more difficult with her involvement in cases. It’s a great fun show with a lovely bit of sparring, banter, and will-they-won’t-they romance between Eliza and William.
We hear you are currently filming the show’s second season in Serbia. How is that experience going for you? Had you ever been to the country before?
Yeah, we’ve literally just wrapped season two. We filmed season one in Dublin and were on course to go back when Covid hit. That put a spanner in the works for season two filming there, so the production upped sticks and went to Belgrade. The team out there was amazing. They rebuilt the entire world, nail for nail. In Ireland everything was on location so they rebuilt the lot in a studio in Belgrade, complete with a massive backlot of the London streets. It was incredibly impressive. I remember the first time walking into the Scotland Yard set in Belgrade and couldn’t believe how identical it was. Amazing stuff, really magic.
What can we expect to see from William on Miss Scarlet and The Duke season 2?
More banter, more sparring, and more will-they-won’t-they from Eliza and William. Season one was all about setting up the world and these characters and I feel like season two jumps in right where we left off. It goes up a gear. I know fans of the show won’t be disappointed.
What’s it been like working with Kate Phillips and the rest of the cast? What has been your dynamic behind the scenes?
Kate’s amazing. Such a brilliant, intuitive, exciting actor. When you’re lucky enough to get to work with actors that brilliant you learn all the time. It pushes you to be better and to test yourself. We’ve had a lovely time working together these past few years. It’s always been a really easy working relationship and friendship. We get the characters, and get what they are about. So we get to just have a play and have some fun with it.
How has the pandemic affected your work, specifically filming Miss Scarlet and The Duke season 2? How have you managed to stay active and creative during lockdown?
It’s definitely changed the job. I’ve been lucky enough to keep working throughout, which had its own challenges, which we’re still seeing now. But I was lucky just to be working. Army was filmed during lockdown, pre-vaccines. So flying home to see family every weekend was difficult. It means you don’t see your family much which is difficult. That was tough. Unfortunately we’re not back to normal yet so If you’re working away it’s still tricky with travel and restrictions and companies being worried you’ll test positive. So there’s more pressure on you to not fly or go out for months while you film. Hopefully that will change soon and we’ll be back to something a bit more normal.
Throughout your career, what have been your most rewarding roles? What types of roles do you find yourself gravitating towards?
I’ve loved them all for different reasons. I love how much we get to mix it up in our job. Going from a Victorian copper to a Serbian soldier to an American bank robber or whatever. I think I definitely chase doing something different each job. That keeps it exciting for me; challenging. And in general just chasing something exciting really. You’re going to be doing the job for months and months away from home and your family and friends. You need to be excited by it.
Before Army of Thieves, you were (and still are) quite prolific as a television actor with shows like Medici and Jamestown. What is the biggest difference for you between the worlds of TV and film? Is one more difficult than the other? Which do you prefer?
I do love them both. And I love going between them. With TV you have the chance to play a character over hours and hours. You get to delve into them a bit more. I’ve played characters over 20 hours in some series. Your challenge is then to keep them fresh and not let them stagnate. To discover new things about them as the seasons go on, and make clear choices of what you want to achieve each season that was different from the last. Doing TV you do have to work at a quicker pace and film much more material than you might doing film, so I definitely find it a harder gig. Doing 6 scenes and 7-8 pages daily sometimes. With film you have more time. You might be filming 2 hours over 2 months. So you have more time to spend on the individual scenes. That’s a real luxury.
Do you live by any personal philosophies as an actor? What about in everyday life?
My way of looking at life has definitely changed the last ten years. I’m definitely turning into an old man… Look after yourself. Listen to your body, and your mind. Sleep, rest, exercise. Enjoy the downtime, then blast through the busy full-on times. But enjoy the downtime. We’ve only got one body, one mind, look after it and you’ll get so much more out of it and yourself. Treat others as you would like to be treated. We’re all sensitive souls, even when people don’t seem it. We all have the same anxieties and loves and fears. Even when someone might seem like they are impenetrable.
What else can we look forward to from you in 2022?
More Miss Scarlet and the Duke in Autumn; A film called Dampyr based on the Italian graphic novel about vampires in the Balkan Wars should be in cinemas soon. And who knows what else will come from the Armyverse!
For more from Stuart follow his updates on Instagram