Keeping it one hundred

Star of new heist thriller Wrath of Man, builder, pilot, family man, dog lover and all-round nice guy, Chris Reilly tells Mia Bleach why success in one field will never define him

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Actor and nicest man in the world Chris Reilly is cheerfully talking us through the bungalow he’s building in his garden. Perched on the edge of a battered cream sofa in his native Glasgow home, he runs us through the groundworks and the grade of cement he’s using.

The house is for his mum. “Mum’s mad for it! I took her to the Baftas once and she stayed out with the party animals while I went to bed. She’s got one leg, my Mum, but she was out till all hours.”

“Acting’s lovely but it can’t change me because my value system doesn’t rely on it.”

Reilly, 43, entered the acting game at 31 – the late afternoon, by Hollywood standards. Winning a scholarship to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, he went on to perform small roles in theatre, film and television, including Game of Thrones and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In 2017, his performance in BBC One’s The Last Post won him a Scottish Bafta, which really got the ball rolling: bigger parts in The Feed (with David Thewlis) and Devils (with Patrick Dempsey) followed. His latest role is in Guy Ritchie’s heist thriller Wrath of Man, which follows a cash truck employee (Jason Statham) responsible for protecting hundreds of millions of dollars.

But Reilly’s job is the least interesting thing about him. He leans back on the old couch and laughs.

“I’ve lived a hundred lives,” he says. In the noon of his life, Reilly ran Rosshead House, a supported housing service for individuals with needs including homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. He also grew up there, as his dad ran it beforehand.

“When we were kids, my dad brought us up on his own in what at the time was a bed and breakfast – a halfway house, effectively. I topped and tailed it with my brother in a room with an old soldier and, if he was too drunk, I would stay in the living room.

“I came to acting because I wanted an outlet. I was spending 80 hours a week working and living with people in very difficult situations and it was staying with me. I needed somewhere to wash myself clean. I found this amateur dramatics company – I started singing and dancing and doing all this stuff I never dreamed I would be able to do. And they embraced me as this oddball.

“It was also a gift to work there [Rosshead House]. My background was a great privilege – the phenomenally hard opportunities I’m able to access as an actor are a direct result of all the different characters I met, all the emotional journeys they went through, other people’s pain. It feels vicariously exploitative – those guys were going through a horrible time and I’m using that. At the same time, the ability to make sense of past experiences for your future journey by studying other people – it’s healing. What I’m able to bring to roles in terms of authenticity is completely nourished by that.”

And Reilly is authentic to a fault. A few days after the interview, an email from his publicist asks us not to print the names or details of his girlfriend, his niece and his mum. This isn’t like chatting to your average actor. There’s no sign of a pedestal, no inflated sense of self. Granted, he’s Chris Reilly, not Johnny Depp. But his genuine, extroverted nature ran away with him. He talks about his family because that’s what he cares about.

“Acting’s lovely but it can’t change me because my value system doesn’t rely on it. I work very, very hard, it’s a great privilege and I love it. But my values are about family and friends and home. One of the first performances I did was as Bill Sikes in Oliver. My friends came to see it and they were all standing on chairs at the end clapping. Thirty of them,” Reilly beams. “They’re super supportive but I get it in the neck from them. I’m the butt of every joke – I’m that one, I’m the idiot.”

They must be laughing on the other sides of their faces these days, with the number of blockbusters he’s been in, the A-listers he’s rubbed shoulders with. “They don’t care!” he laughs. “But the great thing is that they stick with me.”

We chat some more about home and family life. He’s at ease in this warm, salt-of-the-earth storyteller state. We exchange photos of our dogs. “Mine’s called Tim,” he says, holding his phone up to the screen. Tim looks like a small fox. “He’s a Romanian rescue, a lovely little thing.”

This summer Reilly filmed spy series Slow Horses, a 12-part book adaptation, with Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas for Apple TV. He’s also running the production company Shift Media Productions, which he set up with a couple of writer friends during lockdown 1.0.

“We’ve picked up a few projects so are doing quite well… We’ll see what happens. We made a short film, The Interrogation of Rudolf Hess – they wrote it and I produced it. The experience was pretty cool so we decided to start a production company together. We’re working on three projects at the moment – it did get busy.”

On top of that there’s the small matter of the house he’s building – talk about a hundred lives. “Building is something I’ve done a fair bit of. I worked as a labourer when I was in between jobs as a kid. I’ve worked roads and railways. I built a convent in Leipzig as a joiner for five or six weeks.

“Building this house is probably the most scary thing I’ve ever done. Because it’s for my mother, it’s so important. I’ve got to keep to a timeline and I promised it to her. It means an awful lot to her and I’m scared that sometimes I don’t feel capable – I don’t feel as if I can do it. But I know what I’ve got to do and each day I get a little bit done and hopefully it’ll come together.” He thinks for a second. “It’s served me well as a philosophy that as long as you know where you’re going, you’ll get there eventually.”

Actor, producer, builder, one-time head of service at Rosshead House – and pilot. “I fly,” Reilly laughs. “I fly little planes! It’s the one indulgence I’ve given myself in life. I’ve never had a lot of money and I’m not rich now, by any means, but I have treated myself to flying lessons. I never wanted to be an actor till later in life – I wanted to be a pilot, ever since I was a kid. I couldn’t do it because I had bad eyes. So doing that now is amazing. It was Top Gun that started it all – I’m more Goose than Maverick,” he laughs.

Wrath of Man is available now on Amazon Prime video 

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