With his distinctive weathered looks and stocky build turning up in more than 120 films and TV shows over the last 30 years, Eddie Marsan will be familiar to many viewers, even if many may not be able to put a name to his hangdog face.

From Gangster No.1 and Vera Drake to Ray Donovan and The Pact, Marsan’s career has embraced all kinds of roles and genres to become an in-demand actor on both sides of the Atlantic.

Viewers will next see Marsan as London crime boss Bernie Monke in Prime Video’s science-fiction drama The Power, but it’s only one of many projects the busy and versatile Londoner has been involved in over the last 12 months.

"Women have always been objectified" - Toni Collette on 'cathartic' series The Power 

Eddie Marsan and Ria Zmitrowicz in The Power Amazon Studios
Eddie Marsan and Ria Zmitrowicz in The Power

Born in Stepney in London’s East End in 1968, Marsan left school at 16 to begin a printing apprenticeship but after being asked to play an extra in a film shooting locally, he was inspired to give it up and enlist in drama school. 

Marsan’s early TV credits included The Bill, Casualty, EastEnders and Grange Hill, before he earned a lead role in period sitcom Get Well Soon.

Parts in British comedies This Year’s Love and Janice Beard followed before Hollywood came calling and Marsan appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and psychological drama 21 Grams, while also catching the eye in Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated Vera Drake.

In the two subsequent decades Marsan has been one of Britain’s busiest – and most recognisable – actors, appearing in US and UK productions in a wide range of roles from heavies to put-upon fathers and policemen to clergymen. “I'm an ugly bastard, I've made a living out of it,” Marsan once joked.

“When I was younger I was always being asked to play muggers or drug dealers or racists of one kind or another,” Marsan explained.

Eddie Marsan in The Power Amazon Studios
Marsan plays London crime boss Bernie Monke in the Prime Video sci-fi drama

“I realised early on that I could either be a professional caricature or a professional actor and I decided I wanted to be an actor, so one of the things I decided to do as much as possible was the next role had to be completely different from what I had just done, so that I could change people’s idea of me.

“No one can go and see an Eddie Marsan film and know what they are going to get. One year I played Heinrich Himmler and the next role I had was Bob Dylan. That’s what I always try to do.”

As though to illustrate both his versatility and his ubiquity, in the next year or two Marsan will be seen on screen as five very diverse real-life characters – Martin Luther, Harry Epstein (father of Beatles manager Brian), Mitch Winehouse (singer Amy’s father) in the Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black, Tudor nobleman Edward Seymour and second US President John Adams.

He may have more than 120 film and TV credits to his name, but we’ve picked out seven essential films and TV shows starring the versatile 54-year-old actor, and a few more that are definitely worth catching.

1. Scott in Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

After appearing as tongue-tied bachelor Reg in Mike Leigh’s 2004 film Vera Drake, Marsan was cast by the director as angry driving instructor Scott opposite Sally Hawkins’ cheerful learner Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky.

The stark contrast between the pair is at the heart of the film and is a huge part of its critical success. Poppy’s permanent chirpiness only serves to rile Marsan’s Scott, whose anger at her perceived lack of responsibility is only deepened by her rose-tinted responses and he descends into increasingly racist and misogynistic rants.

Both Hawkins and Marsan won awards for their performances, and Leigh was nominated for Best Screenplay at the Oscars.

Buy or rent Happy-Go-Lucky on Prime Video

2. Terry Donovan in Ray Donovan (2013-2020)

Eddie Marsan in Ray Donovan Showtime

Marsan’s longest-running role has been as Terry Donovan in Showtime’s USA crime family drama Ray Donovan.

Terry is the elder brother of Liev Schreiber’s title character Ray, a fixer who arranges bribes, threats and clean-ups to protect the celebrity clients of an LA law firm.

Marsan’s character is a former boxer who has developer Parkinson’s disease from taking too many blows to the head.

He owns a gym where Ray’s father Mickey (Jon Voight) – newly released from prison to Ray’s dismay but still under the watchful eye of the FBI – hangs out with his associates.

Terry’s condition has also left him depressed, shy and extremely awkward around women, and he’s often reliant on Ray’s help to get by.

The series was unexpectedly cancelled after seven seasons but a feature-length finale featuring all principal cast members including Marsan was released in early 2022.

Stream all seven seasons of Ray Donovan on Sky Atlantic with NOW

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3. Ludwig Guttman in The Best of Men (2012)

Eddie Marsan in The Best of Men BBC

A TV movie produced in the run-up to the 2012 Paralympic Games, The Best of Men tells the story of German Jewish refugee Ludwig Guttmann (Marsan), a spinal injury expert whose patients are largely injured British servicemen returning from World War II.

At the time, spinal patients (played, among others, by Rob Brydon and George Mackay) were largely constrained to their beds – leading to physical and mental deterioration.

But the headstrong Guttmann insists on as much physical exercise as possible, encouraging the patients to take part in wheelchair sports and reconnecting with the outside world.

Eventually Guttman organises a national wheelchair sport competition, the first Stoke Mandeville games, which later developed into the Paralympics.

Watch The Best of Men on Amazon Freevee and ITVX Premium

4. John Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe (2022)

Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe ITV

Marsan starred as John Darwin opposite Monica Dolan as wife Anne in this true-life drama written by Unforgotten creator Chris Lang.

The four-part dark comedy dramatises the disappearance of Darwin, who vanished in 2002 only to turn up alive and well five years later.

Marsan perfectly portrays the naivety and narcissism of fantasist Darwin, who faked his death in order to pay off debts with the insurance money.

While the subject was no laughing matter for those involved, Marsan exercises his comedy chops throughout, no more so than when Darwin, on returning to the UK, fakes amnesia to avoid telling the truth about his disappearance.

Watch The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe on ITVX

All you need to know about The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

5. Jonas in Vesper (2022)

Marsan is on top form as villain Jonas in this post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller.

In a world without widespread edible plants, survivors of an ecological disaster have to trade commodities like blood with the elitist Citadels, who pay them with seeds fit for only a single harvest. The Vesper of the title is Jonas’ niece, played by a spellbinding Raffiella Chapman, who attempts to hack into the seeds to create a fertile and sustainable crop.

Marsan’s Jonas, meanwhile, runs an orphanage where he extracts childrens’ blood to sell to the Citadel while also owning a slave workforce of artificial humans. If Vesper can work out how to hack the seeds, his ill-gotten position of leadership over the other survivors would soon come to an end.

Watch Vesper on Netflix

6. Solly Malinowsky in Ridley Road (2021)

Eddie Marsan as Solly Malinowsky in Ridley Road BBC

Eddie Marsan returned to his native East End for this BBC One drama about Jewish opposition to British Fascism in the 1960s.

Marsan plays Soly Malinovsky, the uncle of protagonist Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey). Vivien has fled from Manchester to London to avoid an arranged marriage and to be with her boyfriend Jack.

But cabbie Soly is more than a taxi driver – he heads up a Jewish anti-fascist organisation and asks Vivien to infiltrate a neo-Nazi group. She agrees, but puts herself in grave danger when she gets too close to its leader, Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear) and his young son.

The role and the series' subject matter were particularly relevant to Marsan, whose father was raised on Cable Street, where in 1936 anti-fascist protesters including British Jews and trade unionists had clashed with police sent to protect a march by Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. 

Watch Ridley Road on BBC iPlayer

7. Mr May in Still Life (2013)

Marsan was named Best British Actor at the Edinburgh Festival for his role as Mr May in Uberto Pasolini’s tale of a lonely council official tasked with locating the next of kin for people found dead without a will, often arranging their funerals when no family can be found.

The life-affirming film follows May as he investigates one final case before his office is closed down, that of his own neighbour Billy Stoke.

As he tracks down Stoke’s family and friends, including his daughter played by Joanne Froggatt, May finds meaning and a little happiness in his own life.

Watch Still Life on ITVX

Best of the rest: More of Eddie Marsan's top movies and TV shows

Eddie Miller in Gangster No.1 (Not available to stream)
Marsan plays a small but significant part in this violent tale of the criminal underworld.

Manny Reuben in Sixty Six (Rent or buy on Prime Video)
Bar Mitzvah plans are thrown into chaos by England's run to the 1966 World Cup final.

Thomas Neil Cream in River (ITVX)
Marsan's ghost of a 19th century poisoner haunts Stellan Skarsgard's bereaved detective.

James in Tyrannosaur (Rent or buy on Prime Video)
A brutal tour-de-force from Marsan as the abusive husband of Olivia Colman's Hannah.

Reg in Vera Drake (Buy or rent on Prime Video)
Tongue-tied Reg attempts to court Vera's daughter in one of the film's lighter sub-plots.

Peter Page in The World's End (Prime Video, Sky Cinema with NOW)
An attempt to recreate a teenage pub crawl is interrupted by an alien invasion.

Richard in Faintheart (ITVX Premium)
A medieval battle renactment fan attempts to win his wife (Jessica Hynes) back.

Pancks in Little Dorrit (BBC iPlayer)
Marsan plays the amateur detective in this BBC Dickens adaptation starring Claire Foy.

Vic in The Disappearance of Alice Creed (Prime Video)
Marsan co-stars with Gemma Arterton and Martin Compston in this gripping neo-noir.

Arwel in The Pact (BBC iPlayer)
Brewery owner Arwel proves to be a man hiding dark secrets in this Wales-based drama.

Gilbert Norrell in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Not available to stream)
Historical fantasy starring Marsan and Bertie Carvell as 19th century magicians.

Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes & Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Prime Video)
Marsan's inspector helps and hinders Robert Downey Jr's Holmes in equal measure.

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