Is Daniel Mays Britain's least starry actor? Ex EastEnder, who's in new ITV drama The Long Shadow, has racked up dozens of TV and film roles – and Spielberg is a fan – but most people still don't know his name

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  • Reading time:10 min(s) read

  • Essex-born Daniel Mays, 45, trained at London theatre school Italia Conti and RADA before starring in hit show after hit show – including The Long Shadow
  • Read more: ‘Thinking of you Mum, more than ever’: Son of Yorkshire Ripper’s first victim Wilma McCann pays tribute to mother as The Long Shadow airs

At 45, Daniel Mays has been on UK TV screens – and West End stages – for nearly 25 years since his debut role as Kat Slater’s boyfriend Kevin in EastEnders in 2000. 

Since then he’s racked up an illustrious acting career – including his latest role in new ITV drama about the Yorkshire Ripper The Long Shadow – that far exceeds the work of some of his much more famous peers.

However, while his face is instantly recognisable – thanks to roles in cult shows such as Ashes to Ashes, Line of Duty and White Lines – many TV fans might struggle to name him. 

The star, who hails from Essex and is married to make-up artist Louise Burton – the couple share a teenage son, Mylo, and daughter Dixie – has been consistently on our screens since he graduated from prestigious London theatre school Italia Conti as a teenager.

Daniel Mays, currently seen starring as Sydney Jackson in The Long Shadow, has been in some of Britain's best crime series - and a few Hollywood films - since he got his break in EastEnders in 2000. Pictured with his wife, makeup artist Louise Burton. The couple share two children

Daniel Mays, currently seen starring as Sydney Jackson in The Long Shadow, has been in some of Britain’s best crime series – and a few Hollywood films – since he got his break in EastEnders in 2000. Pictured with his wife, makeup artist Louise Burton. The couple share two children

The actor share snaps of his family life - and some impressive celebrities - on his Instagram account. Mays has two children - Mylo and Dixie - with wife Louise

The actor share snaps of his family life – and some impressive celebrities – on his Instagram account. Mays has two children – Mylo and Dixie – with wife Louise

In 2017, he credited Michael Jackson with inspiring him to act, saying: ‘I saw Jackson at Wembley Stadium on his 1988 Bad tour. Watching him perform Billie Jean in the spotlight wearing his black fedora was when I knew I wanted to perform.’ 

Brought up by his electrician father and bank cashier mother, he went on to study at RADA and is now widely regarded as one of Britain’s best character actors – yet May’s also managed the unthinkable during his career, to seemingly be prolific without being mega famous. 

About to hit the West End once more in Guys and Dolls, Mays has a modest 110,000 followers on Instagram and regularly shares holiday photos of his wife and two children alongside snaps of the occasional celebrity – with Geoffrey Rush, Ronnie Wood and Stephen Graham all pictured. Here, FEMAIL looks at some of his biggest roles to date: 

2023: SYDNEY JACKSON IN THE LONG SHADOW

May met the son of Emily Jackson, who was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, ahead of filming The Long Shadow, ITV's drama about the Yorkshire Ripper

May met the son of Emily Jackson, who was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, ahead of filming The Long Shadow, ITV’s drama about the Yorkshire Ripper

New ITV drama The Long Shadow puts the Yorkshire Ripper's victims front and centre. Prominent in the series' first episode is the Ripper's second victim, Emily Jackson. She is portrayed by former Coronation Street star Katherine Kelly (above)
Ripper victim Emily Jackson

New ITV drama The Long Shadow puts the Yorkshire Ripper’s victims front and centre. Prominent in the series’ first episode is the Ripper’s second victim, Emily Jackson. She is portrayed by former Coronation Street star Katherine Kelly (left)

The ITV series, which details the police investigation into the 13 murders carried out by Peter Sutcliffe in his campaign of terror between 1975 and 1980, focuses on the victims of his heinous crimes.

The first episode of the seven-part series followed the tragic final days Wilma McCann and Emily Jackson – Sutcliffe’s first two victims who were brutally murdered in 1975 and 1976. 

In the series, Mays portrays Ms Jackson’s husband Sydney. Ms Jackson, played by Katherine Kelly, was murdered in 1975, shortly after taking up part-time sex work while grappling with money problems.

She was targeted by Sutcliffe outside the Gaiety Pub in Leeds. With her husband Sydney inside, the Ripper pretended his car couldn’t start to lure her to him. 

He picked her up and battered her twice with a hammer as she offered to help. The serial killer dragged her body into a yard and used a screwdriver to viciously stab her a total of 52 times in the neck, breasts, lower abdomen and back. 

On taking on the harrowing role, Mays told The Mirror that he met with Neil Jackson, the son of Sydney and Emily ahead of filming, saying that doing ‘all the research’ – including watching documentaries – didn’t compare with meeting family members affected. 

2020: DCI PETER JAY IN DES

Lockdown role: Mays starred alongside David Tennant, who played serial killer Dennis Nilsen, in 2020, taking on the role of DCI Peter Jay

Lockdown role: Mays starred alongside David Tennant, who played serial killer Dennis Nilsen, in 2020, taking on the role of DCI Peter Jay

The role gave Mays nightmares, he said afterwards

The role gave Mays nightmares, he said afterwards 

During lockdown, Mays starred as the ‘old school copper’ who helped bring mass murderer Dennis Nilsen to justice.

In the three-part ITV mini-series which aired in 2020, Mays played Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay.

Des depicted the true story of British serial killer Nilsen and his murderous atrocities committed against men and boys between 1978 and 1983. 

Mays revealed to to the Mail’s Baz Bamingboye in 2020 that he’d ‘pored over all this research’ — including Killing For Company, Brian Masters’ best-selling psychological study of Nilsen’ and ended up giving himself nightmares while filming the role. 

He said: ‘On two occasions I woke up my wife, Louise, screaming, because I thought I was locked in an attic with Dennis Nilsen.’

2020: DJ MARCUS WARD IN WHITE LINES

Netflix show White Lines was axed after just one series in 2020 - but Mays described playing the role of DJ Marcus Ward as 'probably the best comedic/tragic character I've ever taken on'

Netflix show White Lines was axed after just one series in 2020 – but Mays described playing the role of DJ Marcus Ward as ‘probably the best comedic/tragic character I’ve ever taken on’

Another lockdown hit, Netflix show White Lines aired in 2020 and  has been axed after just one series.

Mays played DJ Marcus Ward in the series but the Netflix show was axed after just one series. 

Mays described White Lines as depicting the dark underbelly of Ibiza’s world famous party scene in ‘brilliantly bonkers’ fashion. 

He said after filming: ‘I would say Marcus’ heart is definitely in the right place, but it’s just having lived that hedonistic lifestyle for 20 years out in Ibiza, it’s sort of eroded him.

‘He’s probably the best comedic/tragic character I’ve ever taken on and as an actor you’re able to play in both those tones which is great…’

Much to fans’ dismay, Mays confirmed the show wouldn’t be returning in August 2020, saying: ‘Following the reports in the press over the past couple of days and for all those asking me on here, it’s with a heavy heart I post the White Lines season 2 ship has well and truly sailed.

‘Huge thanks, respect and admiration to Netflix for the ride of a lifetime.’

2016: TIVIK IN ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY  

Steven Spielberg has come knocking twice, with a role in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in 2011 and the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One in 2016 - in which Mays, left, played informant Tivik

Steven Spielberg has come knocking twice, with a role in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in 2011 and the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One in 2016 – in which Mays, left, played informant Tivik

Mays has flirted with Hollywood, he played a pilot in Pearl Harbour in 2001 after leaving EastEnders and has caught the eye of Steven Spielberg twice, working in supporting roles in both The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in 2011 and the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One in 2016. 

He played Tivik, an informant who alerted Andor of the Galactic Empire’s secret superweapon, the Death Star, and reached a sticky end at the hands of Imperial stormtroopers. 

Despite the A-list role, it seems Mays is happier to carve out his career on home soil. He said in 2017 of Hollywood: ‘I’d love to go there to work, but I can’t imagine living there. I’d miss the energy and buzz of London too much. I’d miss going for a night out in the West End. I’d miss the banter. I’d even miss the rain. I guess you can take the boy out of Essex, but you can’t take Essex out of the boy.’

2016: SERGEANT DANNY WALDRON IN THE LINE OF DUTY 

Biggest role? Mays played errant firearms officer Daniel Waldron in the third series of BBC drama Lind of Duty

Biggest role? Mays played errant firearms officer Daniel Waldron in the third series of BBC drama Lind of Duty

He played errant firearms officer Daniel Waldron in the third series of the acronym-heavy BBC drama

His character’s death – at the hands of a colleague – proved crucial to the third series’ climax

To many, the actor may still be best known for his role as errant firearms officer Daniel Waldron in the third series of BBC drama Lind of Duty. 

Waldron’s armed response unit was probed by AC-12 after the shooting of a suspect.

The character’s death, shot by a colleague, lead to the police department uncovering a historic child sex abuse scandal.

2010: EDDIE O’GRADY IN MADE IN DAGENHAM 

Mays pictured with Sally Hawkins on the set of Made in Dagenham, which was released in 2010. Mays played Eddie O'Grady, the husband of Rita - who led the fight for equal pay in Ford's Essex factory

Mays pictured with Sally Hawkins on the set of Made in Dagenham, which was released in 2010. Mays played Eddie O’Grady, the husband of Rita – who led the fight for equal pay in Ford’s Essex factory

Sally Hawkins led an all-star cast including Geraldine James and Jaime Winstone in 2010’s Made in Dagenham, which celebrated the militant upholstery seamstresses at Ford’s plant who went on strike in 1968 for equal pay.

Mays played lead character Rita O’Grady’s husband Eddie, who appeared sweet-natured and supportive at first before struggling with her becoming less subservient and more politicised. 

2010: JIM KEATS IN ASHES TO ASHES 

The actor played Detective Jim Keats in the Life on Mars spin-off in 2010

The actor played Detective Jim Keats in the Life on Mars spin-off in 2010

A spin-off from award-winning crime drama Life on Mars, which starred John Sim as time-travelling policeman Sam Tyler, Ashes to Ashes gave Mays another key role – and once again saw him playing a police officer. 

Keeley Hawes starred as Alex Drake juggling being a single mother with working as a detective in the early 80s in London while Mays played her ‘Satan’ fellow detective Jim Keats, who aimed to destroy Drake’s division.

2001: PILOT IN PEARL HARBOR 

After EastEnders, Mays headed out to LA for a small part in 2001 box office hit Pearl Harbor, starring Ben Affleck (pictured)

After EastEnders, Mays headed out to LA for a small part in 2001 box office hit Pearl Harbor, starring Ben Affleck (pictured)

From Albert Square to the big time – almost. Mays played a pilot in WWII blockbuster Pearl Harbor – starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett – but it was a small cameo – and his first taste of life on a Hollywood film set.

2000: KEVIN IN EASTENDERS 

Mays was first seen playing lovestruck Kevin in EastEnders in 2000; it was his first role after RADA

Mays was first seen playing lovestruck Kevin in EastEnders in 2000; it was his first role after RADA

May’s first acting job after RADA was playing Kat Slater’s ex-boyfriend for just a few episodes in 2000. Kevin, in an attempt to win Kat back, chained himself to a gate and jumped on top of a taxi. 

He said of his breakthrough role: ‘Having come from three years at Rada and immersed myself in all these different forms of theatre it was a shock to see how a soap opera worked. The actors would learn a couple of pages of lines in five minutes, then walk on and deliver them without missing a beat. 

‘They really liked my character and wanted me to stay on the show but I wasn’t going to get locked into something like that. Straight after that I went off to America to do Pearl Harbor, a whole different world.’




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