Master of menace Alex Ferns is back

ALEX Ferns has got a big Christmas ahead of him. Yes, it may be only September, but the Scots actor has a good reason to be thinking that far ahead.

"My wife's due on December 29," he says proudly. "It's too far away to know if it's a boy or a girl yet, but we're going to wait until he or she comes out anyway. But I don't mind either way."

Ferns, who shot to fame playing "evil" Trevor on EastEnders, already has another son, four-year-old Cameron, who he says is looking forward to the new addition to the family.

"Cameron needs a brother or a sister," Ferns says. "He doesn't really say which he would prefer. I think he wants a brother though."

While it sounds like Cameron can't wait for his new sibling to arrive, Ferns says he and wife Jennifer, also an actor, are happy there has been a four-year gap.

"I think it just happens when it happens," he says. "But we were both gobsmacked by having one kid. Also, I think it's important to let the first child know that they're really special, you know, to make them understand that.

"A lot of people have the next kid straight after the first one, and they don't get enough time spent with the first one. I think it's important because once number two comes along, of course, he or she is going to be the focus of attention. And that's always hard for the other sibling."

Ferns hints, however, that Cameron's time with his parents' undivided attention hasn't been without its troubles.

"I've seen a lot of things from my own personality in him," he smiles. "My wife as well. Good things or bad things? Let's just say there's a lot of interesting things going on with Cameron right now. I won't go into it, but he's got a lot of my traits."

This picture of the proud and loving father is about as far from the on-screen Ferns as you can get.

From his defining role as wife-beater Trevor Morgan in EastEnders to his award-winning turn as a reformed gangster in British film Man Dancin', Lennoxtown-born Ferns has developed a menacing screen presence.

The intense blue eyes, gruff Scottish accent and formidable grimace will forever be etched on the memories of EastEnders fans after his two-year stint terrorising screen wife Little Mo Slater.

"Nobody hassles me about EastEnders any more," he says. "They're too scared."

His latest role, as psychotic gangster Liam Carnegie in new two-part Channel 4 drama Low Winter Sun, will do little to make him more approachable.

The new hard-hitting Edinburgh-based cop drama leaves Rebus on road-crossing duty. Set in a fictional Grassmarket police station, it follows detective Frank Agnew (played by Mark Strong) and Joe Geddes ( Brian McCardie) as he is forced to investigate two murders, one of which he committed himself.

In the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant a man is murdered, drowned in a tank of live lobsters. He is Detective Sergeant Brendan McCann (Robert Willox). His killers are detectives Agnewand Geddes, McCann's partner.

After the sudden disappearance of his girlfriend, Agnew enlists Geddes' help to eliminate the man he believes had a hand in her murder.

So together the two detectives strap McCann's body into his car, dump it in the sea and concoct an elaborate cover-up plan.

But then another body is discovered in the boot of McCann's car, and Agnew finds himself leading an investigation into a spate of murders.

A two-part drama, written by Edinburgh's Simon Donald, this gripping thriller twists and turns its way to an explosive climax.

Ferns doesn't appear until the second episode, but he certainly makes an impression.

"It's a scene where Michael Nardone, who plays my brother, and I torture a guy to get information out of him," Ferns explains.

"We are the baddest of the bad, so we steam blast the meat off his legs, to get him to talk. It's an interesting scene," he deadpans.

"But actually performing it, of course, it doesn't feel real. As an actor you just think it's ridiculous, you're just having a bit of fun. We had a stuntman hanging from the ceiling, and we had to blast him with water. It was very cold I remember, poor guy. He was freezing his arse off."

Ferns' character is a small player in a bigger drama unfolding among a team of Edinburgh police officers who are investigating him and his brother. When two of the officers murder their hated colleague, Liam Carnegie gets drawn into a whole can of corruption and deceit.

But Ferns steals the scenes he is in, turning even simple things like looking in the fridge and getting undressed into threatening behaviour.

"Yep, I'm playing menacing again," says Ferns wryly. "It seems to be what I'm able to do best. But I guess I do enjoy playing that side of human nature. That's the way I'm getting cast, so you have to go with the jobs. How long that will last I don't know."

Since he left EastEnders in 2002 Ferns has been trying to move away from the indelible impression Trevor Morgan made on viewers and leave behind the stigma of having been in a soap.

"I wanted to try to break that mould of being classified as a soap actor in terms of the industry by casting directors," he says.

"Is there still that stigma? Of course there is, yeah. It's there. And you have to convince casting directors you're more than that.

"I wanted to try to convince them that I could do other stuff - on film and TV - and the only way to really do that in this country is with theatre, unlike the States. So I took a couple of interesting theatre jobs."

His appearances in ID with Anthony Sher at the Almeida Theatre, and then the Death Row drama Coyote On A Fence, which came into the West End, seemed to do the trick. He later got a part in Oscar-nominated film Merry Christmas because of them. The TV job he got off the back of EastEnders, filmed before he headed into theatre, didn't work however. Prime-time naval drama Making Waves, which screened in the summer of 2004 and starred Derns as a ship's captain, was a huge flop, and got pulled after three episodes.

"I don't know why it failed," he says. "Look, I'll be the first to say it was formulaic. It was kind of like Soldier, Soldier in that sense. There's no getting round how formulaic it was.

"But I think it could have been a success. But then the transmission date kept getting pushed back and back, and what we didn't know was that Carlton was being taken over by Granada, and Granada didn't like it [Making Waves].

"The whole thing was really strange, I haven't got to the bottom of it. But of course being the actor you're the one stuck with it, it was your failure. But it wasn't my failure. Ask the execs at ITV about it."

Thankfully for Ferns, it has done little to damage his career. He went on to star in the Oscar-nominated French film Merry Christmas, won Best Actor at the Cherbourg film Festival for Man Dancin', and has a number of projects lined up as he works around the arrival of his second child.

"I think the next part is going to be a big departure from what I've done so far," he says. "It's not going to be a psycho, I think I've done enough of that. I want to be a nice guy."

• Low Winter Sun is on Channel 4 on Thursday, 9pm. Part two: Thursday, September 21

The life of Ferns

Name: Alex Ferns

Birthdate: 1969

Significant other: Married actress Jennifer Woodburne in 1996

Career high: Leaving EastEnders in a literal blaze of glory Career low: His West End run of the Death Row drama Coyote On A Fence was cancelled due to low ticket sales

Famous for: Being hit with an iron by Little Mo on EastEnders

Words of wisdom: "I still think soaps are rubbish. I know that certain actors are really good, but the level of acting is dire at the best of times."

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