Stephen Graham: Actor tells Desert Island Discs ‘I didn’t know how to cope’

Stephen Graham

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Actor Stephen Graham has opened up about the time he attempted to take his own life, after suffering a breakdown.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, the star of Line of Duty, The Irishman and This Is England said he “didn’t know how to cope” at the time.

The ordeal came about after he had left home to go to drama school in London.

The 46-year-old said a series of traumatic family events that occurred before he moved away from home for the first time contributed to his collapse.

In the space of a few years, his beloved grandmother died and his mother gave birth to a stillborn child. “I’d been through these few traumatic things and never really grieved,” said the Liverpudlian actor.

His mother later became pregnant again and a baby brother arrived the day before Graham, then 20, went to start his new life in the capital.

“This beautiful joyous occasion of this little boy coming into my life and mum and pop’s life and then me having to leave was kind of a bit difficult,” he told host Lauren Laverne. “But when you’re 20 you have the world in front of you haven’t you, so you try not to focus on that stuff.”

He added: “I had a breakdown with all of these things that had happened traumatically from my late teens that I hadn’t really dealt with or I hadn’t come to terms with.”

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Stephen Graham played undercover officer DS John Corbett in Line of Duty

The star recalled how he returned home and tried to explain his feelings to his parents, who tried to help him, but in vain.

He went on to attempt to hang himself in his room. “It was very calculated,” he said.

“I heard my nanna’s voice – and I know it sounds strange and weird… and she shouted ‘Stephen’ and I thought I’d gone, because I’d tried to do that. And I just came to, I opened my eyes and the rope had snapped, thankfully.

“And then I put a high neck jumper on, one of them zip-up jumpers, and my ma and da came back and then my mum kind of saw it and she went, ‘What’s that?’ And she seen it properly and then the three of us… I really opened up then, everything just came out and I just [said], ‘I don’t know how to cope.’

  • If you or someone you know are feeling emotionally distressed, these organisations offer advice and support. In addition, you can call the Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland). Mind also has a confidential telephone helpline- 0300 123 339 (Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm).

His best friends Lee and Jamie were “magnificent”, he said. “They were really supportive and my mum and dad and slowly built me back, slowly come around to the understanding it was OK. Life was worth living, thankfully.”

Graham also spoke about how he first attended a youth theatre group at Liverpool’s Everyman theatre as a teenager on the advice of local actor Andrew Schofield, who lived over the road from his grandmother.

One of Graham’s grandfathers was Jamaican, and he told Laverne that at times in his youth he didn’t know where he “belonged”.

“There were times there growing up when I was slightly unsure where I fitted in,” he said, referencing his white and black cousins. He stressed that his parents encouraged him “to find my own way within it”.

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Graham (second left) with Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino and the cast of The Irishman last month

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman review ★★★★☆

He can now be seen playing mobster Anthony Provenzano in Martin Scorsese’s film The Irishman. The director had previously cast him in Gangs of New York and as Al Capone in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

Graham admitted he was “really nervous” to meet Robert De Niro, his co-star in The Irishman, because movies like The Godfather, Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter were “the films that I grew up on”.

His dad showed them to him on video straight after he confessed to having a proper interest in acting. “That weekend we watched those three films, and I think we watched The Godfather twice actually. It was amazing,” he recalled.

“But that was that kind of a moment where he went to me, ‘If you’re serious, this is how it’s done, seriously and brilliantly.’ That began my love affair with films.”

Desert Island Discs is on BBC Radio 4 at 11:15 GMT on Sunday and then online.

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