What is your earliest memory?
Sitting on a sofa in my grandparents’ house and being told to stay still and not get my clothes dirty. Then I was taken outside and a photo was taken. I could see legs and hands, people picking me up and putting me down, and in the photo I look so small. I was maybe four.
Who was or still is your mentor?
Various people. A good friend. My big brother. People I work with, who are brilliant for different things.
How fit are you?
I’ve studied martial arts. I like cycling. I’m fairly fit but if I had to sprint for a long time, I don’t think I could sustain it.
Tell me about an animal you have loved.
There hasn’t been an animal that I’ve truly got to know and love. Being an asthmatic, I can’t do cats at all. I love dogs, but we don’t have one that’s been mine.
Risk or caution, which has defined your life more?
In career terms, I will take risks and put myself under great pressure, but I will do a lot of research and work to mitigate that risk. I don’t foolishly jump in, because as a parent you can’t live on the fly: you’ve got responsibilities.
What trait do you find most irritating in others?
All elements of narcissistic behaviour. Self-aggrandisement, pulling for status. There’s a lot of people mired in that, and I want to get away from them as quickly as possible.
What trait do you find most irritating in yourself?
Procrastination and distraction when it comes to tasks I don’t really want to do. I’ve got better as I’ve got older.
What drives you on?
The endless possibility. This career is a game of chess and a game of chance at the same time. What keeps me going is the endless carrot of access to the best of work. It’s no small ask.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I don’t believe in gods or doctrines. I have a more humanistic approach. I think I will move into a state of non-existence; the elements that form my body will dissipate.
Which is more puzzling, the existence of suffering or its frequent absence?
One defines the other: you can’t have happiness without sadness, you can’t have comfort without discomfort. The depths of suffering, the intensity of discomfort, why we live on a planet where there is such discomfort — that’s where we have to grow.
Name your favourite river.
The Thames. When I first came to London to attend drama school, I was 18, just left home — I was basically living out of a bag. I would walk and walk and try to get to know this city I’d moved to. I remember walking the length of the Thames. Years later, I had been filming in Rome, then in Paris, and I came home to London, saw the Thames from Waterloo Bridge and realised we have quite a beautiful city. We can forget that. So the Thames represents both leaving home and coming home.
What would you have done differently?
A relationship with someone who’s not around now that I think I could have made different, or tackled differently, over the years. That leaves me with regret. But I think we get better as people if we carry regrets. If you have no regrets, you’re quite a shallow person.
Adrian Lester stars in “The Undeclared War”, on Thursdays on Channel 4 at 9pm or all episodes available on All 4
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