Ed Skrein used to rap, paint and coach swimming before becoming an actor

By Gabrielle Olya
Updated August 29, 2015 12:15 PM
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Credit: Christian Hogstedt

We’ll get to see Ed Skrein ride a Jet Ski in a Christian Dior suit and fight off nine guys around a moving car in The Transporter: Refueled (out Sept. 4), but when he’s not on-screen as lead Frank Martin, the London native is “the most normal dude,” he says.

“I live a very, very, very ordinary life, and it’s a beautiful thing,” the actor, 32, tells PEOPLE. “I have anonymity. I walk around, I’m an absolute nobody, and I love it this way.”

We have a feeling that will soon change! Here are five things to know about the rising action star.

1. He was a rapper and artist before he got into acting.
“I’d already been on a creative journey for a long time through painting and music,” says Skrein, who began acting in his mid-20s when a friend of his asked him to star in a short film.

“He said, ‘Look I think you can do this,’ and said something that sounded ridiculous at the time – ‘You’ve got a film face,’ which felt completely disrespectful to everyone that had been doing it for years and dreamed of being an actor. I just hadn’t ever thought about it!”

2. He’s a dad.
The father to a young son, Skrein says his favorite thing to do when he’s not acting is to spend time with his kid. He loves “being in the playground, taking his friends out and going out for ice cream, and going to the jungle gym,” he says. “Me and my family are really happy, so I’m very thankful.”

3. He used to coach swimming.
“It was a passion of mine and a love of mine,” says the actor. “Whether I was teaching 3-year-olds to swim their first 10 meters, or trying to shave off milliseconds to get national times for an 100-meter butterfly, that was a real passion of mine. It’s genuinely something I miss – working with kids, and being around kids and the energy they gave me.”

4. He prefers to do his own stunts.
“Whenever you read scripts, you think to yourself, ‘How am I going to do that?’ ” says Skrein. “But it always ends up safe, and it always ends up bloody fun in the end. And I always end up wanting to do it, and saying to the director, ‘Don’t have a stunt man do this, I want to do this!’ ”

5. He likes playing the bad guy.
Skrein really enjoyed playing the villain Ajax for the upcoming sci-fi action-adventure film Deadpool, which he stars in alongside Ryan Reynolds.

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“Someone like Ajax is great fun because he’s so evil, and he’s so horrible,” he says. “All of those characters that are quite evil are quite fun, because in real life if I see a fight it makes me feel sick, but when you’re in a controlled environment and you know people aren’t getting hurt, it’s a fantastic environment to torture people and beat people up and kill people, and do all of these horrible things that we wouldn’t dream of doing in normal life!”

Catch our annual Ones to Watch portfolio – featuring this year’s biggest stars on the rise – in the issue on newsstands Sept. 18