Former rugby league star Rob Parker has made his acting debut – after being asked to give it a try by Hollywood A-lister Tom Hardy.
The ex-Leigh Centurions and Warrington Wolves forward has recently featured in BBC One’s highly-rated period drama Taboo.
His role is even more extraordinary as he has never had a single acting lesson.
Not only did Hardy – star of the Krays movie Legend and Batman: Dark Knight Rises – offer Parker a role in the series, but the pair were already good friends for a few years after meeting in a Shrewsbury valley.
“I never set out to do anything acting related but I have been friends with Tom Hardy for a couple of years now,” revealed Parker, who spent two seasons as a player at home-town club Leigh.
“Tom [Hardy] had always said that he thought I would be quite good at doing some acting. I can always spin a yard and tell a good story so I think he could see something in me from that.
“We were down in Shrewsbury on a range day shooting some guns and that is where I first met Tom.”
The 35-year-old, who featured in episode five, admitted Hardy was a pleasure to be around and insisted it was one of the easiest decisions in his life when asked to feature in the show.
“We had no phone signal and there were only a handful of people there and we just enjoyed each other’s company,” he added.
“I just treated him like a normal bloke because he is a normal bloke but I am opportunistic and jumped at the chance when Tom wanted me to be in the programme because he is an exceptional actor.”
The series is about James Keziah Delaney – played by Hardy – who returns to 1812 London to discover that he has been left a mysterious legacy by his father. Delaney finds himself in a face-off against the East India Company.
On the plot, Parker said: “There are quite a lot of twists and turns and it is very dark.
“The name of my character is Cole and I play the part of being in Tom’s gang and one of his mates. I am a bit of a physical character in it which stems from my rugby past.
“Taboo gets quite dark and sinister at times but there are some real good twists and turns and I know if you get into it then you will be completely hooked.”
Taboo also features well-known actress Oona Chaplin and Parker admitted that he was blown away appearing on a national channel in front of such an audience.
He added: “I absolutely loved it and it was one of them kind of surreal moments and then I started thinking about appearing in a series that is going to be on the BBC.
“There was obviously going to be a big draw to Taboo when Tom Hardy puts his name to it but he has also co-written it as well.
“I did about four or five weeks filming with Taboo in total and loved every minute of it.”
Parker worked on set sometimes for up to 14 hours per day, which was something he had never done before – though he was able to draw parallels with his time as a player.
“You train all week while lads are learning their lines, going through things in preparation and the director is like your coach,” continued Parker.
“The director tells you where you have got to be, what you have got to do and how you play a role within the team for it to look good on television. You can do the same scene over and over again like you practice your moves on the field.
“Actors really graft hard and that is something that I was pleasantly surprised about because people have preconceived ideas that they are all prima donnas but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Parker also played for Bradford Bulls, London Broncos, Warrington Wolves, Salford Red Devils and Castleford Tigers during a long career which included England honours in 2003.
He also became general manager of Championship rugby league club Swinton Lions ahead of the new 2017 campaign and explained how he would love Hardy to visit Heywood Road this term.
He said: “We have had a couple of conversations about rugby – he played a little bit himself in his younger days so he is a very physical bloke, and being a big supporter of the military, he likes to be active. We just have a lot of mutual respect for each other.
“I have sent him down a couple of Swinton hoodies as well so fingers crossed he will start supporting Swinton Lions from now on.
“It just seemed like a really nice fitting to get back into the game and should anything else arrive from a filming perspective, the club have said that I can jump into it as and when and they will support me throughout.”