Ross Kemp has the look of a fella your mam would say you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, or at least one you wouldn't get on the wrong side of. It's hard to know though if that's because of his bouncer-like build, or are we just hanging on to that image of him from his Grant Mitchell days - even PHIL was scared of his little bro. If that is the reason, then it hasn't done him any harm (well, not any career harm anyways). His hard man reputation has helped him become a credible infiltrator of gangs and criminal activity for the last ten years in his investigative programmes.
The BAFTA award-winning documentary maker was in town recently promoting his latest series of jaunts into the underbelly of society, and he took some time to chat to entertainment.ie about it. Sound man. Ross Kemp: Extreme World is now on its third series and is still as provocative as ever. This time round he goes to India, Lebanon, Papa New Guinea, Las Vegas, and he even stops by locally to Northern Ireland. He went to Belfast for this episode, looking at the troubled city around the time of the Orange marches in July.
When asked if he would consider any of the rest of Ireland as a subject matter, Ross was certainly very interested. "If you get the access, and I don't get killed." When informed of the TV series Love/Hate, he hastily puts his cup down and writes down its name. He wants to know what it's about, and makes comparisons between it and the TV series Underbelly in Australia. Is this the seed of a new show? It would certainly get the viewers here. Ross Kemp versus the real life Nidge. The world NEEDS to see this.
He goes on to say: "We'd go anywhere... I've got a really good team - very small team but very good team - who are always on the lookout. We can go on anything, from an article in The Economist to something happening in the news."
The first episode however is India, where he looks at the issue of rape and child trafficking. Not something that must be easy to report on, and Ross says at times, it got very difficult: "We interviewed a guy who tells me he's killed 400 girls under the age of ten.... I went through this dreadful feeling of actually wanting to kill him there and then on the spot." He discusses how the whole team found this in particularly distressing, and while he always tries to remain unbiased, that was a time when he couldn't hold it in. The programme itself is fairly harrowing to watch, but you have to admire Kemp's boldness in confronting those who are responsible - although sadly, it probably won't do much good.
Ross's investigative journey continues to Belfast later in the series. He told entertainment.ie: "It's about looking at where we are now 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement [...] I hope that we allowed people with extreme views from both sides of the community have their say, and we spoke to people who have genuine grievances, but I really wanted it to be non-judgmental, completely unbiased."
He went on to say: "You've got to bear in mind that there are a generation of people, particularly in Milton Keynes, who live in Swindon, who live in.. I don't know... Manchester....that are just not aware that this is happening in a city inside the United Kingdom".
Which he tells us is a big part of the reason he does what he does. He says it's: "To inform an audience that are not interested in current affairs [...] The more you open your horizons, the more you learn, the more educated you are, generally the more peaceful you are as a human being, and the more understanding you are."
It's certainly isn't the easiest way to earn a crust though, is it? I ask if a career in perhaps, a less dangerous version of television would be on the cards? - "I don't rule anything out. I'm getting old, there's a shelf life to anything you can do. I can't run around like I used to but I think I'm getting better at doing the interviews. My weakness would have been interviewing journalists or tricky characters that were liars and unravelling the onion. I would have been far better at openly describing things on the ground as they were happening".
He laughs when he says 'I think I'm going to get worse at running around rubble getting shot at, but I'm going to get better hopefully at interviewing people who are not willing to disclose what they are really up to." So could he see himself doing a TV show, using perhaps the Piers Morgan style of interviewing? "Who knows" he says, "I'm not going to do a Piers Morgan, but I wouldnt mind his money though!
And of course, he couldn't get away without being asked an EastEnders question, although Ross gave his general party line of 'Never say never': "I never watched it when I was in it, I watch it probably more now than when I was in it. I wish it all the best, but it's managed to survive without me".
For the moment anyways, we will have plenty more of Ross Kemp in the coming weeks on Ross Kemp: Extreme World which begins on Sky1 on January 21 at 9pm.