As Dirty Den in Eastenders and now heading the cast as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, Leslie Grantham is used to playing baddies.
Notorious for his past - he was sentenced to life imprisonment at 18, after a German cabbie he attempted to rob, died from a gunshot wound - he does not come across as a hard man.
Ironically he is quite a pussycat, searingly honest and friendly. You sense he thinks Den Watts, whom he played from 1985-89 and then from 2003-2005 when he was resurrected from the 'dead' and even Hook are misunderstood, rather than intrinsically bad.
He said:"Den wasn't that evil. Over the years he has become Mr Nasty. He was just a Jack the Lad, out of his depth, king of a small dung heap. Someone once came up to me and said:'I hated you last night, but you made me laugh. You're a cheeky chappy.'
"Hook is not that bad either."
Leslie, 61, who has starred in and directed numerous pantos and become one of the country's top panto villains, launched his acting career in prison.
Although he killed the cabbie in Germany where he was in the Royal Fusiliers regiment of the British Army, soldiers convicted of any criminal offence that warrants a sentence over three months, are automatically transferred to a British prison.
He was released in 1977, having served ten years, but while in Leyhill prison, Gloucestershire, he acted in several plays for inmates and visitors and edited the prison newspaper. He said:"That's how I got started but I had always wanted to be an actor. When you live on a council estate it's not a good idea to say you want to be an actor."
He later trained at the Webber Douglas drama school (as did Anita Dobson) made his first TV appearance in a 1984 episode of Dr Who and later starred in an episode of the mini TV series, The Jewel in the Crown.
But it was as Dirty Den, that he become infamous, although he was initially earmarked to play market trader Pete Beale. Leslie said:"I had been suggested to play Bet Lynch's love interest in Corrie, but luckily I wasn't available as my name was also put foward to play Peter Beale. Then I was told I was playing Den Watts."
"I was very lucky and had a bit of talent. You need to be lucky in this life.There were a lot more talented people than me at drama school, but they never got the breaks."
After being urged to return after his 'death' he finally agreed when the Watts family returned to Eastenders. He obviously regrets his decision.
He said:"It didn't quite do what it said on the tin. You can't keep the quality up when you have to churn out four or five episodes a week. It's not the same, although people still want me back."
As he expected, there was life after Eastenders. Leslie played Danny Kane in the crime TV series, The Paradise Club and appeared in many more TV series including Cluedo and The Detectives. He then became best known as the 'nasty' co-host of the game show, Fort Boyard shot in France, with Melinda Messenger from 1998-2001.
Leslie, whose resting jobs included working in a bingo hall and cleaning loos, said:"They wanted me to be really horrible; to pick on the girl with big boobs. Melinda was brilliant, very professional and fantastic with the competitors. She was also very brave. When a snake slithered out of the pit she just picked it up and dropped it back. It was great fun, a holiday really."
Leslie has since appeared in two UK tours of Beyond Reasonable Doubt and a UK tour with the Donald Churchill play, The Decorator. He said:"I came into this business to do theatre and got hijacked by television. More people are going back to the theatre. Regional theatres particularly are benefitting from poor TV."
He felt it was tough for budding actors trying to launch their careers. He said:"I feel sorry for people coming into the business now. The opportunities are far less now than 20 years ago."
Leslie, who lives in Wimbledon with his actress wife Jane Laurie and three sons, has been involved in fund-raising for Down Syndrome since his son, Danny, was born with the condition in 1994. He said:"Danny copes very well and goes to a normal school. When I was a kid you never saw children like Danny, who were called mongols then. Luckily we have moved on and I am glad I can help raise awareness."
Leslie is looking forward to playing Hook at the Beck, a first for West London.
He said:"It's a fantastic Christmas family show. I am looking forward to it. It's great to see and hear the reaction from the audience.
"People still seem to like me. They walk up to me and ask me to sign their newspaper. I seem to give a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. The day the audience don't like what I do will be the time to leave."
* Peter Pan is at the Beck Theatre, Grange Road, Hayes from today (Dec 12) to January 4. Box office: 020 8561 8371.