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Those who have worked with him say he comes to work fully prepared, having memorised not only his own lines but those of his fellow actors, and he insists on total professionalism from the cast and crew.
The word in Hollywood is that he does not suffer fools gladly and wants things done his way, or not at all.
There might be three or four white people there but there's going to be like 25 black people." Although he tends to play authoritative men of honour and conviction, transcending race, he is always looking to diversify.
But, at the age of 41, when he still had not landed a breakthrough role on stage or in film, he turned to marijuana and crack cocaine.
My team knows I need to be diverse, so I read six, seven scripts a week. I guess I'll stick my toe in the water and see if a crocodile bites it off.
One of the major criteria for choosing a film is I would never do a film that I wouldn't pay my money to go and see."While he commands up to £10 million for a role in a major film, he drops his price considerably if something attracts him. If I do a good film, then I'll do another one."I won't be able to do five a year, but it will keep me in the game." The Big Short, the film adaptation of Michael Lewis' book of the same name about the causes of the financial crisis, opens in UK cinemas this weekend.
Drawing on his own experience, he gave a harrowing and brilliant portrayal of a charming but dangerous crack addict. He began to work steadily in films as varied as Jurassic Park, True Romance and Menace II Society. "Hollywood called, and the rest is history," he said with satisfaction.
His more memorable films include Jackie Brown, The Negotiator, Deep Blue Sea, The Rules of Engagement and Unbreakable.
He sees nothing unusual in his driven desire to keep working. I spent the rest of the time watching television, reading scripts and eating sandwiches.