A chance meeting with Hollywood hellraiser Mickey Rourke in a London bar led former rugby star Keith Mason on a new road into movies and television.
Now the 35-year-old has written a script partly based on his own life on the pitch, and partly inspired by the hell-for-leather Hollywood blockbusters that have taken cinemagoers by storm.
What’s more, Keith is lined up to be the star, following in the footsteps of fellow sportsmen-turned-actors Jason Statham (a diver) and Vinnie Jones (footballer) in pursuing a new career on the screen.
Keith, who played rugby league for Huddersfield Giants, Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, has combined elements of his life with the gritty milieu of Die Hard, Taken, The Transporter and the 007 series to create Rugby Blood.
Having written three drafts of the script and impressed producers with his style, he’s now collaborating on a rewrite with Norwegian writer/director Ben Von Cronos. And as well as being a film Rugby Blood, which carries the tagline “They messed with the wrong player”, will also be a comic series designed by Paul Roper.
“Rugby is in my blood,” says Keith, father of Lukas, 11, and Kalani, 5, and who is expecting a baby with partner Riona Kelly, 37. “I hope it puts rugby league on the map as well.
“Some of the story is quite autobiographical. Some of it is from life experience.
“I play David King who’s a father, a husband and a rugby league star. He’s a good guy with good morals. He goes on holiday to Monte Carlo and his wife gets kidnapped. He has to go and kill all the kidnappers and save her.
“There are car chases, casinos, sharking pools and helicopters. We’re looking for a good actress to be alongside me and a big star to be the villain.”
Is it too much of a leap to suggest that the big star might have the initials M.R....? Keith laughs.
“Mickey Rourke? He’s been like a father figure to me. He supported me throughout a difficult time in my rugby league career. It’s very strange and surreal to be friends with a guy like that.
“We met after Huddersfield played Warrington in the 2009 Challenge Cup Final. We had lost and we were having some drinks in a London bar.
“Mickey walked past me. I asked his bodyguard if I could say hello. He said yes.
“I told Mickey that I loved his film The Wrestler. I asked if it was his life story and he said ‘yes’. Then he said, ‘Are you an athlete or are you a gangster?’ because I was wearing my grey club suit and white shirt.
“He said he loved rugby and had watched the match. We talked and got on and went to another bar where he started arm-wrestling with the other Giants players and tore his bicep!
Keith and Rourke became friends following a further meeting at the GQ Awards and on a trip to the States Keith stayed with Rourke in his home. Soon after Rourke arranged for Keith a play a small role in the thriller A Hitman in London. As Steiner, a bodyguard, Keith found himself on location with Rourke, Darryl Hannah and Michael Madsen.
“That’s what gave me the desire to push on,” says Keith. “I was very nervous the night before but on the day it seemed very natural and the director liked me. Doing the film was fantastic. I was still playing at Castleford at the time but after winning the court case I took a year off.”
Keith is referring to his success in winning a case of wrongful dismissal against Huddersfield Giants in 2013. He was awarded £167,000 in damages. Since then he has focused his attention on working as an actor, notching up roles in TV’s Peaky Blinders and in the films Connection, One Way, 24 Hours Away and King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.
There are more in the pipeline, including Somewhere in Rutland, with Keith playing dual roles of a gypsy and a bigfoot, and The Devil’s Dandruff, in which he will play the lead. With his company KM Productions he will initiate his own projects.
“Sylvester Stallone did it,” says Keith. “For me, a guy living in Halifax, I can’t be waiting for people to give me a job. I have to be writing my own stuff. For me now it’s about pushing on and working hard. I was in a lot of trouble as a young man. I didn’t have it easy, growing up in a council house on Dewsbury Moor with a single parent mum. Everything I have done in my life I have had to fight for.
“Mickey Rourke put out for me. Hopefully I can do the same for him.”
Mickey Rourke filming a movie in Halifax? That we just HAVE to see ...