In defence of Danny Dyer

Dyer... Not as dumb as he looks (Credit: Rex)

Remember, if you will, the Ross Kemp episode of Ricky Gervais' sitcom, 'Extras'. It culminated with a humble Kemp eventually shedding his ridiculous 'macho' image when threatened by Vinnie Jones, telling Gervais' character he's not a tough guy at all, but that he gets pushed around by everyone.

He even reveals he's considering a transfer to Channel 5 soap 'Family Affairs': "There's no bullying at 'Family Affairs'," he sniffs pathetically. "They're nice people."

[Danny Dyer joins cast of Eastenders]
Now consider Danny Dyer, another British actor who projects a tough guy image. The East London-born actor has spent the majority of his career being unfairly mocked by critics who consider his low-budget movies worthy of contempt.

When Dyer was recently announced as a cast regular on 'EastEnders', it was hard not to draw a parallel between him and the caricatured Ross Kemp of 'Extras'. There's no bullying in Walford. They're nice people.

Dyer has nothing to be ashamed of. Born in Canning Town and now a resident of Debden, Epping, Dyer wasn't theatre trained at Sylvia Young or pushed into the business by over-eager parents: he was just a naturally talented actor.

Starting his career at the age of 14 in 'Prime Suspect 3', Dyer went on to appear in 'Cadfael', 'A Touch Of Frost' and 'Soldier Soldier'. He was the best thing about 1999's 'Human Traffic' as pillhead Moff, bouncing off the walls while theorising about 'Star Wars' and indulging in drunken phone sex.

What you saw was what you got with Dyer: raw, unpolished and unshowy. He wasn't Hugh Grant. He was one of us. We all knew a Danny Dyer at school.

[Danny Dyer: I've become a joke]
But Dyer's strengths as an actor – his lack of 'luvviness' – would also work against him in the long run. He became typecast as a 'geezer', and though he was good at it (see 'Borstal Boy', 'Mean Machine' and the entire oeuvre of director Nick Love for proof), it seemed to be all he was good at.

An actor of Dyer's stature was never going to get a big break in Hollywood (he couldn't do accents for a start), which resigned him to working in the British film industry, at a time when 'Lock Stock' rip-offs were the order of the day.

The prime offers slowly dried up. The scripts got more and more generic. And Dyer – who had been acting since he was a young boy – had bills to pay. Surely you can forgive a jobbing actor accepting a duff cameo here and a tough guy TV series there to keep his family afloat?

This is something that Dyer's critics fail to understand. Not every actor considers their work an art-form; some, like Dyer, consider it just that: work. Which is not to say that Dyer's performances are workmanlike. Would someone who didn't care about his craft at all attract a mentor such as Nobel Laureate playwright Harold Pinter?

The genres in which Dyer appears might not break box-office records but they are solid performers in the home entertainment arena, and Dyer wouldn't have a career at all if he wasn't popular with the direct-to-DVD demographic.

Sniffy critics like Mark Kermode – who Dyer has threatened to headbutt due to his constant, needless ridicule – generally ignore movies that go straight to the shelves. But should one of Dyer's movies dare to have a small theatrical release? It suddenly become fair game for derision. Kermode and friends can't help but punch down.

Take 'Run For Your Wife'. Please. Sorry, bad joke, but in fairness, Ray Cooney's adaptation of the famous stage play was full of bad jokes. It was a bold move into comedy for Danny Dyer, and although the movie was not his finest hour (he's constantly overshadowed by a stream of geriatric cameos, including Christopher Biggins, Lionel Blair and Judi Dench as 'Bag Lady'), Dyer gave it a shot. He was crucified as a result.

[Is 'Run For Your Wife' the worst movie ever made?]

The glee with which the press reported 'Run For Your Wife''s less-than-stellar opening weekend figure of £602 was sickening. Never mind that it only opened on nine screens. In the same week as a 'Die Hard' movie. And never mind that, actually, by its second week, it had grossed a far more respectable tally of £13,052. Because why let the facts get in the way of a good piss-take?

The knives were already out; the stories were already written. Dyer was to be a laughing stock, and not in the way he would have liked.

Dyer's last release, 'Vendetta', is still firmly in the actor's wheelhouse – revenge, remorse, guns, gangsters, people going 'grrrrr' – but it has scored some of Dyer's best reviews for ages (each one feeling the need to qualify that it's "surprisingly good"). Dyer admits he's made mistakes in the past by accepting poor roles too readily, but it appears he's found his niche.

He turned down a role in 'EastEnders' in 2009, claiming it'd be too much pressure. But now, as a father of three nearing 40? The role suits him down to the ground. His first appearance on the soap is on Christmas day.

"They've asked me to take charge and be an alpha male, but an alpha male who's a family man, who loves his children and loves his wife. Not a gangster," he told The Guardian. "If you cross me, then you know about it, but I'm just a lovely, good-hearted, hard-working man."