It is cold in Stockholm in November. The fifth of November 1990 was no exception.
A stolen car sits, boot open, guarded by one man. A short distance away, two other masked men are carrying out the biggest robbery in the history of Sweden.
They tackle two female guards and crack open the safe of an armoured transport car, stealing away with around 730 million SEK, although much of it in unusable government bonds.
Three days later the men board a plane in Copenhagen having purchased round-the-world tickets costing over 55 000 SEK for the three.
One of those men, the man who stood guard while the robbery took place, is Dragomir Mrsic.
Now 48 years old, the actor and martial arts trainer has put those years firmly behind him. “Crime only leads to death or prison,” he states emphatically, down the line from Sweden where he is about to start filming on the second series of his popular crooked cop drama Alex, his most recent project after 2014’s Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow.
It’s a sentiment he has long maintained, even when he was a working criminal. His peers, he says, would mark the end of a job by celebrating: taking drugs, partying, buying expensive cars; however he was more disciplined.
“You have to be on it. You have to do your job, otherwise you are gone.”
Life on the run lasted for six years, during which time Mrsic was arrested a number of times, each time escaping custody. However he was charged for his part in the robbery in 1996. The trial was the first of its kind in Sweden, incorporating DNA evidence from hairs found on items of clothing forgotten during the escape. Hearing of the conviction, Mrsic turned himself in, stipulating to the authorities that he be allowed to bid his family farewell.
That mentality sets Mrsic apart. He lives, I put to him, deliberately. At the age of nine, he elected to take up martial arts, travelling over an hour each way from his home in the “hood”. At 18, was named Nordic Taekwondo champion. His move into crime was again a choice. And when he emerged from prison in 1999, he recalls consciously deciding to go straight. The chapters of his life read like a Scandinavian thriller – fitting considering both of the Girls with the Dragon Tattoos, Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, trained in his gym.
“That’s the strange thing with me: I always keep high, even when it’s for low things. My first job as a trainer (after prison) was for the Swedish Olympic team… Then, when I was caught for a crime, it was the biggest heist. I open my gym and I get the biggest stars in the world to come and visit me: Tom Cruise, Martina Navratilova, Rooney Mara…”
"I couldn’t live with lying to my children or having to say ‘I am a criminal’"
It comes from a childhood of insecurity. His father’s battle with alcoholism, and his brother and sister’s struggles with drug addiction have had a marked impact on the man, who lost all three family members in the space of a few years.
“My backpack is full of good and bad things,” he reflects. It is what makes him such a capable actor. “I can always take out something to relate it to when I [play] a part.”
His lead role in Alex, which starts on Channel 4 tonight, is another thing pulled out of that backpack. Alex is a policeman whose drug habit, and close ties to organised crime, have consequences for his family. When Alex’s son (played by Mrsic’s real life son Max) is kidnapped, Alex engages in all-out war with the criminal underworld to reunite his family.
The character is based on Mrsic’s own experiences with a dirty cop who he knew when he was a criminal. There were officers, Mrsic recalls, who would spend the weekend taking drugs and paying prostitutes with the criminals, and then return on Monday morning, still high, to arrest everyone.
Working alongside his son has been a great boon to the programme, Mrsic believes. “I love the authenticity,” he says, but “to see him suffer like that is not a joke for me man!”
For Max, it is a strange insight into his father’s former life.
The family were always cautious about how to broach the subject of Dragomir’s background with their two children. For Mrsic, whose own parents had knowingly supported his criminal activities, it was important to deal with the matter properly.
“My family, my son and daughter, they changed my life,” he says. “But my father, my sister, brother and mother, they didn’t change it.”
It was the news that his wife was pregnant which led Mrsic to truly turn his back on his criminal past. “I couldn’t live with lying to my children or having to say ‘I am a criminal’. I waited a long time to [tell them] my background.”
Too long, in fact.
Mrsic received a call from his son’s school warning him that another child had revealed his background, and his son Max was crying.
However there is nothing quite like a Hollywood icon to earn a father forgiveness.
Mrsic worked alongside Tom Cruise in Doug Liman’s 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow and trained with the actor when he visited Stockholm during the Jack Reacher press tour. Cruise attended one of Mrsic’s gym classes, a graduation day for young children. “He signed all the kids’ t-shirts and diplomas,” he recalls.
Cruise’s seal of approval may well extend to Mrsic’s new show too. The programme was named the most-watched programme on Swedish platform Viaplay, and Mrsic says he sent an advance copy of the show to the American film star.
We can only assume that Mr Cruise is as excited for Alex as we are.
Alex begins tonight at 11pm on Walter Presents on Channel 4, and runs weekly.