A prolific character actor in his native Britain, Eddie Marsan specialized in challenging and provocative roles, in slightly tough and edgy projects that often took advantage of his unique, immediately identifiable countenance. After debuting as a bit player and guest star in English television series including Casualty, Game On, and The Bill, Marsan took one of his premier big-screen bows in Michael Radford's crime thriller B. Monkey (1998), then effectively played one of Tammany Hall's minions opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's period crime epic Gangs of New York (2002). On a much different note, Marsan subsequently teamed up with English cause célèbre director Mike Leigh in the abortion-themed character study Vera Drake (2004) -- in which the actor ushered in a partly improvised portrayal of a kindly road worker who romances the title character's daughter.
Drake brought Marsan an upsurge of attention, and thereafter, assignments rolled in quickly and furiously from both sides of the Atlantic. These included supporting roles in Isabel Coixet's gentle, atmospheric drama The Secret Life of Words, Neil Burger's period supernatural drama The Illusionist, and the mega-budgeted action extravaganza Mission: Impossible III. 2008 marked a busy period for Marsan; that year, he both tackled a supporting part opposite Will Smith and Charlize Theron in the superhero comedy Hancock, and -- on a much-anticipated note -- re-teamed with Mike Leigh for a prominent role as an angsty teacher in the slice-of-life comedy Happy-Go-Lucky.