He may be wowing the critics on stage as Henry V at the Barbican, but earlier this year Alex Hassell slipped anonymously into the ArtHouse to watch himself in his first feature film starring role.

The Crouch End actor stars as moustached hitman John Thomas in Two Down, a low budget project shot in just 12 days in venues such as the Haringay Arms, Cafe Mem’z, The Haberdashery and Priory Park.

It was made possible thanks to the backing of Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and Sir Derek Jacobi and revolves around what happens when a contract killing goes very wrong.

Alex had the unique experience of seeing himself get beaten up by real-life wife Emma King, who also stars.

“”She headbutts me and I punch her in the face. I’m dressed as an older, 1970s-style man and she’s dressed as a prostitute. So it was pretty weird.”

The 35-year-old adds: “It was great because as a theatre actor you never get to be in the audience and see what they are getting.

“It was very strange to be an audience member of my own film but I look really different so people didn’t spot me and I prefer to keep it that way.”

He was asked to do the film just a few weeks before shooting began by long-time friends and fellow Crouch Enders Matthew Butler and Tori Hart, who run Fizz and Ginger Films and turned down a play to take the role.

He had already accepted the role of Henry V with the Royal Shakespeare Company and his portrayal of the English king has been touted as 'better than Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet'. But Alex says while he is flattered comparing the two is not fair.

His interest in theatre was first sparked when he went to see The Rock Nativity at the Cramphorn Theatre in Chelmsford when he was 12, which he laughingly tells me was written by the people who penned the theme for Neighbours.

“I had no idea at the time but some people I’m friends with now were in it, so they are responsibly for me being an actor. So I’m grateful for their extreme talents as sheep, “ he chuckles.

“I immediately knew that was what I wanted to do so we looked in the paper and found a group, the Essex Youth Performing Arts and the first thing I did was Bugsy Malone and that was an incredible experience. I thought it was going to be that easy from then on in my career and of course it wasn’t.”

But he was encouraged by his family and Mrs Stroud at Moulsham High School in Chelmsford who introduced him to Hamlet and his drama teacher Lesley Davis who still comes to see all his performances.

“They really got me into Shakespeare and taught me that I could speak those words and understand what they meant.”

He performed on the Barbican stage as a teenager as part of the Junior Guildhall and was part of National Youth Music Theatre before heading to Central School of Speech and Drama where he met wife Emma, who also stars in the RSC productions.

“At the moment it's amazing because we are working together and that’s incredibly lucky and we are about to go to China and New York together and long may it last. But it is a tough lifestyle being an actor because you are away a lot. But you get into it knowing the deal and all jobs have aspects that are challenging.”

Despite his impressive CV Alex was not a shoe-in for the role of the hitman in Two Down and almost missed out on starring on screen with his wife.

“They (Matthew and Tori) wrote Emma’s part for her but they didn’t write John Thomas for me, they were thinking of someone much older. But we figured we could make me look older by revealing my ever-receding hairline and giving me a moustache and dressing me in a certain way,” laughs the Essex-raised actor who managed to squeeze in the filming before taking to the Barbican stage.

The film, which also stars Game of Threones actor Conleth Hill, harks back to the style of the ‘70s films and Alex says: “My character is sort of stuck in the past and sees himself as one of the characters from those old films as well.

“What he does is morally reprehensible but inside him is a good person struggling to get out. I see him as someone who wants to be Timothy Dalton’s James Bond but the closest he could get was to be a hitman.”

Tori wrote the film around locations the couple knew and loved in Crouch End and also starred in the low budget flick, as the seemingly innocent Sophie, with Matthew directing and his younger brother Graham Butler starring as hapless delivery man Luke.

The characters become embroiled in the twisted world of contract killing when John is shot and is forced to spend the day holed up with them.

Alex says: “It was such a lovely experience doing it all here with good friends. Now we can walk around Crouch End and have all those incredibly happy memories of making a film together.”

Two Down has already landed Alex The Artemis Women in Action Film Festival Award for Best Actor and has also picked up Grand Jury Prize at Amsterdam International Film Festival, Best UK Film at Manchester International Film Festival, Audience Award at Chichester International Film Festival, Best Screenplay at Switzerland Indie Film Festival, Best Cinematography at LA Maverick Movie Awards and Best Feature Film at Crystal Palace International Film Festival.

And now an LA company has picked it up for distribution further afield, meaning audiences will get to discover some of Crouch End most famous landmarks.

Matthew says: “We filmed along a lot of the roads so you see the clocktower, town hall and various back streets that the locals will recognise.”

We also see Alexandra Palace and the first shot is of the north London skyline.

“The only scenes that weren’t shot around here were Conleth Hill’s scenes which were all filmed in Ian McKellen’s pub down in Limehouse. Ian is a big supporter of Fizz and Ginger Films so he did us a huge favour in letting us use it.

“And it was through Ian that we met Stephen Fry and Sir Derek Jacobi and they both really got behind the project. I still get lovely emails from them both whenever we win something, which is lovely.”

Two Down will be screened at the newly opened Crouch End Picturehouse in Tottenham Lane on Monday, December 7 from 8pm. After the screening director Matthew Butler will hold a Q&A. Details: 0871 902 5758, crouchend@picturehouses.co.uk, fizzandgingerfilms.co.uk

The Royal Shakespeare Company season Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings season is on at Barbican until January 24. Details: www.barbican.org.uk