THIS weekend sees the cream of Welsh acting talent gathering in Cardiff for the British Academy Cymru Awards which honour excellence in broadcasting and production within film, games and television in Wales.

One man looking forward to the event and hoping to leave clutching the Best Actor award is Rhosllannerchrugog-born Mark Lewis Jones who has been nominated for his performance as Steve Baldini in Welsh thriller Keeping Faith.

The TV series, which was the most popular show on BBC Wales for over 25 years and became the most downloaded non-network show on BBC iPlayer, leads the nominations on the evening with six, including ones for actress Eve Myles and writer Matthew Hall as well as Mark's.

"I enjoyed being in Keeping Faith very much and loved working with Eve who I'd worked with a few times before," says Mark, who has also starred in TV hit Stella and Hollywood blockbusters including Troy and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

"There were a lot of actors I'd worked with before so it was all very familiar and I thought the script was fantastic. It all starts with a good script and if you've got one you've got a good chance of success."

The Carmarthen-set drama about a vanished husband became a huge hit with with over 8.5 million downloads on the iplayer and was quickly commissioned for another series.

"When I was first sent the eight episodes I read them in one go which was a good sign," laughs Mark, 53, "It caught my imagination and I wanted to know where Evan had gone and answers to all the secrets.

"You never know how things are going to go down. We can think they're excellent, but sometimes they don't catch on but it really caught fire when it was on the iplayer.

"Steve was a great character to play too - he was someone with a chequered past who has come good. He has feelings for Faith and has a good heart even though he's made many mistakes."

Mark originally trained for his craft at the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, and has gone on to become a regular face on many well known small-screen shows, including Soldier, Soldier, Dangerfield, The Bill, This Life, Holby City, Spooks, Murphy's Law, Waking the Dead and Torchwood.

A major break through came with his role as Detective Inspector Russell Bing in the police drama 55 Degrees North and in recent years his career has moved up a notch with his role as Shagga in fantasy blockbuster Game of Thrones a highlight.

"I went to Morgan Llwyd, a Welsh-speaking school in Wrexham where I had a brilliant drama teacher," says Mark. "When I was 16 I had no idea what I wanted to do, and she collared me into doing the school play.

"Before that I had absolutely no interest in acting whatsoever so it came from completely left-field. She asked me to be in a show and everything changed from that moment.

"I started going to Theatr Clwyd in Mold, which at the time had a great youth theatre run by Derek Hollins, and they did all sorts of things and it was a great experience.

"We did Oedipus and a show about Vincent Van Gough and Lark Rise to Candleford - it was so varied and they were all public performances."

A lengthy spell in theatre followed with Mark acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company and at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre until television began to come calling followed soon after by Hollywood where he acted alongside Russell Crowe in Master and Commander as Hogg the Whaler and Tecton, a soldier in Troy.

In 2015, Mark auditioned for a part in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) but after not getting the call back he'd resigned himself to not being involved in the sci-fi epic's comeback to the big screen.

"I auditioned originally for the Force Awakens and I think everybody I knew did too!" he laughs. "They were casting a huge net and calling in all sorts of actors.

"On the day you were just given a piece of paper with lines on it that weren't even in the script - you had to learn them really quickly, stand in front of a camera and that was it. They were hugely protective about it.

"I didn't hear back and thought that was it until they got back in touch about the Last Jedi. They'd obviously kept a list of people they liked and decided to use me in the next one but it was completely out of the blue."

Mark ended up being cast as Captain Canady of the evil First Order with his pivotal role in the film's spectacular opening scenes proving a big hit with fans.

"We didn't have any script - I just showed up on the day and it was a great experience," he continues. "We did about three days of filming and it was amazing.

"I have a lot of friends who've been to see it with their kids and had the shock of their lives when they see that I'm in it. Even though it was short appearance it had a beginning, middle and end and it was an important part of the story and people really liked the character - I think there is even a Lego figure of me which does have red hair and I'm pleased to say!"

As well as beginning filming for the new series of Keeping Faith, Mark is also starring in Apostle, a period horror film written and directed by Gareth Evans and starring Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth and Michael Sheen, which premiers on Netflix this month.

"It's set on an island and is about a girl who's kidnapped by a mysterious religious cult," he says. "There's a lot of Welsh actors in it, it has a Welsh director and is filmed in Port Talbot and it's a proper, gory horror."

Mark is a frequent visitor back to North Wales where his parents still live in Rhosllanerchrugog and this Saturday also sees him appearing at Wrexham's William Aston Hall where he'll be appearing with Rhos Male Voice Choir at their annual concert before he heads to Cardiff for the award ceremony.

"I've been nominated a few times in the past and of course it is nice but I'm more glad Keeping Faith itself has been nominated," he adds.

"It is a good night out though especially if you win because you see so many people you don't see that often so it's great to catch up."