Accidental Hero: Red (Nov 2008)

Accidental Hero

by Emma Messenger (Red magazine, november 2008)

Matthew Macfadyen never intended to be a heart-throb, but his talent and good looks changed all that.
He talked to Red about his favourite role: family man

Matthew Macfadyen has been stuck in a taxi for over one hour and a half, travelling right across London, from his Twickenham home to our photographic studio in North London. With his reputation for being the most reluctant of interviewees, there’s mounting concern for his mood at the studio.
Lucky for us, our anxiety is unfounded. He bursts in, apologising profusely for being late, citing the long distance and a poor route (neither of which are his fault), and politely requests a coffee. He looks a bit like a cross between a flustered young farmer (with his ruddy complexion and dishevelled hair) and Stephen Fry (with his surprisingly bulky build - he is 6ft 4in and his frame skills the doorway - slightly wonky face and a cardigan that you probably wouldn’t let your other half leave the house in). A very good-looking Stephen Fry, mind you.

He's also keen to dispel the myth of his aforementioned reputation. 'No, no, I don’t mind doing interviews, at all! It’s just I’m not sure I am very good at them.'

That turns out to be a typical piece of Macfadyen modesty. When he does relax, and sits back in his seat - rather than hovering awkwardly on the edge, as he has done for the first few minutes - he’s open, good-natured and smart. But there’s no denying he genuinely hates the limelight. 'I find it uncomfortable. The older I get, the better I am at it, but I wish I could be more relaxed about it,' he says. 'The whole red-carpet thing is excruciating, for me – I do it as rarely as possible. But, sometimes, it’s part of the job.'

After working steadily since graduating from RADA, when he was 21, the 33-year-old hit the big time in the UK with his lead role in the first three series of Spooks. Global fame went he played Darcy to Keira Knightley’s Elisabeth Bennet in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice. Many actors would have immediately capitalised on this success, decamped to LA. and taken a shot at major movie stardom. Not him.

'Lots of scripts came through the door - rom com mostly - and maybe I was being over–fussy , but they were all cobblers,' says Macfadyen. 'I’d rather work here and get to do things as Little Dorrit [BBC One‘s big autumn costume drama, in which he stars as Arthur Clennam] than get six lines in a big Hollywood film. Also, I wouldn’t live in LA. It’s a great place to visit, but it’s not my city. You are treated like a psycho if you dare have a glass of wine with lunch. It make me feel like going, “F*** you!” and having a whole bottle.'

Of course, there was another, far more important, factor, in his decision to stay put: his wife and young family. Macfadyen famously met actress Keeley Hawes on the set of Spooks, when they started filming in 2002. She had been married to her long-term boyfriend, cartoonist Spencer McCallum, with whom she had a young son, Myles, for just two months. By the summer, she had left her husband and begun a relationship with Macfadyen. So he didn’t just fall in love, he gained a small child and a very present, very recent ex, at the same time. It’s something he is quite at ease talking about.

'It was weird at the beginning - becoming a stepfather is quite hard,' he says. 'But it’s lovely now that it’s all come together. It feels somehow indivisible. We all get on brilliantly. Myles’ dad is very close, so it’s great. And Myles, who is now eight, was so tiny when I came into his life, he cannot remember me not being around.'

The couple married in a low-key registry office ceremony in October 2004, two months before their first child, Maggie, was born. Their second, Ralph, arrived two years later. Macfadyen clearly adores being a father, but is the first to admit that juggling careers and parenthood can take its toll on a relationship.

“Keeley and I try not to both work at the same time. When Maggie was born, I was doing a play, so I was around a lot. But when Ralph came along, and we suddenly had three young children, it all became too much.I remember looking over at Keeley and she was white with exhaustion. So we gave in and got a nanny.

Macfadyen, however, still tries to be a hands-on dad.”I love it and do whatever’s required of me.Though I do try to escape now and again: I run a bath, shut the door-and locks it”, he laughs.”We try to divvy up our time. For example, at the week-end, I’ll always take one of the children and go to the supermarket to do a big shop, leaving Keeley some quality time with the other two.

But what about quality time for the couple themselves ? “Well, we don’t have a social life” he admits.” I can’t remember the last film we saw at the cinema. But we do try to spend a bit of time just the two of us. We went out for dinner last night, which was a real treat. And I am a great believer in the minibreak. It means we get to sit down and chat, without having snatched conversations in-between looking after the chidren or doing household chores.”

Still clearly loved-up, he revels in Keeley’s growing list of plaudits and admits to being rather chuffed that she’s an object of lust for the male population.”I think she is really talentueux in all that 80s gear she wears for Ashes to Ashes”, he grins.

But, though he might be proud of her sex-symbol status, he ‘s deeply embarassed by his own-especially when I bring up the subject of an extraordinarily professional fan site , devoted to all things Matthew and contributed to by women all over the world. “They are really lovely, those people”, he blushes.”Some actors set up their own websites, but, thanks to them, I don’t need to.”

Just to add to his discomfort; I read him out some messages from the site’s chat forums. “Matthew is so HOT that he’s partly to blame for global warming”. “Oh God”, he responds, turning and even deeper shade of crimson. “Am I already in the menopause, or he is causing all that incredible heat in me?” “Stop, please!” he begs.

On a more serious note, I ask him if actors feel the same pressure as actresses to be body-beautiful. “I think you put the pressure on yourself in the sense that you don’t want to look bad on screen, or wrong for a part.But you have to remind youself that you’ re an actor, not a gym instructor or a male model. Actors are supposed to look like normal people, not like someone who’s done 50 000 sit-ups before breakfast.”

That said, he does exercice regularly. “I smoked and drank my way through my twenties, but I just can’t do that anymore. I simply don’t have the stamina. And, as you get older, that sort of life inevitably takes its toll on your body and looks. I go to the gym - I love the rowing machine- because I feel sluggish if I don’t, and it allows me not to feel guilty when I drink wine. Also, it’s my way of de-stressing and grabbing a little time to myself. Not that he ‘ll be getting much of that in the next few months.Though we’ll be seing a lot of Matthew on screen (Little Dorrit and Frost/Nixon, the Ron Howard-directed film version in the infamous interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon), he doesn’t have any new projects lined up at the moment. But Keeley does: the second series of Ashes to Ashes. So, he is going to be Matthew in charge of the chidren.

“I’ll be on school run and heating up spaghetti-hoops duty for a while. That’s far harder and more time-consuming work than sitting around a set all day. But,” he is quick to add, “ far more rewarding too.”

Matthew's Best Things in Life

Best Album: The Sunday’s Reading, Writing And Arithmetic. I listened to it all the time when it came out in the early 1990s.

Best film: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Steve Martin and Michael Caine. It always make me laugh.

Best TV show: Ashes to Ashes, of course. It’s got a gorgeous actress in the lead.

Best drink: A good red wine.

Best meal: Something simple from the Far East, like a bit of fish with rice, chilli, garlic and ginger.

Best city: London. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Best shop: Divertimenti - a kitchen shop with a couple of branches in central London. I can spend a long time in there, buying sauté pans I just don’t need.

Best fashion buy: A pair of bespoke John Lodd shoes, which were made to fit my feet [Matthew has size 13 feet], though I am still breaking them in.

Best places for a date: The Wolseley or The Ivy in London. The food is great, and Keeley and I don’t get papped there.

Best things in life: Keeley and the kids.


*transcribed by Matthieu