The New Mr Darcy Can't Wait to Wed (Nov 2004)

The New Mr Darcy Can't Wait to Wed

by Danielle Rossi (Now, 17 november 2004)

Matthew MacFadyen says he's longing to marry his beautiful fiancée, actress Keeley Hawes, who left her husband for him

MatthewMacFadyen can't contain his excitement at the prospect of becoming a father with his actress fiancée Keeley Hawes, who's expecting their first child this Christmas.

'It's changed my life,' says Matthew, 30, who's kept a low profile since May 2002, when he stole 28-year-old Keeley from her husband of just six months, following their starring roles in the TV series Spooks. But with Keeley now divorced from cartoon designer Spencer McCallum - they have a three-year-old son Myles - Matthew is set to marry her 'as soon as possible'.

'We're very happy together and I feel that our life together has been blessed,' he says. 'I get more excited and happy about being a father every day. At the start, like many would-be fathers, I couldn't get my head around it.

'I was delighted, but I didn't truly know how I felt. Now, with each passing month, the prospect becomes more and more enjoyable. It's like an exciting treat.'

Matthew and Keeley, who appeared as a young Diana Dors in the TV drama The Blonde Bombshell, created a bombshell of their own when they fell in love at first sight on Spooks. Matthew, who had a long-term romance with actress Surita Chowdry, was cast as Keeley's MI5 boss in the series, in which she played agent Zoe Reynolds. The film crew immediately noticed a mutual attraction between them.

Within weeks Keeley had quit her marital home in Surrey and was regularly seen out with Matthew, who starred as playboy Sir Felix Carbury in the TV adaptation of The Way We Live Now.

'It was a difficult time,' says Matthew. 'But we now have a home together in Twickenham and I have to say that Keeley is absolutely great. l'm very proud of her - and I'll be proud to call her my wife.'

Such a warm appreciation of their relationship comes at a time of great success for Matthew, who picked up rave reviews at the San Sebastian film festival in Spain for his latest film ln My Father's Den. He plays a boy who becomes a war journalist. But when his father dies back home in New Zealand, he has to return to face some difficult decisions.

The impact of his co-starring role with Miranda Otto, who played Eowyn in the Lord Of The Rings movies, helped him with the role of Mr Darcy in the new film of Pride And Prejudice. It's the first movie version of the Jane Austen novel slnce 1940, when Lord Olivier played the brooding Darcy. But most people best remember Colin Firth's famous TV version in 1995.

Matthew lines up alongside Keira Knightley, who plays Elizabeth Bennett, Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett and Brenda Blethyn as Mrs Bennett. But the film's financiers, who hired Dame Judi Dench as Catherine De Bourgh, at first made it plain that they didn't want him. 'They wanted a famous Mr Darcy in such an all-star cast and I was hardly the pick of the bunch,' he says. 'I heard some very well known names being discussed.

'So I just went into a long casting marathon with the producer and director, who both wanted me. A lot of people very sweetly wrote in with bits and bobs from various sources - like producers who knew my work - saying: "Give him the job."

'But it was In My Father's Den that probably helped the most. Fortunately, it all worked out well and made some impact, first at the Toronto Film Festival. By then I'd been given the job as Darcy and I'm enjoying the role.'

Even so, Matthew knows that he'll have to be on his best form to better Colin Firth's Darcy. 'People are very protective of what they've seen and enjoyed on the telly,' he says. 'l've been asked a lot of times: "How do you feel?" because Olivier played him in a movie and Colin defined him. They're wary. But I don't share that wariness.

'I haven't seen the film and I missed the TV version. I haven't even read the book, so I don't have any preconceived ideas. I have to get my impression of Darcy through the script - and only the script. If I'd seen everything and read everything, it wouldn't have helped. When they turn the camera on, I have to deliver.'

So how does he feel now that he's in the frock coat? 'I think of Darcy as having something very touching or adolescent about him, in that he thinks very deeply and seriously about life,' he says. 'He thinks about how he's perceived and how he reacts.

'He's more of a brooding, Heathcliff type of character. He comes across as haughty and you see a lot of people like that, don't you? Rudeness can be a cover for shyness. But my attitude towards the character is that I have nothing to lose. I felt I was right for this part, too, which helped because there have been times when I've felt like telling the director that there were 10 other actors who'd be better than me.'

Matthew, who at 6ft 2in tall is certainly the right height and build for an intense Mr Darcy, went to prestigious acting college RADA at the age of 18. 'I was very young, really - the average age was 23,' he says. 'There were people with degrees and men who'd been bricklayers - people who'd really lived. The girls also looked like real women. So I just had to hold on and try not to get out of my depth. I found it galvanising and it took over my life for three years. I went in a boy and came out a man.'

Now, as he looks forward to his responsibilities as a father, there's no doubt that Matthew feels that he's made all the right moves 50 far. 'l've reached my 30th birthday as a genuinely happy man,' he says. 'I'm enjoying my career - and everything in our home life looks good, too.'

Danielle Rossi