A Night Out With: Matthew Macfadyen (July 2003)

July 27, 2003 A NIGHT OUT WITH: Matthew Macfadyen; When in Rome (California) By HILARY DE VRIES

IT'S an arcane bit of Los Angeles culture, but then Matthew Macfadyen likes to invoke the ''when-in-Rome'' rule. Rome in this case is Hollywood, and more specifically the Santa Monica Pier, the fabled timber-and-pilings amusement park, which reminds him of the seaside arcades in his native Britain.

''Well, except the ones in England are much tackier,'' Mr. Macfadyen said as he paused during a recent evening for a drink at another of the city's famous way stations, the Ivy at the Shore restaurant.

Mr. Macfadyen, 28, was in town from London to promote his new BBC spy series, ''MI-5,'' which had its premiere on A&E on Tuesday. Although he is a highly regarded star at home -- when ''MI-5'' aired in Britain last year, it was a huge hit and propelled Mr. Macfadyen as a bona fide star -- he is relatively unknown here.

''I was here once about five years ago, and I got a meeting on the Janis Joplin movie,'' he recalled while settling into a table on the patio. ''I'd been at the beach at Malibu all day and got in the rental car and drove to the audition at Paramount, and I remember thinking, 'This is just great, this is fabulous.' Of course, I got there, and I was absolutely hopeless.''

Perhaps it's the memory of that audition, or maybe the when-in-Rome rule goes only so far, but Mr. Macfadyen coolly orders a Jack Daniel's when a waiter materializes. ''I know, I know, nobody drinks in L.A.,'' he said, grimacing, when his publicist, Michele Robertson, orders sparkling water. ''If you have half a bottle of wine here, everyone thinks you're an alcoholic.''

Over a plate of fried calamari, Mr. Macfadyen and Ms. Robertson, who had met only four days earlier, discuss the nuances of firing up his Hollywood career. At 6 feet 2 and with strikingly brainy good looks, Mr. Macfadyen appears to be a star in the making, a successor to the other British lads -- Jude Law, Orlando Bloom and Ewan McGregor -- currently working in Hollywood.

''You have a leading man look,'' Ms. Robertson said.

''Well, I'm not a short man, am I?'' Mr. Macfadyen said shooting her the kind of dazzling smile that seemed likely to propel him into many Hollywood casting sessions.

Certainly he was off to a good start, having mastered several of the town's rituals: going on the Atkins diet, driving a rented S.U.V., attending a Hollywood premiere (''Bad Boys II''). Alluding to the premiere, he said, crossing his eyes, ''That was fun.''

He also had plans to spend the weekend with his girlfriend and ''MI-5'' co-star, Keeley Hawes, at a resort in the desert.

Hollywood mores decoded, it was off to the pier. ''It's great to be out of the hotel,'' Mr. Macfadyen said, breathing in the damp, seaweedy air as he strode along. After grabbing a fistful of quarters at a coin machine, he moved confidently into the crowd at the first arcade. ''Oh, basketball -- I think I'm good at that,'' he said. He was. ''Look, I got 45 points and so did he,'' he said, nodding at a fellow shooter. He had less luck at pinball.

Out of the arcade, there was a brief pause under the roller coaster for a cigarette and some further career musings: whether he could do a credible American accent like Jude Law did in ''Road to Perdition,'' and the dangers of becoming a one-note wonder in Hollywood like Julia Ormond.

''She was talented, but for some reason . . .'' Ms. Robertson said, letting her voice trail off as the roller coaster screeched overhead.

Mr. Macfadyen shook his head and exhaled like a man without a worry in the world. ''Someone I met the other day, a Brit, said, 'The thing you got to know about L.A. is that it's just really weird.' '' He dropped his cigarette, stubbed it out and looked up with another dazzling smile. ''But it's not weird. It just is what it is. And I already like it.''

New York Times