Matthew Macfadyen Interview in Telegraph-- Private Lives (Feb 2010)

Jane has found the newest interview by Matthew Macfadyen for Private Lives in the Telegraph.

Read it HERE

Matthew Macfadyen interview
Matthew Macfadyen talks about shedding his reputation for buttoned-up intensity, the legacy of 'Spooks’ and his latest stage role opposite Kim Cattrall in 'Private Lives’.

By Dominic Cavendish
Published: 5:14PM GMT 02 Feb 2010

No novice when it comes to funny business: Matthew Macfadyen

In the grand scheme of things, it may not sound like big news. But I can exclusively reveal that Matthew Macfadyen does actually smile. And laugh. He has what you’d call a lovely smile, amicable and warm. And he has a good, old-fashioned hearty laugh.

Not that you’d necessarily know this from looking at his photographs, from which even the ghost of a grin tends to be exorcised as a matter of course. And you certainly wouldn’t know it if you’d been following his progress into the nation’s affections on the small-screen this past decade. Few actors can deploy impassivity and understatement to such effect, but again and again Macfadyen has been called on to give enigmatic variations on the same broodingly intense theme.

Last year, he excelled as the grimly controlling lawyer who gets bumped off by his long-suffering wife in the latest compelling installment of Criminal Justice. He also starred opposite Helena Bonham Carter as the tautly repressed and frustrated publisher-husband of Enid Blyton in the lauded bio-drama Enid.

You couldn’t miss him the year before, either, as Arthur Clennam, the watchful, mournful hero of the BBC’s epic retelling of Little Dorrit, while 2007 saw him receive a Royal Television Society award for his sombre portrayal of a paedophile in the one-off Channel Four drama Secret Life. And we haven’t even mentioned Spooks yet, the Beeb’s beloved spy series, in which he only appeared as the brainy, guarded MI5 agent Tom Quinn for two and a bit series but which stalks his public profile to this day. Oh yes, and then there was the small matter of his starring opposite Keira Knightley as the alluringly withdrawn Mr Darcy in the 2006 film version of Pride and Prejudice.

All of which means you can see exactly where they’re coming from in casting him as Elyot, the witty, clipped, thoroughly English hero of Private Lives in the new, Richard Eyre-directed production of the Noël Coward perennial that opens in Bath next week before heading into the West End.

And yet the great beauty of the piece, and the big selling-point so far as Macfadyen is concerned, is that it requires highly extrovert exertions that fully test a leading actor’s comedy muscles.

Things get very silly, petulant and childish indeed after the debonair divorcee bumps into his ex-wife during their coincidental second honeymoons at the same French hotel. With the feline Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall playing Amanda, the fur should really fly and for a heartthrob like Macfadyen, 35, whose heart is so often kept throbbing behind thick layers of starchy reserve, here’s a chance to surprise us all.

“I’ve just been in Hungary for months filming Ken Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth, in which I play an asexual monk, so the idea of doing Private Lives really appealed to me,” Macfadyen declares.

It turns out that the poster boy for English reticence had Scottish grandparents on his oil-worker father’s side, and Welsh grandparents on his drama-teacher mother’s side. He grew up all over the place, including Jakarta. Being known as the go-to guy for Seriousness and Sensitivity has begun to grate.

“Ever since Spooks, this perception of me as solemn, lantern-jawed and unsmiling has lingered, but that buttoned-up Englishness is only one facet of what I can do. I’m always surprised when people say, 'Crikey, we didn’t know you could do comedy!’’’

As he points out, he’s no novice when it comes to funny business: his stage-career after Rada saw him land Charles Surface in School for Scandal and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing for Cheek by Jowl; he took on that royal rogue Prince Hal in Henry IV for Nicholas Hytner at the National; and nearly three years ago he earned rave notices playing a “liberal idiot” house-husband in The Pain and the Itch by Bruce Norris, which helped launch director Dominic Cooke’s regime at the Royal Court.

He got slightly miserable having to prance about so gravely in Pride and Prejudice, he reveals. “All the Bennets were having a great time; it was all very cosy. Then I’d come along and be a bit sullen for a couple of days and then f--- off again! It didn’t help that my wife was pregnant at the time, but I wished I’d enjoyed it more.”

Ah yes, the wife. Actress Keeley Hawes, whom he fell for while the pair worked together on Spooks, resulting in Hawes divorcing the father of her then baby son and going on to marry Macfadyen in 2004; the couple have since had two children, Maggie and Ralph. Cue huge amounts of press attention.

And a fair bit of anguish. Hawes was quoted as describing divorce as “horrific – up there with death as one of the worst things that can happen”.

While Macfadyen is notoriously reticent about discussing his private affairs, certain parallels between Private Lives and his life do appear inescapable, don’t they?

“I suppose it ought to have leapt out from the play at me, but it didn’t,” he says, almost looking embarrassed. “I haven’t related that aspect of the story to my life in that way – honestly. It’s a perfectly valid point, but it hasn’t crossed my mind.” He pauses. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s subconscious and it’s all bubbling away.”

He does, however, gamely identify with what the play in general says about married life and coupledom. “I think Coward was incredibly perceptive about marriage and sex. That thing about sexual desire co-existing with the inability to get on happily is a universal experience. He shows how those petty frustrations can be overwhelming: you can lose sight of why you wanted to be together in the first place when you’re busy bickering and fighting and screaming at each other.” He laughs. “I sometimes wish I had an equivalent to 'Sollocks’ [the word Amanda and Elyot use to call a halt to their wrangling]. It’s quite touching all that, the idea that there’s a catchword to stop the conversation and calm things down. So much of what happens to Amanda and Elyot, and to couples, certainly to me and my wife, is that, whenever you have a row, you say things you don’t mean because you don’t have time to think.”

For Mr Reticent, that’s refreshingly heart-on-sleeve stuff, as is the confided worry that certain classical roles may now elude his grasp. “I have felt some twinges recently, about parts I wanted to play that I may be getting too old and fat to do. Hamlet, for example – maybe that’s gone. I would love to play Richard II.”

For the time being, it’s tally-ho in slightly more comic, capering directions; in the spring he’ll hit the big-screen as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Ridley Scott’s version of Robin Hood: “Erase Alan Rickman from your mind,” he jokes. “This Sheriff of Nottingham is an idiot who’s after the gold and wants to get into Maid Marian’s knickers. I had a silly wig and beard and looked very camp and ridiculous.” He beams. “Bliss!”

    * 'Private Lives’ is at Theatre Royal, Bath (01225 448844), Feb 10-20, then at the Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2 (0844 412 4663), from Feb 24.

Matthew Macfadyen Interview in Telegraph-- Private Lives (Feb 2010)