Ripper Street: Interview with Matthew Macfadyen - Strangely Ripping (Dec 2012)

The Sunday Times has posted a wonderful new interview with Matthew Macfadyen.  In it, he talks about how he is usually cast in the serious roles and how he avoided a mustache in Ripper Street, among many other things.
Read the full interview HERE

Strangely ripping
His troubled face makes Matthew Macfadyen ideal as a sleuth in Victorian London
Benji Wilson Published: 23 December 2012
‘I just look vaguely worried all the time’: Macfadyen (Francesco Guidicini)
What is it about Matthew Macfadyen’s face that makes directors keep wanting to cover it up? For Ripper Street, the BBC’s new Victorian crime drama, set in Whitechapel six months after the Ripper murders, his Detective Inspector Reid sports a hefty pair of lambchops. That comes on the back of what he describes as a “titanic” moustache for his show-stealing Oblonsky in Anna Karenina; and before that there was “my musketeer nonsense beard” for The Three Musketeers. “There really has been quite a lot of facial hair in the past 12 months,” Macfadyen agrees. “In fact, Reid was written with a moustache. I kind of wanted not to have one — only because I had this huge great thing on my face for Anna Karenina, which was my own. It made the school run embarrassing.”
Today, Macfadyen is clean-shaven, and, while I don’t want to spend too long staring at his chin — we’re trying to have lunch — I have a theory as to why he gets landed with so much facial hair. It is because, in repose, his physiognomy implies quiet, underlying torment. Or, as he puts it: “I just look vaguely worried all the time.” For directors, this can be screen gold — acting is, after all, the difference between what’s on the inside and what’s on the outside. If you can convey that tension by doing nothing, so much the better. For the bigger, blockbustery roles, however, relentless simmering discontent can be a distraction. Hence the face fluff: a distraction from the distraction.
That Macfadyen can ace any role you care to throw at him is beyond ­dispute. From nincompoops such as Oblonsky to a convicted paedophile in the TV drama Secret Life and the cold, domineering husband he played in Criminal Justice in 2009, he is one of our few leading men who can also be classified as a character actor. The contrast between Pride and Prejudice, in 2005, and this year’s Anna Karenina is noteworthy: both were directed by Joe Wright, both starred Keira Knightley and both co-starred Macfadyen. Yet in the former he was the romantic lead, Mr Darcy, and six years later he was the antic buffoon. Whether you consider that a promotion or a snub, in both cases he was the best thing on screen.
Because he has a face that’s made for melancholy, it’s his comic turns that come as a surprise. He has, he points out, done a fair amount on stage that has been broad and bluff, but once 9m people saw him in the resoundingly smile-free Spooks, moody Macfadyen became set in stone.
It is, of course, a misconception: he is neither stolid nor sad. In fact, he’s much more Oblonsky than Darcy, affable and unguarded. When I meet him for lunch at Petersham Nurseries Cafe, a modish restaurant in southwest London that is as much a “cafe” as Harvey Nichols is a flea market, he is full of talk of domestic trials. It turns out he had lunch here yesterday as well. He was with his wife, the actress Keeley Hawes, and they’ve been eating out a lot recently — they’re having their kitchen done. Family meals have become trial by microwave. “My wife and I have a strategy — a big lunch, then not to eat ­supper, because we can’t, we’re in microwave hell. It’s kind of stock up and muscle through in the evening.”
It’s hard to gauge whether a man who is broadly jocular is at all bothered about being known for being serious: Macfadyen is the kind of diffident big bear who would describe waterboarding as mildly distracting. He recently bumped into the TV auteur Joss Whedon at the Toronto film festival. “He’d seen Anna Karenina, and said, ‘I’ve never seen you smile before.’ I’ve had that occasionally — ‘I didn’t know you could do comedy.’ It’s vaguely irritating. You want to say, ‘I’m an actor!’ Sometimes you hear about something that’s going on, you call your agent and suggest yourself for things, and you’ll hear the surprise in their voice, saying, ‘He’ll never be cast in that.’ Sometimes there’s a big ­difference between how you imagine yourself and how people perceive you.”
For Ripper Street, though, the Macfadyen we think we know is just about perfect. He can look vaguely ­worried all the time with impunity, because there’s plenty to worry about. Women are getting sliced and diced on the mean streets of London’s East End, 1889, for a start. Macfadyen, as ever, brings a dose of stillness and an emotional nub to what might otherwise just be CSI: Victorian London.
“Apart from anything else, Ripper Street is a cop show, it’s a procedural. The thing I liked about Reid from the scripts, which I thought was a little bit different, was that he’s a modern detective. He’s not a jaded hangdog. He’s a forward-thinking copper, working in this strange post-Ripper atmosphere, and in a hellish, tough area of ­London. He’s fascinated by technology and science and people.”
Ripper Street is Macfadyen’s first primetime TV drama series for a decade. He went into Spooks in 2002 full of promise, on the back of Peter Kosminsky’s Warriors and Stephen Poliakoff’s Perfect Strangers. He came out of it two years later a bona fide star, a pin-up and, bizarrely, a tabloid target.
The last of these came about because he had met Hawes on the Spooks set, and she had left her husband to marry him. Scandal was sniffed, and Macfadyen found himself in the cross hairs. “It was dipping a toe into a world I hadn’t been a subject of before. We were ­followed for a bit. It was ­boring, unpleasant and fascinating at the same time — these guys turning up at 5am on a Sunday to wait for us to drive to London so Keeley could have a scan on her pregnant tummy. Part of it was, I didn’t really believe anyone did that. You kind of think, ‘Wow, that’s what ­happens — that’s what happens to some people all the time.’?”
He hasn’t had any trouble since then. “There’s not a story now, there was a story then.” Yet he could easily have remained more high-profile than he has: Pride and Prejudice offered him a Holly­wood platform. Instead, he did Shakespeare’s Hal at the National. Then he did a film farce called Death at a Funeral, then opted to play a paedophile in Secret Life. “There’s nothing I regret doing,” he says. “I guess it’s to do with my self-perception. I didn’t really think of myself as Mr Darcy, so playing a paedophile was in some ways the perfect thing. My default position is always to be on the lookout for something that’s different.”
Ripper Street starts next Sunday at 9pm on BBC1