Scots star Matthew’s most revealing role; TV special: actor had to strip off in public (May 2002)

Scots star Matthew’s most revealing role; TV special: actor had to strip off in public

by Fraser Middleton (Evening Times, 13 May 2002)

ACTOR Matthew Macfadyen gave a crowd of unsuspecting passers-by a sneak preview of his latest role.

It came as Glasgow-born Matthew was filming the BBC 1 drama series Spooks, which starts tonight and is set in the shady world of the national Security Service, MI5.

He plays spy chief Tom Quinn, and at one point the script called on him to strip off out of doors.

"In one episode I had to meet this IRA guy," says the 27-year-old. "To check that we're not bugged in any way we had to take all our clothes off. It was very cold - so I didn't feel at my best.

"We were in a field somewhere near Maidenhead. It was supposed to be a really deserted spot but we were next to a lake and all these rowers kept going past. We had to stop every five seconds and dive for cover."

Macfadyen is certain he's not cut out to be a real-life spy - and it's not just because he had to bare all in public.

"I don't think I would like to be a spy and have to live a lie for 24 hours a day. It must be strange having to befriend people then get to know them really well without revealing anything about yourself. That must put you under a great strain.

"There is a glamour associated with spying but I don't think it is that glamorous. In Spooks I didn't have many James Bond-type devices, although there was one device which punctured tyres."

And before anyone asks, he certainly doesn't want to play the ultimate fictional spy, 007 James Bond, either.

"I don't have any burning desire to play Bond. It must be exhausting but tedious.

"I know that sounds awful, but when you are in an action movie they spend so much time setting up all the stunts that there are very few other scenes."

But he remains intrigued by the shadowy world of MI5, and says one of his friends was approached to spy for her country.

"It happened while she was at university. She went for an interview which was four hours long. There was a man behind the desk who just got everything out of her about her life and her family.

"What was strange was that she couldn't remember anything about him. He sucked her dry of information, but she never heard anything again."

As part of his research for the role in Spooks, Matthew met some former spies.

"I was really impressed by their physical presence. They were very calm, there was no waffle and there was something in their eyes which was a bit daunting but they were not aggressive at all."

Spooks may well see Matthew being cast in a talentueux role but he shies away from any suggestion that he is a pin-up. In real life he has a long-term girlfriend, actress Surita Chowdry. "I suppose it would be rather nice to be seen as a sex symbol," he says, looking somewhat bemused. "But I don't think of myself like that."

HE has a long list of credits including playing all-round bad egg Sir Felix Cadbury in the Bafta-award-winning The Way We Live Now, just released on BBC video.

"That was a great part," he says enthusiastically. "Felix was a totally irresponsible spendthrift, a drunkard, a womaniser, gambler and complete cad. He liked drinking, gambling, sleeping around and getting money from his mother. That was his entire life."

The actor first got noticed playing Scouser squaddie Private James in the harrowing army drama, Warriors. The role meant he had to take part in military training with real soldiers.

"I felt like a real fraud," he admits. "Just about all of the guys had done a couple of tours of Bosnia. It was a pretty humbling experience."

He also starred along with Michael Gambon and Lindsay Duncan in Perfect Strangers, and with Kate Winslet in the film Enigma.

Acting always seems to have been on the cards for him. His mother trained as a drama teacher and his grandfather was a director.

He admits he has been lucky with some of the plum roles he has played so far.

"I remember when I was doing my GCSEs, my mother bribed me to do some terrible project with the promise that if I did it, she would buy me a ticket to go and see Michael Gambon in some play he was doing. I went to see it and was blown away by him.

"Then a few years later I got the part in Perfect Strangers. I was sitting on set having a fag and a cup of tea with him talking about what was on TV the night before. I was trying to act cool - but it did feel strange."

But it hasn't all been heavyweight drama for the talented actor. One of his favourite roles was a lighter moment in his career.

"I did Ben Elton's film, Maybe Baby, where I played the controller of BBC1. I basically spent five days going round screaming at Hugh Laurie - now that was a real laugh!"

Spooks starts its six-part run tonight on BBC1 at 9pm.