Matthew's Passion (Apr 2005)


Evening Standard (London), Apr 14, 2005 by FIONA MOUNTFORD

With the big-screen remake of Pride And Prejudice, in which he plays Darcy to Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet, set to capitalise on his success in TV's Spooks, Matthew Macfadyen takes time out to return to his first love, the theatre.

It's a time-honoured truism that actors, in the flesh, tend to disappoint, invariably falling some way short of their imposing working selves. Matthew Macfadyen, on the other hand, does exactly what it says on the television tin. The tall, thoughtful, softly spoken man, whom I meet in a National Theatre interview room overlooking the Thames, differs not a jot from his most well-known character, Tom Quinn, in the hit BBC drama Spooks.

After two-and-a-bit series of Spooks ('I loved doing it but it was time to go') and other television successes such as Perfect Strangers and The Way We Live Now, Macfadyen, 30, is returning to his first love, theatre. He is about to open as Prince Hal to Michael Gambon's Falstaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, directed by Nicholas Hytner. This is his first stage outing since Battle Royal in 1999, also at the National.

'I'm thrilled and terrified that I'm back doing it,' he says. 'I'm getting the butterflies now. But it feels right, safe like a normal job. It's a bit more anonymous, there isn't all the bullshit about it. You go past the stage door and then you're off.' He pauses and laughs. 'It's romantic crap I'm talking.' It is a brave move to return to theatre in not one but two plays, and plays in which Macfadyen's character has the longest journey to make. For Hal, initially a dissolute youth, is by the end of Part 2 the future Henry V, all ready to 'Cry God for Harry, England and St George!'. 'He's a young man with this enormous, awful responsibility hanging over his head,' says Macfadyen. 'He's not able to realise his destiny until his father dies. It's the condition of being a prince: you're kind of f***ed.' Hytner has nothing but praise for his new royal. 'Matthew has innate authority and charm and he speaks Shakespeare with an ease that makes it sound as if it was written yesterday. He also laughs at Gambon's stories in all the right places.' After a peripatetic childhood because of his father's globetrotting job in the oil business, Macfadyen, on leaving school, followed in the footsteps of his actress/drama teacher mother and applied to the National Youth Theatre.

The blow of rejection by the NYT was more than softened by the offer of a place at Rada.

With so much time spent on the small screen in recent years, the addition of more theatre to the CV of this classically trained actor would seem a judicious move. Yet he denies that he has any sort of career plan. 'The climate's changed over the 10 years or so that I've been doing this. It's become much more about "Get famous quick". If you can get a part in one of the soaps and be in Heat magazine, why would you go and be a fairy [in A Midsummer Night's Dream] in Stratford for 18 months?' His stint at the National, he says, came about due to a combination of factors. 'Keeley [Hawes, his wife and former Spooks co-star] and I had a baby, and then this came up and it all seemed to make sense.' Strategy or no, Macfadyen's career is set for the heights of Heat this year with the release of two films in which he stars. First up, in June, is In My Father's Den, a low-budget New Zealand family-in-crisis drama that has been garnering favourable notices on the festival circuit. Then comes the big one: Mr Darcy to Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet in the remake of Pride And Prejudice.

Macfadyen had not read the book or seen Colin Firth's legendary take on the brooding, breeched one before filming started and, as a result, had a torrid time with some members of the press. 'I had one really bad interview,' he admits. 'I hadn't even started rehearsing and the interviewer kept asking, "How is your Darcy going to be different?"

and I thought, "Oh, f*** off!".' For the record, he has read the book now ('beautiful, fabulous') and sees Darcy as 'a young man who's lost, who's grieving for his parents and has this huge responsibility of running the house and looking after his sister which is construed as hauteur and arrogance. People are usually only haughty because of fear.' Macfadyen had another good reason to be media wary. His relationship with Hawes started on the set of Spooks at a time when she was notlong married with a young son and, for a while, the pair became tabloid targets. However, the choppy waters have calmed now and they married late last year, shortly before the birth of baby Maggie. The proud new father bursts forth from the somewhat reserved Shakespearean at the mention of her. 'She's sleeping, we're sleeping, and she's just fabulous. She's absolutely she's the coolest baby in the world.'

In light of what he has been through, does he read his own press any longer?

'It all cancels itself out, the good, the bad and the unsavoury.

It's like good reviews and bad reviews, someone saying, "It's amazing, I wept" and someone else saying, "He should be shot".

It's all crap, not to be taken seriously.' So he won't be taking a peek to see what the critics make of his Hal? 'I've always been unable to resist reading my reviews. It's masochistic.

You want to get furious with Nicholas de Jongh. Oh, I shouldn't say that, should I?' Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, from Sat 16 Apr, National Theatre: Olivier, South Bank, SE1 (020-7452 3000).

Pride And Prejudice is due for release in September.