Shed Success for Macfadyen (Oct 2004)

In his latest role as Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen gets to brood just like he did for In My Father's Den.
In his latest role as Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen gets to brood just like he did for In My Father's Den.
Shed success for Macfadyen


New Zealand Herald


Matthew Macfadyen laughs when he thinks what the New Zealand crew must have thought of him during the first few days of shooting In My Father's Den.

The scenes involved a lot of silent brooding on his part but not a lot of lines. "In the first week I didn't say anything because it was all rediscovering my Dad's old house ... before that point I think a lot of the crew were thinking 'Who is this guy? He hasn't said a word'."

A year or so later the 30-year-old is on the phone from somewhere in Yorkshire where he has almost finished Darcy - a new version of Pride and Prejudice.

He plays the lead character, which many will forever associate with Colin Firth from the television adaptation of a decade ago, opposite Keira Knightley. "I've been wearing sideburns on a horse and looking very brooding and everything. I can't really take myself seriously as Darcy but they are all pleased, so hopefully it will come out okay."

Those are quite some britches to fill ...

"Yes, the knives will be out."

The period film may well make a star of Macfadyen, a graduate of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and experienced stage actor, whose face is already familiar as Tom Quinn, the sensitive spy from the MI5 espionage series Spooks.

"Enough was enough - it was great fun while it lasted, but enough of one thing."

Macfadyen signed up for In My Father's Den after reading director Brad McGann's screenplay and auditioning for the role. "Just the script grabbed me; I thought the script was exceptionally good. They don't come along very often."

Playing the lead character Paul Prior, a photojournalist who left New Zealand as a teenager and returns upon his father's death, offered him a marked change of character and scenery - but not of accent.

"It was decided to have it ironed out completely. I wanted to have a bit of an accent coming back but that could have gone terribly wrong with the odd 'bro' in there," he laughs. "That would have sounded [expletive] ridiculous.

"If you leave at 15 or 16 it's quite formative then and once you go ... I think a lot of people just lose their native accent very quickly when they are in their teenage years."

Macfadyen found himself in his first lead role in a feature after a few bit-parts in British flicks. It was the first feature, too, for co-star Emily Barclay ("fantastic, incredibly kind, frighteningly good"), and McGann.

"It was busy. It was great. It felt like we were all there for the right reasons.

"Everybody had read the script and they all really liked the story and they wanted to be part of it. So inevitably there was that feeling it wasn't just another job.

"It wasn't a big budget. When you've got to compromise like that it becomes a bit more rough and ready - more interesting things happen because you are forced into time constraints or money constraints.

"But I loved it because I was busy all the time. I didn't really have time to sit and think or navel gaze about it."

No, he wasn't aware of In My Father's Den author Maurice Gee or his standing in New Zealand literature, though he did get to meet the writer when the production moved to Auckland from Central Otago - "he was lovely, he was very gracious, interesting and interested".

But like many things in the shift from the novel to screen, the character of Paul changed.

"In the book Paul's character doesn't crack, he doesn't let go - there is no release - but in the film there is," says Macfadyen, hinting at some of his more emotionally intense scenes.

He's been able to see some of the early reaction to the film first hand at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.

"I'm constantly being surprised by the reaction. I think it's very good but whether it will be shown in multiplexland, I don't know. It's like a little thriller as well - there's enough whodunnit momentum to it."

While Macfadyen may already be going on to bigger things, he says he's got some deep emotional investment in the New Zealand film that gave him his first lead role on the big screen.

"It's interesting for me because I've done a lot of television and you kind of forget about it.

"It doesn't really matter how it does. It comes out on 9 o'clock on a Tuesday six months later and you're already on to the next one.

"But this is different. It's a new thing for me."