Please visit the Daily Record for the latest interview of Matthew Macfadyen, where he discusses why he took the role of Charlie in Secret Life.
11 April 2007
Spooks star takes on his most difficult role a paedophile struggling against his vile urges
By Brian Mciver

MATTHEW MACFADYEN is used to taking on parts that deal with headline news and public concern.

After a starring role in Spooks, where he played a spy involved in plots that usually mirrored, or predicted, the latest shocking terrorist attack, dealing with controversy is nothing new.

But nothing could have prepared him for his role in the most shocking television drama of the year, where he plays a convicted paedophile placed back into the community and struggling to control his vile urges.

He is the star of new Channel 4 drama Secret Life, which follows the story of a child molester who is immersed back into society following his release from prison.

In the role, he had to cruise children's fairgrounds eyeing up potential victims and get inside the head of one of the most despicable characters sever created for TV.

The drama is sure to cause nightmares and terrors for every parent in the country when it is shown next Thursday and deals with the thorny subject of how society should deal with those sex offenders when they are released from prison.

In the drama, Matthew's character Charlie is living in a sex offenders' rehab centre after his release from jail, but is let loose into society when the unit is closed, leaving him to struggle with himself not to re-offend.

Such a controversial role is not one that most actors fall over themselves to win. Kevin Bacon, in his recent movie The Woodsman, is one of the few major Hollywood stars willing to portray this kind off sex offender on screen.

While few rising stars may be keen to jeopardise their leading man status by assuming the persona of a monster such as this drama's central figure, Matthew said taking on the contentious role was a challenge he simply could not refuse.

However, the dad-of-two does admit there were times the plot made him sick to his stomach. Indeed, at first he found it hard to even read the script. Matthew said: "I was struck by how much I was reacting to reading it. It was such a tough thing to read but it was a very simple story, which all good drama is. I found myself heartbroken at the end but repulsed at this man.

"The drama doesn't pull any punches and my character is shown to be a corrupt man who has committed terrible crimes. We do not try to excuse this but this is a story about a paedophile's struggle not to re-offend.

"But there were some bits that were tough, if I'm honest. There's a scene where Charlie is in the fairground trying to pick up young girls and I found that horrible.

"A lot of it was improvised and that scene was filmed only a few days into shooting. That wasn't easy."

Matthew added: "Of course, there are no scenes of abuse and none of us would have been involved in the drama if there had been.

"It is not a drama about the act of paedophilia, it is about how society can protect more children by looking at the greater need for provision to prevent re-offending post prison."

The much-talked-about drama was created by writer director Rowan Joffe, who was inspired to tackle the issue when he read about a sex offenders' rehab centre being closed after protests from the local community.

As Joffe said: "In writing and directing Secret Life, I hope it serves two purposes. "Firstly, to engage us in an authentic drama, an internal and individual struggle between good and evil.

"Secondly, that the drama seeks to ask difficult social questions. What do we do with Britain's paedophiles? Should we lock them up and throw away the key? Or would more residential centres be a more practical solution?"

The problems related to dealing with paedophiles are as complex as they are controversial, igniting furious debate over issues such as whether parents should be informed if such a sex offender is living in their midst.

And there are no real clear answers to the central issue of what a civilised society does with its most dangerous criminals, who continue to pose a very real and terrifying threat even after their sentence.

The highly inflammatory issue always provokes strong reactions and even the announcement of the programme's production drew guarded responses from victim support groups.

But although he has been given a closer insight into the dark world than most of us would ever want to experience, Matthew says he is no closer to a conclusion himself.

"I know the writer researched the whole subject very thoroughly. A lot of it was based on a real centre for sex offenders who had been released from prison, called the Wolvercote Clinic.

"They would stay there and go through a psychological treatment programme to stop them re-offending. The place was closed down in 2002 because of lack of funding but it had an incredibly successful track record."

However, Matthew admits he's not sure he would like one opening near his family home.

"It's a very difficult question to answer," he said. "The liberal part of me likes to think I'd have no problem with it but, in the real world, of course you want to protect your children.

"I think the truth is that I don't know how I'd feel or in what way I'd react. I think dramas like this can do something other genres can't and I hope this makes people think about the issues involved.

"You can't just throw all paedophiles down awell and forget about them, no matter how much people might want to do that.

"So there has to be a grown-up way of talking about this. You either have the debate or you don't have the debate and, personally, I am proud to have made a film that contributes to that debate."

The new film is certainly the most controversial production the 32-year-old actor has been involved in since he made his big breakthrough in the BBC drama Spooks.

He starred as agent Tom Quinn for the first two series of the hit show, where he met his wife Keeley Hawes, with whom he as a two-year-old daughter and a seven-monthold son. Thanks to the huge success of Spooks, he's become one of the country's hottest actors.

He successfully took on the potentially poisoned chalice of trying to compete with Colin Firth by appearing as Mr Darcy in a big-budget film version of Pride & Prejudice, alongside Keira Knightley and Judi Dench.

And his film work has continued to blossom with parts in the new Frank Oz movie coming up, followed by a lead role in Ewan McGregor's upcoming film Incendiary, where he stars alongside Michelle Williams.

He admits he will always be associated with his first breakthrough role but says there are worse things to be remembered for than being a cool spy.

"Because it was a series and it was a hit, inevitably it gives you a bit more welly," said Matthew.

"But, by the same token, the flip side of that is I will always be Matthew Macfadyen from Spooks, even though I haven't done it for four years. I only did the first two series.

"It's fine. It's understandable. I'm not likely to get called Matthew Macfadyenwho played Prince Hal on stage. Eight million people watched Spooks.

"And it happens to everyone. Michael Gambon is referred to as Dumbledore from Harry Potter."

Secret Life is on Thursday, April 19, at 9pm on Channel 4.

'Some bits were tough, if I'm honest. The scene where Charlie's trying to pick up young girls I found horrible'