Once more into the breeches (Apr 2005)


Once more into the breeches...

Evening Standard (London), Apr 13, 2005 by FIONA MOUNTFORD


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 the opposite. This tall, thoughtful, softlyspoken man 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 and other television successes in Perfect Strangers and The Way We Live Now, Macfadyen, 30, is now set for the heights of movie stardom 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 now read the book ("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".

And Macfadyen had another good reason to be media wary. His relationship with Keeley Hawes, his wife and former Spooks co-star, started on the set of that programme at a time when she was not long married with a young son and, for a while, the pair became tabloid targets.

However, the choppy waters have calmed and they married late last year, shortly before the birth of baby Maggie.

The proud new father bursts forth from the somewhat reserved Shakespearean actor 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."

Macfadyen is also returning to his first love - theatre. He is about to open as Prince Hal to Sir Michael Gambon's Falstaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, directed by Nicholas Hytner, at the National Theatre. 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."

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.

"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 says.

"He also laughs at Gambon's stories in all the right places."

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," he says.

"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?"

. Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, from Sat 16 Apr, National Theatre, South Bank, SE1 (020 7452 3000). Pride And Prejudice is due for release in September.

(c)2005. Associated Newspapers Ltd.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.