Rufus Sewell: I Was Bored With Playing Bad Guys But I Wanted To Be a Vampire
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter star Rufus Sewell talks about playing bad guys, vampires and why he's an optimist
Metro, 22 June 2012
Rufus Sewell is sitting in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in a suite offering breathtaking views of Central Park. At 44, he’s arguably more attractive than he was in his twenties, when he first attracted attention on TV as Will Ladislaw in 'Middlemarch' and Seth Starkadder in 'Cold Comfort Farm'. Square-jawed, with sloping cheekbones and black curly hair that’s slightly greying at the temples, there are faint lines at the corners of those vivid green eyes. Thankfully, there’s no fake modesty. ‘If anyone thinks I’m attractive,’ he says cheerily, ‘I’m secretly delighted.’
Best known for those costume dramas that defined his early career and for roguish bad guys (often on horseback) in hits such as 'The Legend Of Zorro' and 'A Knight’s Tale', Sewell has fought to avoid typecasting in films such as 'Amazing Grace' and on stage. He won a slew of awards for his role in Tom Stoppard’s 'Rock ’N’ Roll' in 2006 and strong reviews for the recent BBC detective drama 'Zen'.
‘If I was offered a lot of money for something I thought was crap or a tiny bit of money for something fabulous, much to my own annoyance I would take the tiny thing for no money,’ he says, with remarkable frankness.
He’d pledged that he wouldn’t do any more villains so why is he back as a 5,000-year-old evil vampire in the Tim Burton-produced blockbuster version of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'?
‘Listen, I said it because I meant it. I was bored with playing bad guys,’ says Sewell. ‘But I thought f*** that! Get over yourself, Rufus. There are really cool people involved in this. And I’ve never played a vampire.’
Sewell stars as Lincoln’s nemesis Adam, a Machiavellian bloodsucker who plans to build a vampire nation. It’s a splashy role in an entertaining, action-fuelled drama featuring ‘as un-Twilighty vampires as you can get’, who feed off the blood of slaves. Sewell says: ‘I consider Adam the self-appointed president of the vampire world, a cigar-room deal-maker.’ So, why do vampires continue to intrigue? ‘They have always represented sex, love and death but also the idea of eternity, which is fascinating. My character is someone who talks about having seen the building of the Pyramids.’
'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' can’t present much of a challenge for an actor of Sewell’s stature but he isn’t complaining. ‘I have to work with what’s offered me,’ he says with a shrug. ‘But I think my greatest asset is my versatility so I’m happy to also do good radio and good television.’
Raised in Twickenham with his brother Caspar, Sewell’s Australian father – ‘a fascinating, wandering, barefoot artist in Soho who became an animator’ – died when he was ten.
‘It’s a fair guess that his death had an enormous effect on me,’ says the actor, ‘but everyone’s got their hoops to go through. When my dad was alive there wasn’t a lot of money coming from him. He was very disorganised. My mum was amazing and did all sorts of jobs to keep us going.
‘I was about as unfocused as you could get,’ continues Sewell, who admits his formative years were wild and that he got into trouble at school. ‘My mum eventually became a social worker and says it was due to her training with me and my friends, with troubled teens. At 15 or 16 I started to get serious about acting.’
He attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and worked on the stage before his breakthrough in 'Middlemarch'. His relocation to California was pragmatic.
‘It was because I couldn’t get work in London,’ says Sewell. ‘If I was offered a Mike Leigh job or a decent play for £100 a week, I’d come back tomorrow.’ He clicks his fingers. ‘I’m quite philosophical. I think my “journey” [he rolls his eyes and grimaces at his own hackneyed use of the word] has been the making of me as a person and as an actor.’
He describes his life in LA with his non-actress girlfriend as quiet. ‘We don’t go out on the town. I read, watch a lot of TV. I go running in the Hollywood Hills as opposed to around the Thames.’
Sewell has been married twice and been in relationships with actresses Helen McCrory and Alice Eve. He says: ‘I’ve learned not to tie my happiness to bulls*** goals that probably have disappointment written into their achievement.’
Surprisingly, Sewell says he has never experienced financial security. ‘I can’t afford to have a lavish lifestyle. Would I like to have houses in London, New York, Rome, Los Angeles? Yeah!’ But if serious wealth never materialises, he won’t be devastated. ‘I live in a beautiful, very small flat in a lovely part of the world. I have a nice life.’
And his goals? ‘I would be very satisfied doing disparate parts in tiny, very low-budget movies. I have to be a bit of a terrier. I’ll live anywhere, I’ll do anything.’
The perfect role ‘is still in the future, someone might have to become unavailable for that to happen,’ jokes the self-effacing actor. ‘But I’m a hopeful puppy. I’m an optimist.’
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is out now.