Rufus Sewell: I Play Hollywood Bad Guys While Waiting For Better Roles

Evening Times, 5 April 2013
By Sophie Herdman

Actor Rufus Sewell looks bleary eyed and slightly worn down by the time I meet him for a chat to promote new crime-caper Britflick 'All Things To All Men'. Apparently, he’s spent the morning being asked for details of amusing on-set high jinks.

Were there any? ‘F*** all,’ he says. ‘There have been a lot of disappointed faces.’

How would he describe the film? ‘A gritty London crime drama is what they’re saying, isn’t it? I suppose that’s what I’d say too.’

Sewell plays Parker, a bent copper. There are schemes, double crosses and shootings – and MC Harvey, best known as Alesha Dixon’s ex-husband, is also in the cast. Sewell’s performance is the best thing in the film; he can certainly turn on the shark-eyed menace when it’s called for and it marks a bit of a departure for him.

‘I wondered why, with British films, they wait for a character to be riding a horse before they think of me, so this was an attractive role,’ he says.

Sewell first came to prominence in the mid-1990s thanks to his performances in TV adaptations of 'Middlemarch' and 'Cold Comfort Farm', which he says led to a period when he was cast as ‘brooding Byronic people with coats on’, followed by ‘a spate of kings’ and then ‘bad guys in films’ – the most notable of which are his turns in 'A Knight’s Tale', 'The Legend Of Zorro' and 'The Illusionist'.

He’s previously spoken of his frustration at being offered villainous parts but took another last year as vampire supremo Adam in 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'.

‘It’s very rare I’d be offered a bad guy role in a decent film with a decent director and turn it down,’ he says, ‘because the alternative may be a year of unemployment. It’s not like I’d turn it down because I’m doing an interesting multifacted character in an independent film. It’s like, play a baddie and be strapped to a train full of nitroglycerin or stay at home for eight months – that’s the choice.’

Home for Sewell is now a flat in West Hollywood with his girlfriend. He moved there in 2008 to star in a TV show, 'Eleventh Hour', as a crime-fighting biophysicist, which was cancelled after 18 episodes. He decided not to return to London when the show finished and says its early demise came as a relief.

‘I felt trapped after the first episode,’ he admits. ‘It quickly felt like something I shouldn’t be doing. The whole network TV series thing didn’t suit me. I’d rather be poor and unemployed with the hope of something interesting in the future than guaranteed riches doing something I wasn’t proud of.’

He also wasn’t disappointed when 2011 BBC crime show 'Zen', in which he played an Italian police detective, came and went in three episodes. ‘I was happy with the three we did – I was excited to see what would come along when it finished. I didn’t realise it would lead to a long period of unemployment,’ he laughs.

Sewell is an unusual interviewee for an actor, in that he’s more than happy to discuss his out-of-work periods, past projects he’s not keen on and the uneven trajectory of his career – perhaps because profile pieces often mention an unfulfilled expectation that he’d take Hollywood by storm.

But he’s enjoyed great success in the theatre – winning the Olivier Award for best actor for his performance in Tom Stoppard’s 'Rock’n’Roll'. He’s just finished an acclaimed run in Pinter’s 'Old Times' with Kristin Scott Thomas.

‘If there was a film of 'Old Times', I wouldn’t be on the list of the first 20 people who would be up for it,’ he says. ‘I’ve done a few films where I’ve wanted to play a particular part but then another actor gets it and I have to see them in the role I wanted – but that’s part of being an actor. It’s why I’m fussy when it comes to theatre and it’s taken me a few years to do it because I’ll be f***ed if that will happen to me on stage.’

Why’s that?

‘The market doesn’t work in the same way,’ he explains. ‘I’ll wait until I get something I want. I feel the same with film but there have been times I’ve waited for so long for something that challenges me I’ve probably ended up accepting something worse than the things I’ve turned down. It’s a difficult line to walk.’

He’s about to make quite a leap from doing Pinter to working with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson on action bonanza 'Hercules' – with weapons training getting underway shortly. ‘I’m not the bad guy. I’m the pal – it’s progress,’ he laughs.

Then he’s got a range of films ready for release – an adaptation of John Banville’s Booker prize-winning novel 'The Sea', 'I’ll Follow You Down' with former child star Haley Joel Osment and horror film 'The Devil’s Rapture'. ‘I play the dad of the teenage girl,’ he says. ‘I found the relationship between the father and daughter quite moving and sweet, and I hadn’t had a chance to do that before.’

Sewell hopes this diverse workload will lead to him playing ‘a wider type of role’. He speaks about his admiration of actors such as Ian Holm and Anthony Hopkins, ‘people who could play a butler, a king, a drag queen in anything – theatre, film, TV, radio’.

‘I’m prepared to be cast as bad guys in film so I can get other types of roles in other mediums and hopefully it will filter back,’ he says. ‘It’s a long game.’


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