From Rome, With Crime
Rufus Sewell Goes ‘Zen’ In New ‘Masterpiece’ Series

Boston Herald, 17 July 2011
By Amy Amatangelo

Rufus Sewell thinks some viewers might be perplexed when they tune in to “Zen.”

The actor stars as Roman police detective Aurelio Zen in the three-part “Masterpiece Mystery” series premiering tonight at 9 on WGBH (Ch. 2). The trio of movies, which concludes July 31, was filmed entirely on location in Rome. But the British-born Sewell did not attempt an Italian accent.

“I think at first people might spend a few moments thinking, ‘What the hell is this? What’s up with the accent?’?” Sewell told the Herald in a recent telephone interview.

Sewell found it crucial to speak in his regular voice.

“I think the idea of playing the whole thing with a kind of odd Italian accent is just a crazy idea,” he said. “I made it pretty clear that I thought if it could work in my own accent, then that’s probably the lesser of two evils. If you have Italy in the background, you let that take care of the Italian (realism).”

Sewell, who last season starred in the miniseries “The Pillars of the Earth,” was immediately attracted to PBS project. His detective is an honest man surrounded by corrupt bureaucrats and criminals.

“I don’t get offered stuff like this, so when I do, I would be a fool not to say yes,” he said. “This is the first time in 10 years I’ve been offered anything decent in England that wasn’t a period drama to play an upper-class man.”

And there was something relatable about the character who first appeared in Michael Dibdin’s mystery novels.

“His life is a bit of a mess and he gets things wrong,” Sewell said. “He’s kind of ducking and diving and trying to survive what life throws at him, and he’s in midlife with a load of disasters behind him and plenty more in his future. It just feels very familiar and comfortable for me.”

Although this character is different for the 43-year-old, he doesn’t know what impact it will have on his career.

“I no longer think I need to prove anything,” he said. “The idea that this was going to change the way I was seen is probably the wrong way to look at life in general. I just need to enjoy the process itself, and I did. I had one of the most wonderful times.”

He recently finished filming the movie “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and is awaiting his next project.

“My ideal role is a surprise. I could not tell you what my ideal role is, and I want to keep it that way,” he said, then laughed. “At the moment, my greatest asset is my availability.”

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