Rufus Sewell Channels Brainy Biophysicist for Eleventh Hour
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Hugh Hart

Rufus Sewell may be best known for portraying aristocratic hotheads in movies like 'A Knightís Tale' and 'The Illusionist', but the British actor sounds like heís happy to trade villainous intensity for a new role as a crime-fighting man of science.

In 'Eleventh Hour', which premieres Thursday on CBS, Sewell plays it cool as biophysicist Jacob Hood. The show is yet another British miniseries retooled for an American audience: Jerry Bruckheimerís U.S. version of 'Eleventh Hour' casts Sewell as a special consultant to the FBI who helps agent Rachel Young (Marley Shelton) solve crimes involving cloning, cryogenics and other strange cases based on actual science.

Despite a surface resemblance to 'The X-Files' and 'Fringe', the first two episodes of 'Eleventh Hour' stick to the Bruckheimer/CSI formula: For better and for worse, itís about the cases, not the characters.

During a break in shooting earlier this month on the 'Eleventh Hour' sound stage in Burbank, California, Sewell talked to about trading in his bad guy roles to get inside the head of a brilliant scientist. You have a thriving career on stage and film. What attracted you to doing this TV series?

Rufus Sewell: Because of a couple things Iíve done in the past, people tend to see me as this upper-class villain on a horse, blah blah blah. The opportunity to show people I could play a basically good guy, quite complex, American, not on a horse ó even if that becomes a stereotype that Iím stuck with for a while, thereís so much more play than the other stereotype I was in danger of being caught up with. The performance in 'Eleventh Hour' seems kind of reined in, compared to other things youíve done.

Sewell: You mean 'The Illusionist' where Iím playing a deranged psychopath who kills himself? But you did it so effectively. Sewell: Thatís not because I prefer a deranged style of acting. Itís because I was playing a deranged person. Itís all about the requirements of the role and thatís one reason I wanted to play this part in 'Eleventh Hour'. I bet a lot of people will be surprised but hopefully after they watch a few episodes, itíll be new typecasting for me. Now that youíve been working on 'Eleventh Hour' for a few weeks, do you find science more interesting than before?

Sewell: Absolutely. In school, I was in the park with a bottle of cider for science (class), so this is all relatively new. Now Iím actually paying attention and, slowly, Iím beginning to learn. Jacob Hood is so much brighter than me but what I can bring to the role is my own enthusiasm. I think, increment by increment point, Iím probably going to gain about two IQ points a season (laughs). If only for that reason, I hope the show goes for a while. Did you have any real people in mind in putting together your approach to play Jacob Hood?

Sewell: My way into this role is that even though he knows a lot, there is a kind of humility to him and a slightly scruffy way to the way he thinks. The great minds that Iíve had the privilege of working with sort of proffer these pieces of genius as if it were a humble suggestion, some silly thing that youíre welcome to use if you like. Tom Stoppard is one of the great intellects who also has a certain humility. People walk away from a conversation with him feeling that theyíve been rather clever. Explaining the science in a TV drama can be kind of tricky.

Sewell: My horror, my negative idea of what this (character) could be would be some kind of boring brain box person you sit next to on a Greyhound Bus and they ask, "Are you interested in biology?" and you say, "Oh, for Christís sake" ó this kind of proper, unsolicited factoid ó I canít imagine anyone would want to watch that. So instead of that Ö

Sewell: Someone who might make you think, "God, if Iíd had a teacher like that I might have been interested in chemistry," somebody who shows you how the things around you are actually made in such a way that it ignites your interest, who doesnít make science seem like itís a million miles away but something you can actually understand. Iím not saying Iím achieving that but thatís my ideal.

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