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Birthdate: August 24, 1975
Hometown: Fulham, London
School: Christ’s Hospital (1984-1991)
Gap Year: Christchurch Grammar School (1991-1992)
Drama School: LAMDA (BaActing) (1992-1995)
Height: 6’3” (1.91 m)
James D’Arcy was born as Simon Richard D’Arcy in Amersham, Buckinghamshire to Caroline (O'Connor) and Richard D'Arcy. He was raised in Fulham, London by his mother, an MS nurse specialist at Charing Cross, with his younger sister, Charlotte. His father had passed away when he was six. When he saw Mr. Mom for the first time, a low-budget 1980’s comedy starring Michael Keaton as an endearing stay-at-home dad, he felt emotions he wasn’t quite sure how to feel or talk about since his father’s death. He was grateful to an industry that helped people to feel safe to have emotions and in turn, he felt motivated to contribute to it. This would shape the track of his life and evolution into a fine actor.
In 1984, D’Arcy was accepted into a grant-supported boarding school of the highest calibre for children of low income families showing high academic potential. He spent 7 years at Christ’s Hospital School, also called “Old Blues” or affectionately nicknamed “Housey” when students recall the fragrance of Brasso and wood floor polish exclusive to CH.
I had a lot of practice in wearing funny costumes when I was at school. We wore uniforms that dated back to the 1500s, including knee-length canary-yellow socks and frock coats. Ideal practice for the dressing-up game.
He was House Captain of Lamb (LaA, LaB 84-91), played sports including rugby and participated in numerous school plays: Midsummer Night’s Dream 1985/6, Jungle Book and Gollum in a Lamb B houseplay. Schoolmates readily recall a good actor. In 1987, James played a “gene” in Richard Stilgoe’s Bodywork in a CH joint production with National Youth Music Theatre where the cast included Jonny Lee Miller as “virus” and Jude Law as “adrenaline.” “Gene” apparently wore a boy scout uniform.
Finishing at Christ’s Hospital, he was selected from a number of Theatre Arts specialists to assist with productions and workshops at Christchurch Grammar School in Perth, Australia for a year. Their 1991 season featured Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound directed by Simon D’Arcy.
“I was 17, looking for a good time and I wasn’t so much interested in the drama as the sun and surfing.” “It was June, and nobody had warned me that’s winter time Down Under. All I had in my suitcase were shorts and T-shirts. I shivered in the constant rain – but worse than that, I was desperately lonely. If I could have flown straight back, I would have done. Because it was winter, there was no social life. Nobody went out, nobody did anything. “I was terribly homesick and I rang my mum every day just to hear her voice. My pals back home kept writing letters telling me about the great summer parties they were having, and I felt I’d made a terrible mistake. Australians kept assuring me that everything changed in October when the sun would come out and stay out for the next eight glorious months.”
It was on his return to London that he decided to audition for the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art although his mother was initially dubious about acting as a means of employment. A government grant and a great-aunt who had passed away left money for the fees at acting school.
Finishing his audition piece there, D’Arcy remarked politely to one of the tutors that he hoped to see him at the start of term, only to receive a ferocious upbraiding. I was very upset. I ran off down the street and an older student came and found me. He was my saviour, really. That student was Alistair Petrie, now an actor himself in Cloud Atlas. “I remember James as this irresponsibly handsome young man, very tall and charismatic, who’d bolted off because he didn’t feel it had gone well,” Petrie tells me. ---Ryan Gilbey, The Guardian
When the acceptance call from LAMDA came, we have a modest D’Arcy not feeling worthy after just finished watching The Godfather with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.
During his three years at LAMDA, he honed his acting skills on West End stage productions of Heracles, As You Like It, Wild Honey, The Freedom of the City, Larkrise to Candleford, Much Ado About Nothing, Anyone Can Whistle and Sherlock Holmes.
I had three glorious years of drinking, having fun, oh and incidentally, learning about acting. To be honest, my favourite memories are of the great pubs around LAMDA in London’s Earl’s Court and outrageous posing and posturing we used to do in them.
On obtaining his Bachelor in Acting in 1995: “It was only when I finished the course and left my graduation diploma on the bus that I realized I’d become an actor” and: “Hold on, I’m unemployed” and “I’m not qualified to do anything. I hope I get some work. Otherwise I’m snookered.” He never bothered to get a duplicate of his diploma since he also thought: “No one’s going to give you a job on the strength of a piece of paper, are they?”
As a struggling acting student and in the early years after completing drama school, D’Arcy looked for any work he could find, including working in a pub and being an extra in a movie. He was 19 years old with long hair down to his shoulders. He was told if he wanted to be an extra, his hair had to be cut short, so D’Arcy appeared for filming with very short hair.
I got this job to be in the stands for a boxing match that was suppose to be taking place in the ‘40s. I looked over and the guy next to me had this long ponytail. I asked him why they didn’t cut his hair. He told me that we were extras and no one was going to see us anyway.
Lesson learned. But the worse jobs he admitted were cleaning the street long before there were machines to do the work, and at one point having a gun pointed at him while working at McDonald’s and he only got a 1p per hour raise in his salary.
His first appearances on television were small roles in British TV series Silent Witness (1995), Brookside, and Beck. His first big break on the set was landing a part in Dalziel & Pascoe (1995) playing a charismatic student murderer.
Trouble was, I spent my entire fee in the first week and got into debt, so I worked for six month as a labourer on a building site. It’s very hard to motivate yourself and even to get up in the morning if you have nothing to do. The building job gave me a focus and I was grateful for it. I’d spend all day mixing cement and carrying stuff around and in the evening I’d get a few beers down and have a laugh. The worst thing about being an actor is the high rate of unemployment. But I’ve been incredibly lucky.
After getting a lead part in Ruth Rendell Mysteries (1996), scripts began to flood in with parts in Wilde, Canterville Ghost, A Dance to the Music of Time, Ice House, all in one year (1996)! Then along came The History of Tom Jones, the Foundling (1997) which won a BAFTA, but after which he claimed was his longest period of unemployment of 12 months.
Either I was so good in it that casting directors thought that was all I could do, or I was so bad that they thought I was useless. I felt rejected, but I tried not to take it personally. Some of the drama teachers drummed into me that it would sometimes be like this.
It must have been typical quirky D’Arcy humour or despair to have accepted a role as “crap actor man 2” on an unemployment line-up in a political satire (Norman Ormal) during this period. However, he quickly bounced to his feet with a number of short films, television roles and a part in The Trench (1998) alongside Daniel Craig, Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw.
2000 marked a turning point where he began playingleading roles in sprawling period dramas for television (Rebel Heart, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Sherlock) and feature film (Revelation).
Following this, he appeared in the smash hit theatre production of Marlowe’s Edward II (2001) at The Crucible in Sheffield, where he played a very spoiled and sexy Piers Gaveston to Joseph Fiennes’ Edward, and was nominated for the prestigious 2001 Ian Charleson Award for Outstanding Performance in a Classical Role. The Third Prize went to James, who, as Gaveston in Edward II, "overcame the difficulty of making him too louche or wicked, to create a character that gave the play a balance." A sense of harmony, too, was the overwhelming feeling at the end of the celebration.
Not surprisingly, his career got kicked up a notch. In the dark thriller, Dot the I, he proved an uncanny ability to cry and laugh in the blink of an eye and in the swashbuckling masterpiece of the high seas, Master and Commander (2002) with Russell Crowe, gained wider recognition as Aubrey’s second-in-command, though it might have something to do with his talent to look mouthwatering in open ruffled shirts and a pair of tight breeches, after which, it really hasn’t stopped and he has only gone from strength to strength till his CV has stretched to the length of a biblical scroll. In between his busy acting schedule, he still managed to squeeze in short films, radio dramas and be the voice a much beloved children’s icon, Tractor Ted.
Recent years has seen D’Arcy work with more of the Hollywood elite, including Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock, Tom Hanks & Halle Berry in the epic Cloud Atlas, and with Madonna in W.E. He has played iconic roles (Anthony Perkins, Edward VIII) and characters so very different from himself in low-budgeted independent films (Screwed,In Their Skin) that he has gained a reputation as a talented, chameleon-like actor.
The reason I wanted to be an actor is that I don't want to play me for the rest of my life and make money out of that. I'm attracted to seeing how different I can be, pushing the boat out.
Alistair Petrie believes his old friend's greatest successes still lie ahead of him: "He's a very unshowy actor who goes about his business simply and quietly, and because of that he hasn't got recognition as quickly as other people.”
Sacha Gervasi says "D'Arcy's not your typical, egotistical actor," "Most are self-absorbed and boring, and that's not him at all. I really think he can do anything. He could be James Bond one day if he wants to be. Seriously. It's up to him."
With an easygoing outlook on life, D’Arcy is not one to make huge plans, preferring to walk into roles as they find him. He has written three screenplay; perhaps one day we shall see it on the big screen. He also hopes to produce a gritty drama that someone else has written. For someone who started by being inspired by an 80’s comedy, was repeatedly warned he couldn’t make a living out of acting and lost his acting diploma on a bus, he has certainly blossomed into a brilliant, fascinating actor.