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James D'Arcy - Rebel with a heart OF GOLD
Actor James D'Arcy seems to have had no problems landing roles in period dramas such as Tom Jones and Nicholas Nickleby. Now he's starring in Rebel Heart, a controversial drama set in Ireland. He tells Olivia Convey how he went from labourer to leading man.
By: Olivia Convey/ Birmingham Post & Mail
Date: Jan 6, 2001
With a name like Mr D'Arcy, it is little wonder that the star of the new BBC1 drama Rebel Heart has found it easy to find work in period dramas.
In the last four years, actor James D'Arcy has landed roles in the film Wilde, A Dance To The Music Of Time, Tom Jones and The Canterville Ghost. But he points out that possessing a name similar to one straight out of a Jane Austen novel can cause confusion.
In particular, he has revealed how shortly after landing his first TV role in Dalziel And Pascal, he received a Hollywood film script and a letter asking him to star opposite Morgan Freeman.
'I thought, 'Wow! How have these Americans heard of me?' I started reading the script and it became apparent that it was written for a 35-year-old man with a fantastic body. I rang my agent and asked, 'Why have they sent me this script, what's going on?'
'He had no idea either. I had nothing to lose by auditioning so we sent them a photograph of me. We waited to hear more but heard nothing.
'Then it dawned on me - Pride And Prejudice had just come out in America and the casting director had obviously said, 'How about that Mr Darcy guy?' I'd got a script that must have been intended for Colin Firth.'
Although he needed the work at the time, D'Arcy can laugh off such mistaken identity now that he is becoming a recognisable faces on the television.
His latest role sees him playing passionate young Irish republican Ernie Coyne in the turbulent drama Rebel Heart, which is set in Ireland in the years following the doomed Easter Rising of 1916.
D'Arcy admits some of the scenes were tough - in particularly one which involved the shocking slaughter of an Irish Catholic family in the dead of night.
'That family massacre was a real event,' he explains. 'We have changed the year that it happened and obviously my character wasn't really in the room, but there was a family that was killed, there was a surviving brother and he didn't speak ever again.
'When I read it I realised that it could be very shocking, depending on how it was dealt with on screen,' says D'Arcy. 'But I think it has been done incredibly delicately. When you come to shoot something like that you have to try and keep an overview of who you are, where you are, what your life is about. But it is there in the back of your mind throughout the day and difficult to concentrate on anything else at lunchtime.
The drama follows Ernie in a rites of passage tale which sees him evolve from an 18-year-old hothead, eager to prove himself in the republican cause, to a man caught up in the troubles of Ireland. The troubles also serve as a backdrop to a touching and passionate love story.
'It has a political backdrop, but it is told through the eyes of two people who are desperately in love and in other circumstances, that would be a very smooth path,' says D'Arcy, adding with a smile: 'However, because we're dealing with drama, that's not the interesting way to go.
The actor is also starring in ITV's production of Nicholas Nickleby, opposite
Charles Dance, a role he is equally enthusiastic about, despite the fact that he enjoys playing the bad guy.
'Baddies always do get the best lines, that's the honest truth. They always have the most fun and always seem to get the girl. It may be only for a little while - but it is in a sexy way. The good guy only gets the girl in a soppy way.
'Nicholas is a really nice person - we have had several Nasty Nicks this year in EastEnders and Big Brother, but I think Nicholas Nickleby is Nice Nick.
'I think it is more difficult to play somebody who you're hoping is going to be sympathetic from an audience point of view. It's difficult to gauge that. With a bad guy you just know you're bad. To play a nice guy is harder - unless you are a very nice person like me of course,' he laughs.
If D'Arcy seems happy it is because he has come a long way since his early days as a drama graduate. After leaving drama school, he got his first big break on the set of Dalziel And Pascoe, but the work quickly dried up and D'Arcy found himself looking for work of a different sort.
'I ended up labouring on a building site for eight months but I didn't mind doing it. It felt good doing a physical job, and going home each evening feeling like I had really done a day's work. And it was also nice to earn a bit of money.'
However, after getting a part in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, scripts began to flood in and D'Arcy has never been busier with an upcoming big screen role alongside Terence Stamp. Although he is delighted with his success, he insists his motivation is creative rather than financial.
'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.
'I think actors and what they do is important. It is vital for our society that we have that entertainment to take ourselves away from where we are in our real lives. It's exciting, it's scary, your adrenaline is flowing all the time.'
COPYRIGHT 2001 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd