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The Daily Mail Weekend Magazine

October 25, 2003

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His Majesty's Pleasures

  The BBC's new £5 million bodice-ripper, a drama about the life and loves of Charles II, needed a smouldering star to "play a king who seduced the world's most beautiful women".  Step forward Rufus Sewell, the sexiest screen icon since Mr Darcy though, as he tells Lester Middlehurst, he's really a family man at heart.

Few men would turn down the opportunity to spend six months making love to a succession of beautiful women and get paid for it, and actor Rufus Sewell certainly isn't one of them, which is why he jumped at the chance to play one of Britain's most licetious monarchs in BBC1's lavish £5 million costume drama, "Charles II - The Power and the Passion," which begins it's four-week run early next month.

 

The period drama, which spends as much time in the bed­room as it does in the corridors of power at the royal court, follows the monarch's lusty life from his restoration to the throne in 1660, to his death in 1685.

 

The BBC is already touting the programme as one of the most racy costume dramas ever made, and the love scenes are an integral part of the action. Rufus is hardly off screen throughout the drama, and spends much of his time making love to a bevy of beauties.

 

'What more could a man ask for? laughs the 35-year-old actor. 'All that -- and free sandwiches! But the danger is that you could treat it as some kind of excuse to snog women who would, otherwise, tell you to get lost, and it's not meant to be just a snogfest. If you are not careful, Charles could end up being this Sid lames "phwoarr" character, which would be ridiculous. Charles was a very sexual man, but he was also a wily old dog. He lived at a very intense, political time and, because of what happened to his father, the primary aim in his life was to keep his job and his head.' King Charles I was beheaded for treason in 1649 after which the country was ruled by Oliver Cromwell until his death in 1658. Two years later, Charles II was brought to the British throne.'This drama isn't some big, bawdy romp, like the film Tom Jones. There is nudity and a fair bit of sex, but it would be boring if that was all there was to it,' says Rufus. Having said that, Charles II was probably the prototype for today's party animal - a Loaded lad in a Restoration wig and breeches ­-- and Rufus has the charismatic good looks to pull off the por­trayal. Charles is reputed to have slept with hundreds of women, but the BBC drama deals with the five main females in his life: his long-suffering, but barren, Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, the manipulative Barbara Villiers, the earthy Nell Gwynn, the sexy French spy Louise de Keroualle, and the one who got away   - Lady Frances Stuart, whose por­trait inspired the Britannia symbol on pre-decimal British coins.

 'He got through quite a lot of women in his time, but we couldn't include every one of them,' says Rufus. 'He went especially wild a couple of years before his death, because he wanted to squeeze in as many as he could before the end came.'

 Despite his voracious sexual appetite, Charles remained mar­ried, to his wife, even though she was unable to provide him with the heir he so desperately needed. 'There was a very close relationship between them towards the end,' says Rufus. 'Sex­ually, he always did his duty, but there wasn't any great lust on his side. He was already having a steamy relationship with Bar­bara Villiers when he married, and on his wedding night he sneaked out of the marital bed to be with Barbara.

 

'Barbara had Charles dancing on the palm of her hand. She could run rings around him, because he was so hungry for her, sexually. She was extremely manipulative and made damn sure she got exactly what she wanted. Theirs was almost a relation­ship of equals, although he did, finally, become bored with her after about 15 years.

 'Nell Gwynn was probably the first woman who treated him as a man rather than a king. She was a feisty, feet-on-the­-ground kind of girl and, for him, that was like a breath of fresh air. Also, the fact that she loved sex, having been brought up in a brothel, probably had something to do with it.

 

'Louise de Keroualle was a very precocious, spoilt little thing. She had come to the English court from France on the coat-tails of Charles's sister, Minette. After Minette died, Louise's presence made him feel one step closer to the sister he would never see again. He quickly grew attached to her, because she was also very pretty. She was high-maintenance  though, and tended to cry a lot to get what she wanted. I think Charles was also amused by the fact that she and Nell hated each other. Historically, there are a lot of famous exchanges between them. Louise had a great opinion of her own station and Nell, who was very sharp and witty, took great pleasure in deflating her whenever possible. Charles quite liked the idea of the two of them fighting over him.

 'And then there was Lady Frances Stuart. She was pushed his way by Barbara Villiers, who was wise enough to know that her influence on the king was waning, and so wanted to have control over the next girl in his life. But Frances had ideas of her own and, although she flirted with Charles, she never slept with him.

 'It's hard to tell which one he loved the most. I think, at certain times, he was in love with all of them. His first major relationship was with Lucy Wal­ter, the mother of his favourite son, James, later the Duke of Monmouth. But she went bonkers and slept with even more people than Charles did, and that damaged him, because he was so hopelessly in love with her. After her, I think he always held something in reserve, emotionally.'

 

Although Charles had no shortage of women at his beck and call, Rufus is a one-woman man. His partner is writer and assistant producer Amy Gardner, by whom he has a 19-month-old son, Billy. He is, however, still legally married to his Australian wife, Yasmin Abdallah, whom he wed in February 1999, after a whirlwind courtship. They separated a year later and have yet to divorce, but Rufus has been with Amy for nearly four years and is clearly devoted to her.

 

'Amy is definitely the one,' he says. 'We have a future together and we'd like to have more children. I love being a dad. I think I was ready for fatherhood, but didn't want to admit it, so when Amy fell pregnant I was glad that I didn't have to avoid the responsibility any longer. I was quite fear­ful of having a child, but it's been the best thing that has happened to me. As soon as Billy was born, the love and responsibility just took care of themselves. The three of us now go everywhere as a unit. l'm still as much of a twit as I always was, but since having Amy and Billy in my life, I feel a lot more balanced and I know who I am.'

 

Before he met Amy, Rufus had a bit of a reputation as a ladies' man. The former road sweeper was an almost permanent fixture at London's celebrity hang-out Soho House, and seemed reluctant to settle down. Previous romantic partners have included Kate Winslet andHelenMcCrory, one of his leading ladies in Charles II, but, apart from his brief marriage, he seemed fearful of commitment.

 

Before he was cast as Charles, Rufus had left Britain with Amy to live in Los Angeles, to try his luck in Hollywood. But, within a week of signing a £3,200­ a-month lease on Rock Hudson's former home on Sunset Strip, he was signed up by the BBC and left to film Charles II in the Czech Republic. The word is that the drama is destined to do for Rufus what Pride And Prejudice did for Colin Firth, but the actor remains unfazed by such specula­tion. He's heard it all before, having been touted for great things after playing Will Ladislaw in the BBC's award-winning adaptation of Middlemarch. He says, 'Whenever somebody has said that a role would do great things for me, it never has, so I'm not expecting this one to be any different. For all I know, I might just come across as a huge plank of wood.

 

'Basically, I have choice in my career as long as I have an overdraft facility. As long as my overdraft facility stret­ches, I can afford to be choosy about what I do. But when you've been unemployed for long enough, your standards can drop somewhat.' Now Rufus is set to return to Ameri­ca to be a househusband and father, while his girlfriend works on a couple of short films.

 

He insists that he has not decamped to Los Angeles permanently. 'I have to go back to the States, because it's the only house we have. I've sold our home in London and the money's in the bank, but we just haven't had time to buy anywhere in England. 'It's not a case of Rufus goes to Hol­lywood. I wanted to do something pos­itive. The idea of staying in London, unemployed, and with no chance of a job, didn't really appeal, and as I have an agent and manager in America I thought I may as well go there.'

 

Having said that, Rufus is now in Ireland filming Tristan And Isolde, which will also mean him having to return to Prague to shoot some more scenes there.'I think Amy has found it pretty hard being in Prague and looking after Bil­ly while I've been working, so, as soon as I've finished filming, it's my turn to  take care of Billy. It's the least I can do. I have definitely changed my lifestyle since Billy arrived. I don't drink during the week, and a year-and-a-half ago I cut down on my smoking, although I do still party at the weekends and might have a cigarette with a pint of beer.

         

'I'm also working out every day in the gym - God, I sound so American! But don't worry, there's still plenty of  naughtiness left in me.'                  

   

Charles II - The Power And The Passion will be screened on BBC1 in November. For more details, visit  www.bbc.co.uk/charles.

 

 

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thanks, Gillian and Rai, for the article and scans!!!

 

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