||Radio Times Interview
The King of Cool
By Andrew Duncan
Playing Charles II has allowed Rufus Sewell to explore a complex, fascinating character,
not to mention saving him from the dole queue
Another Period piece?
Yeah, its the type of thing viewers expect me to do
.man on horse, long red
coat, curly hair, twinkling eyes. You can
talk yourself out of work simply because of other peoples preconceptions, but if the
characters are sufficiently different, I dont care. Charles is such an interesting
character it wouldnt matter if he wore a spacesuit.
Did you have doubts about doing it?
Yes. He seemed shadowy and I couldnt
pin him down at first. Then I realized he was trying to find himself hes a
multi-layered combination of good and bad, strong and weak.
Like all of us.
Are you pleased with how it turned out?
I dont think its a big pile of garbage, but Im wary of saying anything
until Ive seen it. Im pretty much
in every scene, so therell be a few squirms. Actors
understand no more about acting than bus drivers, in terms of whats good and bad.
Although youve had success on the stage, you
havent done much television since you played Will Ladislaw in the 1994 BBC 1
dramatisation of Middlemarch.
I dont want to spend my time as a psychopath on horseback. Ive had to fight to get anything that isnt
period or a bad guy. Im very choosy,
but I get less choosy after six months without work, believe me.
Are you too self-critical?
Im my harshest critic, but when Im uncomfortable with work I dont
mention it in case people agree. I mumble and
shuffle off, looking happy. The sound of my
voice always makes my stomach turn. I can
still only watch with the sound turned down, but Ive trained myself to watch a
little from ten feet away, with one eye, through partly opened fingers. Ive never done anything I wholly like, and
nothing I completely hate.
Do you worry about your looks?
I want to be as unselfconscious as possible while looking marvellous.
You have a crew cut not the Byronic
curls with which youre associated.
Its a refreshing change. I had it done
for Charles, because he had a shaved head under the wigs.
You romance a lot of women in the series.
Someone asked a stupid question: What
was it about Charles that made him attractive?
I said Try adding King
You moved to Los Angeles just before being offered
the part. Why was that?
A British film was cancelled, so I was out of work and had a chasm of unemployment. I finally had no excuse not to go to Los Angeles,
as my agent had suggested many times. I
rented Rock Hudsons old house on Sunset Boulevard, where Marilyn Monroe, James Dean,
and Elizabeth Taylor went to cocktail parties. Id
been there two weeks when the BBC came knocking and asked if I wanted to play Charles.
Did you like LA?
Its an oasis for unfunny English boors who think no one laughs at them because they
dont understand irony. Its not
that LA is shallow, but it brings out the shallow in you, which is why actors react
against it: theyre scared of enjoying
it too much.
Where do you live now?
Im rootless Rufus. Weve sold our
house in north London. I can live pretty much
anywhere which can be confusing. I have yet
to discover where I like.
Are you ambitious?
I dont know what I was after, but I certainly wanted success. Without it, you just dont work.
How has fatherhood changed you?
Your priorities rearrange themselves automatically.
Did you always want to act?
People change their memories to suit what happens. I
wanted to be an animator like my dad; then I wanted to play drums, and was in a lot of
godawful bands with my brother.
No menial work?
I swept roads at 16. Thats fun
if you dont do it for long. People
exaggerate. They say they know what its
like to be homeless if theyre locked out of a nightclub. Looking back, I was an arrogant little twit. As an essentially unreliable person, acting
brought out the reliable in me.
What memories do you have of your father Bill (who left home with Sewell was young
and died when he was 10)?
I have a charming image of him as a twinkling rogue, although he was obviously more
complex. He died when he was still a hero to
me, so I didnt go through the complex age when you reject your parents. Then one day I looked in the mirror and was
shaving Dad. I also see my Mum in me.
She sold vegetables before becoming a social
Yes. I had that childhood embarrassment when she
turned up at school in a black cab, full of vegetables, with no shoes on. And then she became my coolest accomplice. She still is.
Youd end up having counseling these days.
That was the threat. The only thing that
stopped me playing truant was when they threatened to put me in care. Looking back, it was delayed reaction to the death
of Dad. At the time, I thought, Im
a rebel. Right! You thought youd
die before 30. When you realize youre
too old to die pretty, you become sad and die slowly.
Which isnt as glamorous as exploding at 29. I gave up smoking at 33 because I realized, Im
not dead yet, Id better be more careful.
Were you frightened of commitment?
At drama school I had a discipline problem because I was so frightened of failing Id
only commit slightly. That made people think
I didnt care. Ive learnt its
best to take rejection on the chin with everything, including relationships.
Are you referring to your 1999 marriage (to Australian fashion buyer Yasmin
Abdallah), which lasted only a few months?
The relationship lasted for years. I won't talk about it, but if you invite the
beast of publicity into your front room, you can't complain if it won't get off the sofa.
People lap up private lives.
Have you seen a psychiatrist?
No, I haven't. In this job, neuroses are useful, if you can control them.