About Rufus.com

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, it’s 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 people’s preconceptions, but if the characters are sufficiently different, I don’t care. Charles is such an interesting character it wouldn’t matter if he wore a spacesuit.
Did you have doubts about doing it?
Yes.  He seemed shadowy and I couldn’t pin him down at first. Then I realized he was trying to find himself – he’s a multi-layered combination of good and bad, strong and weak.   Like all of us.
Are you pleased with how it turned out?
I don’t think it’s a big pile of garbage, but I’m wary of saying anything until I’ve seen it.  I’m pretty much in every scene, so there’ll be a few squirms.  Actors understand no more about acting than bus drivers, in terms of what’s good and bad.
Although you’ve had success on the stage, you haven’t done much television since you played Will Ladislaw in the 1994 BBC 1 dramatisation of Middlemarch.
I don’t want to spend my time as a psychopath on horseback.  I’ve had to fight to get anything that isn’t period or a bad guy.  I’m very choosy, but I get less choosy after six months without work, believe me.
Are you too self-critical? 
I’m my harshest critic, but when I’m uncomfortable with work I don’t 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 I’ve trained myself to watch a little – from ten feet away, with one eye, through partly opened fingers.  I’ve 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 you’re associated.
It’s 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 Hudson’s old house on Sunset Boulevard, where Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elizabeth Taylor went to cocktail parties.  I’d been there two weeks when the BBC came knocking and asked if I wanted to play Charles.
Did you like LA?
It’s an oasis for unfunny English boors who think no one laughs at them because they don’t understand irony.  It’s not that LA is shallow, but it brings out the shallow in you, which is why actors react against it:  they’re scared of enjoying it too much.
Where do you live now?
I’m rootless Rufus.  We’ve 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 don’t know what I was after, but I certainly wanted success.  Without it, you just don’t 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.  That’s fun – if you don’t do it for long.  People exaggerate.  They say they know what it’s like to be homeless if they’re 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 didn’t 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 worker?
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.
You’d 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, “I’m a rebel. Right!”  You thought you’d die before 30.  When you realize you’re too old to die pretty, you become sad and die slowly.   Which isn’t as glamorous as exploding at 29.  I gave up smoking at 33 because I realized, I’m not dead yet, I’d better be more careful.”
Were you frightened of commitment?
At drama school I had a discipline problem because I was so frightened of failing I’d only commit slightly.  That made people think I didn’t care.  I’ve learnt it’s 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.

 

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