Matthew Macfadyen is a definite star on the rise. Having attended the prestigious RADA and performed in numerous Shakespearian productions before landing the role of Tom Quinn in the hit BBC series Spooks (U.S. title MI-5), he splashed stateside last year as Mr. Darcy in the exquisite adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn. Currently Matthew singes the Tribeca Film Festival screens with his portrayal of a dangerously devout man of God in Brian Kirk’s impressive debut film Middletown. Smack in the middle of the festival, Matthew and I sat for a bit at the Millennium Hilton which overlooks Ground Zero.
Frank J. Avella: Did you always want to act?
Matthew Macfadyen: I think so, yes. I didn’t really consider doing anything else, seriously.
Frank J. Avella: I notice you’ve done a lot of stage. Do you prefer stage to screen?
Matthew Macfadyen: If I had to choose, I’d have to choose stage. But I’m glad I don’t have to choose. If I leave it too long without doing stage, I miss it. I pine for it. I feel a bit fake if I don’t go back and do a play.
Frank J. Avella: Honing your craft?
Matthew Macfadyen: Yeah. You're using you whole body. And it’s a different kind of adrenaline.
Frank J. Avella: I loved Pride and Prejudice. Can you speak a bit about working with (director) Joe Wright.
Matthew Macfadyen: I loved working with Joe. I think he did an amazing job with the movie. It’s only an impression of the book. I think he was really successful in telling the story in two hours and still managing to appease the whole spectrum of people from the hardcore Austin fans to men in the street who went grudgingly to a girlie film.
Frank J. Avella: And won them over.
Matthew Macfadyen: Yeah.
Frank J. Avella: What drew you to Father Gabriel (in Middletown)?
Matthew Macfadyen: I thought it was...apart from anything else...different. I haven’t played a part like that before and I thought it was a good script...very well written and I thought that in the wrong hands it could have been melodrama and that’s quite a good place to start from, in a way. I want to see it on the big screen now. I’ve only seen it on dvd, which is frustrating. I’m very proud of it. It’s a simple story. And it’s a family...it’s quite domestic. It’s about the two brothers and the dad. And I sympathize with Gabriel. He’s a victim, really. He’s a baby. He’s totally asexual. He has no way to be with people and whenever it gets a bit too much, he closes off and starts talking to God. He has no ability to relate to people on any kind of normal level... He’s a bit of an innocent. Vulnerable. And I felt for him. He hasn’t got the tools to cope.
Frank J. Avella: How did you prepare for the role?
Matthew Macfadyen: I sort of let it swill around in my head a lot. I talked to...adored working with Brian. And we had a great dialect coach.
Frank J. Avella: You had to go to some very dark places, specifically in the cockfight scene and the confrontation with James in the church...after going where you need to go as an actor, do you find it difficult to come back?
Matthew Macfadyen: No. No. Part of the fun is going there and coming back. As an actor, all your channels should be open. We spent the whole summer in hysterics. As soon as the camera shut off, we would just collapse and I think that’s quite a good sign. I think if everything’s relaxed you can go and do what the character does--which is huge--and then come right out of it fine.
Frank J. Avella: The script was pretty minimal. Did you prepare a backstory-- filling in a lot of blanks?
Matthew Macfadyen: We talked about it. You see him as a young boy and he’s a bit ethereal and other-worldly, probably bright. The he goes off to...boarding school, I suppose. And the whole village pays for it. Then we decided he went to do missionary work in Africa. And then he would come back and take over the parish. He’d had been secluded. And he would have been a glamorous guy coming back at that time...the early 60’s with the town in a state of moral disrepair. He’s a victim seeing everything in black or white. You either go to heaven or go to hell.
Frank J. Avella: What’s up next?
Matthew Macfadyen: I start shooting, next week, a film called Death at a Funeral which is a farce directed by Frank Oz. I think it’s hysterical. A comedy set on the day a guy tries to bury his father.
Frank J. Avella: It’ll be a nice change from Middletown.
Matthew Macfadyen: (laughs) Yes! You’ll see me smile...although I don’t smile that much... it’ll be different.