The New Mr Darcy (Nov 2005)

The New Mr. Darcy

by Evan Henerson (LA Daily News, 25 november 2005)

The new Mr. Darcy
Matthew Macfadyen takes a bow in latest film adaptation
By Evan Henerson, Staff Writer

Lizzie Bennet has been inspiring universal "You go, girl!" encouragement from women of all ages for going on 200 years, but it's the filthy-rich, handsome and misunderstood Mr. Darcy who frequently leaves those same women fluttering their handkerchiefs.

Film and TV adaptations of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" have boasted a formidable lineup of past Darcys. And good things seem to happen to the actors tapped to play the lord of the manor. Provided, that is, that they can eclipse the image of the last guy who played the lord of the manor.

The collar of Laurence Olivier, who took on Darcy to Greer Garson's Lizzie in the 1940 film, has long been a tough one to out-starch. But a shirtless Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC miniseries was enough to make author Helen Fielding write the performance into her "Bridget Jones' Diaries," which led to Firth playing the modern equivalent of Darcy in the two "Bridget Jones" movies.

Current "P&P" director Joe Wright hadn't seen either Olivier or Firth in the role. He cast Matthew Macfadyen purely because he felt there could be nobody better for the part.

"I met some film stars and I considered them, but in the end I came back to Matthew," says Wright who pairs Macfadyen opposite the Lizzie of Keira Knightley.

"Matthew was the right age" - 29 at shooting - "and he's a big, proper, manly man. I didn't want a little pretty boy, and I knew he wouldn't come to the role with any vanity. He would come to the role as an actor in search of a character."

"I was kind of aware of this whole Darcy thing," returns Macfadyen who, like Wright, had not seen earlier versions of the character when he took the role. "I couldn't worry too much about trying to be different. But I was aware of the place that 'Pride and Prejudice' holds in the UK,how it's very proprietary among ladies of a certain age. I kind of just jumped in."

Proprietary? You might say. A Jane Austen Mafia may not actually exist, but Macfadyen quickly got the sense that if this "P&P" went wrong, he'd incur the wrath of the Austen faithful.

"Joe has had this as well. It does feel like this undercurrent of, 'Don't (expletive) this up otherwise we'll find you and kill you,' " he says. "If you started worrying about that, you'd just be paralyzed with fear."

Darcy, as Austen readers and watchers well know, initially appears as a bit of a cold fish. Arrogant, dismissive and every bit a snob, he delivers one of literature's great demeaning marriage proposals to Lizzie, only to be rejected. He later proves to be something much different.

Any actor who plays the character figures to face the inevitable questions about tapping his own inner Darcy to make the performance believable.

Can Macfadyen relate to being rich and above it all?

"I'm sure I recognize Darcy in myself," he says. "I'm very sort of relaxed and laid back to the point of coldness, when inside I'm (expletive) myself to give the appearance of calm. I like that image of the shy boy at a popular event who is terrified of saying the wrong thing, terrified of being foolish."

And collaborating with Knightley? "Delightful to work with. Easy-peasy," says Macfadyen. "She's a proper actress, but she makes me feel old, and I'm only 30."

A well-established face on the London stage, Macfadyen trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before performing with England's Cheek by Jowl and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He played Prince Hal in parts 1 and 2 of Shakespeare's "Henry IV" for National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner.

Macfadyen, who is married to fellow "Spooks" star Keeley Hawes, performed in plays throughout his schooling. His mother and grandfather were both amateur theater directors, and Macfadyen just sort of took to the footlights.

"I'm just happiest when I'm doing it," he says. "I secretly applied to drama school my last year, and to my amazement, I won a place at RADA. I had found my audience."