Now Magazine Interview "Pride and Prejudice" (Sept 2005)

Now Magazine 7 September 2005 James Ashwood

I'm No Marriage Wrecker

Matthew Macfadyen, who's heading for Hollywood stardom thanks to his role as Mr Darcy in Pride And Prejudice, has revealed how his 'sudden love' for actress Keeley Hawes changed his life.

Keeley was married to cartoonist Spencer McCallum, with a baby son Myles, now five, when she and Matthew met as co-stars of the BBC drama Spooks. 'It was an awful situation,' he says, 'because I realised I'd fallen for her.'

Matthew, 30, and 28-year-old Keeley were married 10 months ago; daughter Maggie was born last December; and only now does he feel relaxed enough to reflect on the impact she had on him. 'When you're confronted with something like that, what do you do?' he asks. 'I can't pretend I was comfortable with the press coverage.

'We weren't having an affair and it was a slow process. But I knew the effect she had on me. She's gorgeous. Everyone who meets her will tell you the same thing.'

Although Matthew is proud and taciturn as Mr Darcy, he's open when he talks about Keeley. 'In a matter of a few weeks last year, our lives changed completely,' he says. 'We eloped to Richmond-on- Thames register office on 8 October. We rang a mate each to come along as witnesses and people brought little throwaway cameras to take pictures. 'I read a poem and Keeley cried her eyes out. It was wonderful and romantic. Keeley was heavily pregnant with our daughter and the whole thing seemed perfect to me. Then, nine days later, I celebrated my 30th birthday. We went to Paris, just the two of us, and had a dinner with friends the following day.

'Finally, there was Maggie's birth, just before Christmas - the best present of all. Her arrival was serene. I know this sounds like claptrap, but it looked as if she'd been here before. She looked around as if she recognised people. It was a life-changing moment. To get married, celebrate my 30th and then become a father, in quick succession, was fantastic.'

In Pride & Prejudice Matthew plays Mr Darcy opposite Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. The film, out this month, also stars Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn as Mr and Mrs Bennet, with Dame Judi Dench as the harridan Lady Catherine De Bourg.

Matthew hopes he'll be able to forget all about Colin Who???'s famous portrayal of Mr Darcy. 'I can finally get round to watching Colin's version of the character nmv,' he says. 'I hadn't seen the TV series when I was given the part, so I decided not to watch it in case it influenced my own performance. 'I felt that Darcy was vulnerable. He'd lost his parents, inherited this vast estate and had huge responsibilities. So I saw him as a young man trying to cope rather than someone who had a "sorted out" life. He was quite arrogant at times, but that kind of arrogance comes from insecurity. 'And he looks at Elizabeth, with her easy way with people and her closeness to her parents and four sisters, and sees a loving family. It makes him feel more alone - more isolated.'

Matthew wasn't actually an automatic choice for the key role - a star name who would mean something to American audiences was required. But, after a series of auditions, meetings and screen tests, he was finally handed what could be his passport to future stardom. 'I can't help but think the knives will be out for me, in a way,' he says. 'I know that everyone loved Colin's portrayal md that kind of comparison is going to be hard to live with.

'So the moment some of the audience see me on screen as Mr Darcy, they're going to say: "Oh, that's not him." It's such a well-loved story that people rightly feel critical of anyone playing the main characters.'

The cinema audiences for the film - only the second movie version after the first in 1940 - are also in for another surprise. It's set in 1797, the year a 21-year-old Jane Austen wrote the novel, rather than 1813, when it was finally published.

And this version, by unknown director Joe Wright, gets down and dirty with the dresses, the dancing and the characters. 'They really do look as if they're living in the country, with muck and mud,' explains Matthew. 'There's a youth and vitality about the film. Watching it was strange because you can't help but look critically at your own performance.'

Matthew's spent much of the year at London's National Theatre playing Prince Hal in Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts I and II. 'I've had a great time,' he says. 'Being in a play has meant that I've been able to spend most of the day with my family. 'It has been a bit of a wrench leaving the house for the theatre at around five o'clock each day, but I'm back by midnight and I can see plenty of Keeley and Maggie the next day.'

Keeley has also kick-started her own career with a vengeance. 'She's done Macbeth for the BBC, an ITV drama called The Best Man and she's going to be in a new TV version of Thomas Hardy's Under The Greenwood Tree,' says Matthew. 'I can't believe how much energy she has. She also looks fabulous. I'm in awe of her.

But we're still playing it by ear to see how we can keep the right balance between home and working life. I really appreciate the great life we have together. It's important to get your priorities right'.