PASADENA, Calif. — British actor Matthew Macfadyen thrives on the erratic lifestyle that acting requires. The man who is bringing us the resolute Inspector Reid on BBC America’s “Ripper Street” and who played the aloof Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice” and Oblonsky in “Anna Karenina” insists he likes not knowing where his next job is coming from.
“As soon as I know I have six months work I feel hemmed in a bit,” he says, seated at a round table in a meeting room of a hotel here.
“It’s a funny job because you accumulate children and mortgages and all the rest of it — lifestyle changes — and you feel the precariousness of everything more keenly, I suppose. It’s a weird thing because I love the idea that there’s no plan and I don’t know what I’m doing. I love it, but I also long for continuity. So it’s both.”
That duality doesn’t seem to bother Macfadyen, who remarks that there’s really nothing else he can do besides acting. Still, he confides he’s a pretty good cook. “When I’m not doing anything I wake up and start planning what we’re going to have for lunch. I’m terrible at everything else. I’m terrible at doing anything DIY-ish. I can’t do it. I’m an idiot. I can change a plug but ... my brother-in-law is a builder so he’s a big help.”
Married to actress Keeley Hawes (“Upstairs, Downstairs”), Macfadyen has three children: a 16-year-old son from Hawes’ previous marriage, and a daughter, 8, and a son, 6, with Hawes.
They met when they costarred in the BBC’s “MI-5.” He blushes when asked if it was love at first sight, but manages, “She was with somebody at the time, was about to get married. We sort of got together over time.”
Balancing a family with two active careers can be difficult. “We muddle through,” he shrugs. “We really do just muddle through. Friends and family help with babysitting and covering. Sometimes we try and make a plan, but it’s sort of frivolous because it never works out.”
Filming “Ripper Street” in Dublin allows Macfadyen a brief glance into the future. “I kind of know what’s happening to me this year, but Keeley doesn’t yet. But she’ll probably know this week. It will probably be one of two things — or neither. So she’s kind of frustrated at the moment. It’s one of those things. You get a phone call and zip — your life changes.
“You long for that because it’s exciting,” he says. “Off to New Zealand! It’s nuts.”
While Macfadyen, 38, was in school he played sports and hid his passion for acting. “In my teenage years I sort of did a lot and I secretly auditioned for drama school but didn’t tell anybody. I got a place and that was it. My parents were thrilled because I was happy. They obviously thought I had some ability.”
Macfadyen studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. And, while there have been lean times since, he says, “There hasn’t been a time when I wanted to quit. But there have been plenty of times when you’re overcome with what a ridiculous situation it is, especially when you’re not working or in situations in work which are strange. It’s a funny job.”
Scores of British actors are currently working on American TV. About that he laughs, “You can throw a stone in Santa Monica and not fail to hit one.”
Some years ago British actors were denigrated if they came to America to work in television and not film. That’s no longer the case, says Macfadyen.
“The quality of TV writing is so high now and the production values are so high and everyone watches ‘Breaking Bad’ and those shows — they’re just out of this world. So it’s seen as a big deal, it’s wonderful. Throughout my career you come up against people who are very snobbish about TV, and I’ve never understood it because I started doing BBC dramas which I thought were great. The writing was great. I don’t feel that film is a greater medium at all. There’s less pressure (with TV). More people see it. It can be wonderful. There’s a lot of dross, of course …”
Whether he’s playing a spy, a period dandy or a copper on the mean streets of Victorian London, he says he can adapt. “I feel like a blank canvas. As an actor I feel like I can do anything. I never think ‘This is my kind of thing,’ ever. So I’m always surprised when people go, ‘Well this is your kind of thing’ or ‘Have you done any comedy?’ That’s particularly irritating. Acting’s acting whether it’s funny or sad. I start at nothing. Then the role fills you up and then you’re Matthew again. You’re just a gun for hire.”
Steven Pasquale (“Rescue Me”) has his work cut out for him with his new show, “Do No Harm,” which premieres Thursday on NBC. He plays a Jekyll-and-Hyde guy, who’s a caring doctor by day and a vicious psychopath by night. Pasquale says they decided not to make the two characters physically different.
“We didn’t want to do the classic thing where one guy’s like a monster and really violently different from the other guy. We wanted them to have a gray area behaviorally so that all the other characters when they intersect, it’s really interesting for the audience, because then the audience knows that it’s Jason (the good half) or Ian (the bad), but the other people don’t ... Of course, they’re wired completely different and they have completely different personalities, but behaviorally speaking, you wouldn’t know that ... It’s not like we showed up and I was like, ‘So I’m thinking I’ll do Ian with a humpback and a giant unibrow.” We wanted to keep it similar.”
Production begins Feb. 25 on Season 3 of AMC’s popular “The Killing.” And according to the folks at AMC, it wiill cover a new case that WILL be resolved by the end of the season.
Jenny McCarthy claims she’s going to bring “sexy” back to late-night television. You can judge for yourself when her talk show premieres Feb. 8 on VH1. For a long time the former Playmate was negotiating for daytime chatter. “While I was in developing in daytime ... even though I still consider myself to be a mother warrior and your girlfriend’s BFF and a naughty girlfriend and all of these things, I realized that I can’t pigeonhole myself into just being a ‘good girl.’ I need to be ‘bad.’ So even though, I could have totally rocked daytime, I still felt handcuffed or pushed down, if you will. Like I definitely feel more free and open to be myself (at nighttime). And with today’s television, I really believe that the audience they can smell BS a mile away. If you are not your authentic self in today’s TV, you’re not going to last.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services