ACTOR'S ACTOR: Jeremy Northam - Measured by Quality (1999)

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ACTOR'S ACTOR: Jeremy Northam - Measured by Quality (1999)

Post  Admin on Wed Nov 07, 2007 9:02 pm

ACTOR'S ACTOR: Jeremy Northam - Measured by Quality
Publication: Back Stage West - Date: Thursday, May 13 1999

"In today's [acting] environment, quality is measured by people's ostensible success within the business, but that success does not always mean quality," pointed out Jeremy Northam, who went from having a respectable career as a London stage performer to film actor in such movies as The Net, Emma, Amistad, and the current release The Winslow Boy, David Mamet's adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play.

In the case of Northam, his success can thankfully be measured by quality. Northam, who attended London University as an English major, studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, and worked extensively with both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, brings to the screen something sometimes lacking in today's movie stars-intelligence, wit, and, above all, presence. Northam has a way of eating up the screen and it's not just because of his smoldering good looks. There's a sincere respect and devotion for the craft of acting that shines through.

"I enjoy the craft of acting," said the London-based Northam. "It's why I became an actor. It's a challenge that I embrace. And I enjoy the skill of dialogue-good dialogue, like The Winslow Boy."

The 37-year-old Brit admits that Hollywood was never a place he saw on his horizon. In fact, Northam practically stumbled on to the big screen when he came to Los Angeles in 1994 to "check out the set-up here" and meet with an agent at ICM who had expressed interest in representing him. Four days after arriving in Tinseltown, Northam not only secured an L.A. agent, whom he continues to work with, but he also landed the villainous lead role opposite Sandra Bullock in The Net.

"To my amazement, I got the job," said Northam, who had already appeared in a handful of British-made films, including Carrington, Voices From a Locked Room, and the 1992 remake of Wuthering Heights with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes. "By then I had been working for eight or nine years and thought Hollywood was such a distant possibility. And that didn't dismay me particularly."

Northam, after all, had been getting steady work in such prestigious theatrical productions as RSC's Country Wife and Love's Labour's Lost and the National Theatre's staging of The Voysey Inheritance, for which he received the 1990 Olivier Award (the British Tony) for Outstanding Newcomer. Northam also went from understudy to star in the National Theatre's 1989 production of Hamlet, for which he replaced Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role.

While you would think that getting the chance to play Hamlet in such an esteemed production would do wonders for his ego and his career, Northam's experience of going from understudy to lead actor was more unnerving than assuring. With only 11 performances left in his run, Day-Lewis suffered a breakdown onstage and Northam, his understudy, had to step into the role half-way through the performance and more than five months into the run. While Northam rose to the occasion and went on to do 30 performances as the lead, it was an experience that humbled him.

Said Northam, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world, but in another sense I remember feeling so totally guilty at the time that I couldn't enjoy it because it was at the expense of somebody else's genuine discomfort. I also felt really up the creek without a paddle. I literally stepped into somebody else's shoes, but I felt that I did not and could never fill the shoes of the person that I was replacing."

After the success of The Net, the film world opened up to Northam, who subsequently starred as the dashing Mr. Knightly in the 1996 feature Emma opposite Gwyneth Paltrow. That was followed by the films Amistad, Mimic with Mira Sorvino, and Sidney Lumet's failed attempt at John Cassavetes' Gloria, which "came and went," as Northam nicely puts it.

In June, Northam plays Sir Robert Chiltern in Oliver Parker's screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, with a high-profile cast that includes Minnie Driver, Cate Blanchett, Rupert Everett, and Julianne Moore. He can also be seen in the comedic indie film Happy, Texas, a hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival that co-stars Steve Zahn and William H. Macy.

While the film work has been lucrative, Northam has no plans of giving up his status as a stage actor. He recently finished a London run of Peter Gill's new play, Certain Young Men, and has every intention of working onstage again, although he admits that it's tough to commit to any long-term theatre projects right now.

While Northam can probably bank on his appealing looks to get him plum film jobs, he hopes people see more to him than just a handsome face. Northam wants to stay in this race for the long run-long after he can bank on his youth. He looks up to veteran thesp Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George), his cast-mate in The Winslow Boy and Amistad, as an example of the kind of actor he hopes to emulate.

"[Nigel] has a sort of quiet integrity about what he does and great skill, and it's a skill that's learned over a long period of time," explained Northam. "I've always embraced growth and change-to hopefully get stronger as an actor as I go on. I don't want to have a good few years and then be all washed up with nowhere to go. The craft of it is too intriguing to me. I just want to keep working. Nigel retains a remarkable freshness when he comes to work and if I have some of that in 20 or 30 years, I'll be very happy."

"Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire."

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