Northam Lights (1996)

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Northam Lights (1996) Empty Northam Lights (1996)

Post  DebraRatt on Mon May 14, 2012 8:00 pm

Northam Lights
The emergence of Jeremy Northam

Creative Loafing
10 Aug. 1996

Jeremy Northam confesses he never read a lot of Jane Austen in school. "I considered it to be girly stuff," he says with a laugh. But when the 34-year-old British actor was contacted by director Douglas McGrath about co-starring opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in his screen adaptation of Austen's Emma, Northam was understandably more inclined to give the blithe comedy-of-manners another shot."It's nostalgic and romantic, and it definitely contains a young woman's view of what love and marriage might be like in 19th-century England, but it's also coupled with an acidic wit that surprised me and appealed to my rather cynical nature about reading it again," Northam acknowledges. "There's a sense of mischief in her writing, but also a sweetness in terms of the romance in the story, and that makes for quite a potent combination. She writes about a world where there are certain values of behavior without sounding like an old conservative. It's truly romantic, but with a realistic view of human nature, which I suspect accounts for its contemporary appeal." Paltrow (the sole American in the cast) plays the title role, a charming young woman prone to alternately well-intentioned and meddling matchmaking. Northam plays Mr. Knightley, a handsome landowner and eligible bachelor, who doesn't suffer Emma's occasional foolishness very gladly. The stellar supporting ensemble also includes Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding), Greta Scacchi (Paltrow's co-star from Jefferson in Paris), Polly Walker (Enchanted April), Juliet Stevenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply), Alan Cumming (Circle of Friends), Ewan Macgregor (virtually unrecognizable from Trainspotting) and Phyllida Law and Sophie Thompson (Emma Thompson's mother and sister, respectively). Emma promises to jump-start a film career for Northam, who has earned a reputation in England for his theater work, most notably in a highly publicized, highly plagued production of Hamlet. (Northam took over the role from Daniel Day-Lewis, who suffered a nervous breakdown during a performance and who had taken over the role from Ian Charleston, who died of AIDS shortly after the show opened. Notwithstanding a flashy role as the villain in last summer's Sandra Bullock thriller The Net, Northam admits director McGrath "had his work cut out for him" in convincing the powers-that-be at Miramax Films to agree on him for the role of Knightley. "I was flattered that he went to all that trouble, when they probably thought he could get someone better, or at least someone better known," the actor concedes. "Working on something like Emma felt a lot more familiar to me, whereas working on The Net was all new to me," Northam explains. "It was fantastic just to see how these big Hollywood studio movies work. We filmed some of my scenes on the big Sony lot, and I remember sneaking onto one of the other sound stages and taking a peek at them shooting The American President, which was neat. It's sort of a cross between the theater, which I'm comfortable with, and a factory, which I'm not. It was a mad kind of adventure, something I'd never really sought, but at the same time, it was like fulfilling a fantasy that I never imagined would come true." Despite his generally favorable impression of Hollywood, Northam couldn't wait to leave. "After The Net came out, I just wanted to go home to England," he says. "I enjoy L.A., but I could never make it my home, because it strikes me as a place where life is largely lived in your car and on the phone. I quite enjoy human interaction, walking down the street and literally bumping into another human being without getting all paranoid about it." Granted, the film business in the actor's native England is hardly the thriving industry it is in the States. "There's really no comparison," Northam says. "It would be like comparing a jam manufacturer with the arms industry, and the movie business in the States almost seems as big to me as the arms industry. My cultural roots, my family, everything I know is in England. It's the place where I understand things. Here, I always have the feeling of being lost."


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