Jeremy Interview (Detour Magazine) 1999

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Jeremy Interview (Detour Magazine) 1999

Post  DebraRatt on Tue May 15, 2012 1:29 pm

Detour Magazine
by John Clark
October 1999

What's a classically trained British thespian like Jeremy Northam doing in a down-home farce called Happy, Texas?
"Oh dear, oh dear," Jeremy Northam says, seated in a French bistro. "Madison Avenue." Northam is referring not to the street but to a woman: tall, blond, tight gray miniskirt, and the metronomic stride and vacant expression often associated with runway models--or loads of money. As she returns from the bathroom, Northam sticks a piece of bread in his mouth and gnaws on it in the direction of her receding back. Swallowing it, he says ruefully, "I'll grow up someday."

Northam doesn't have to. He's an actor, and a good one. And perhaps just as important, he's been continually on-screen lately. In the past year alone he's appeared in two high profile literary projects, An Ideal Husband and The Winslow Boy, plus a down-home farce called Happy, Texas, in which he plays an escaped convict named Harry, who poses as a gay children's beauty pageant coordinator. Marooned in a small Texas town with a moronic fellow con (Steve Zahn), Harry is wooed by a closeted sheriff (William Macy) and falls for the prickly local banker (Ally Walker), whom he's trying to fleece.
Asked what a Brit with a BBC accent is doing in such company, Northam leans forward and says with mock gravity, "Fuck knows." Then he amends that. Unlikely as it seems, he says Harry bears a family resemblance to his portrait of Mr. Knightly, Gwyneth Paltrow's confidant-turned-suitor in Emma.
"I think there's something passive about the character," he says of both Harry and Knightly. "He's stuck in a situation and has to think on his feet and conceal his real feelings and at the same time discover what his real feelings truly are."
Northam says that what appealed to him about Harry was this questioning, a process he himself is going through. Despite all the movies he has coming out, he says he hasn't worked in a year, except in a play written by a friend. During that downtime he lost a loved one and went through--and may still be going through--what some people might call a mid-life crisis, even though he's only in his late thirties.

"I've been doing this for 13 years now, and if I add on to that two years at drama school, three at university, a year working in theater pulling ropes, and then the time before school when I knew I wanted to act, it adds up to a long time thinking about this business," he says. "I suppose in the past couple of years it's not the pressure of anything but [the sense that] life can pass you by, or [that it's not] what you somehow expected it to be. But it's a very nice life."

Northam, who was born in Cambridge and whose parents were teachers, first came to prominence in 1990, when he won an Olivier Award for outstanding newcomer for The Voysey Inheritance. (He also has the dubious distinction of replacing Daniel Day-Lewis when Day-Lewis suffered a breakdown during a performance of Hamlet.) After bit parts in Wuthering Heights and Carrington, Northam landed the lead in an indie film, Voices from a Locked Room, which led to his first mainstream American movie, The Net, opposite Sandra Bullock. Then came Emma, a forgettable sci-fi film called Mimic, and a small role in Steven Spielberg's Amistad. His next project is a Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Henry James' The Golden Bowl, starring Kate Beckinsale, Angelica Huston, Uma Thurman, and Nick Nolte.
"She's sitting with her girlfriend," Northam observes, craning to look at the Madison Avenue blonde.

Northam has carved out a modest space for himself between semi-bankable Brits like Ralph Fiennes and Hugh Grant on the one hand, and indie players like Ewan McGregor and Tim Roth on the other. He is nothing if not modest. He says he'd love to generate and direct his own projects but isn't sure he'll ever get it together. He makes fun of his intellectual shortcomings, saying "I think I realized at an early age that Isaiah Berlin I was never going to be." At least he knows who Isaiah Berlin was (needless to say, the rest of us recognize him as the British historian noted for his writings on political philosophy). The bottom line is that he loves acting, if not the acting life.
"There's this weird thing where I've found myself in various cities where I never thought I'd spend any great length of time," he says. "It's not long enough to really take root somewhere, and it's not short enough for it just to be a temporary thing. It's kind of in between. I think when you get into that stage, then you throw up stranger functions of what you want from your life, in terms of other people and how you want to connect."

Outside on the sidewalk, Northam reaches for a cigarette and peers through the restaurant windows at the blonde, who briefly returns his gaze. "I think that means 'Don't even think about it," he says, amused, and then moves on.


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