Northam Star (Sunday Telegraph) 1999

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Northam Star (Sunday Telegraph) 1999

Post  DebraRatt on Thu May 17, 2012 9:07 am

Northam Star
The Sunday Telegraph
Emily Bearn
24 October 1999

Cast opposite Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sharon Stone, adored by women around the world, Jeremy Northam is a matinee idol. He is also a diffident British Bloke. Emily Bearn meets him in north London.

The degree of enthusiasm that Jeremy Northam is capable of engendering among his female viewers can be gauged by visiting one of his internet fan-sites. Among the more sophisticated of these is the ‘Jeremy Northam Theatre’ where – after scrolling through some photographs of the actor modelling designer clothes – visitors are invited to leave him messages on the site’s discussion board. His most verbose admirers are Anna and Verena from Germany who, in a letter punctuated by reams of German poetry, beseech Northam to advise them as to what songs he sings in the shower, whether he is allergic to dust and the colour of his lavatory seat. The site also has a counselling page, offering reassurance to those who feel that their pre-occupation with Northam is adversely affecting their lives. ‘Contrary to what the nay-sayers would have you believe’, we are advised, ‘being a Northam-aholic means belonging, kinship, understanding. It’s a beautiful thing.’ Over the next few months, the fervour of Northam’s followers is likely to be enhanced by the release of his two most recent films, The Winslow Boy, directed by David Mamet, and Happy Texas, an American comedy in which he is cast as an escaped convict.

When I turn up to meet him at his home in north London (a two bedroom flat in one of the less genteel parts of Finsbury Park), Northam is padding around his kitchen in open toed sandals, his flawless features partially shrouded by a beard. ‘I’m shooting a film where I’m playing an Italian,’ he explains, handing me a mug of instant coffee, ‘and he’s got a beard.’ The first thing that strikes you about Northam is that he is exceedingly handsome, a fact about which - if he had visited one of his on-line fansites – he would by now be aware. ‘I don’t have a computer so I don’t know what goes on on the internet,’ he says. ‘But I do get the odd letter.’ What’s it like to be adored? ‘It’s nice when people are appreciative. But what I want them to appreciate is my acting.’

Jeremy Northam’s rise has not been meteoric. He was born in 1961** in Cambridge, where his father was a don, his mother a teacher. When he was ten the family moved to Bristol, where Jeremy was introduced to the joys of drama by Oliver Neville, a former head of Rada. ‘He and his wife lived down the road,’ he says. ‘They were the first actors I met – I became mystified by the whole process.’ After reading English Literature at Bedford College, London (‘I was probably the worst-read English graduate I’ve ever met’) he trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. There followed a year of repertory theatre in Salisbury (‘I did a lot of pantomimes – I must have been the unfunniest thing that had hit Salisbury in many a generation’) after which he joined the National Theatre. His break came in 1989 when he took over the role of Hamlet from Daniel Day-Lewis who had a breakdown, so the story goes, after receiving an unexpected visitation from the ghost of his father on stage. ‘I can’t speak for Daniel, but I was pretty nervous,’ says Northam. ‘Acting makes you peculiarly vulnerable. Criticism of your work becomes criticism of you directly.’

In Northam’s case, the criticism was largely favourable and, a few years later, he was making his fledging steps as a matinee idol. In Wuthering Heights (1992) he acted alongside Juliette Binoche; in Carrington (1995) he was cast as the lover of Emma Thompson (a role which seemed to require him to have one hand permanently fixed to the tiller of a sailing boat); in Emma (1996) he played opposite Gwyneth Paltrow; in Mimic (1997) he teamed up with Mira Sovino to save New York from giant cockroaches; this year in Gloria he was cast opposite Sharon Stone; in An Ideal Husband opposite Cate Blanchett. As to the merits of his female co-stars, Northam is less than forthcoming. Paltrow was ‘relaxed’; Thompson was ‘lovely’; Sorvino was ‘great’; Stone was ‘wonderful’; Blanchett was ‘really wonderful’.

The women in his own life appear to be less abundant. ‘I’m single and I’m getting increasingly broody,’ he says. ‘Acting is a good life but I’m 37 now and I’m finding it harder. Not because I’m getting older but because I don’t have a family and I don’t have a partner. Sometimes I think, “Oh, God. Will I be doing it when I’m 50?”’ It would be reasonable to assume that he will. Since landing in Hollywood in 1995 – when he played opposite Sandra Bullock in The Net – Northam has won a steady stream of American roles and, although he has refused to move to Los Angeles (‘I don’t want to live somewhere where the focus is all on movies’), his popularity in the States shows little sign of abating. In Happy Texas, due to be released in December, Northam is actually cast as an American. I ask for a demonstration of his accent. ‘I’d rather not,’ he says. ‘You’d laugh at me.’

Does he miss the theatre? ‘I just love acting, anywhere. But I still do some theatre. I did a play earlier this year at the Almeida called Certain Young Men. I played a homosexual.’ Was that tricky? ‘Why should it be? Why should it be any harder than playing a politician when you’re not a politician or a soldier when you’re not a soldier?’ Does he find acting difficult? ‘It can be nerve-racking if you haven’t got the part in your grasp. I try not to be an actorly actor – I don’t want to be the sort of actor who relishes showing what he is doing to the audience.’ Are there parts he wouldn’t play? ‘If I thought the story was really disgusting I’d turn it down. I always try to find a connection between myself and the character I’m playing. As an actor you sometimes wrestle with yourself in the middle of the night thinking, “Is my soul going to be exposed by the camera?” ‘

In The Winslow Boy, an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play which opens on Friday, Northam plays Sir Robert Morton, a barrister charged with defending a 13-year-old naval cadet who has been wrongly accused of stealing a postal order. ‘I related to Morton’s sense of emotional isolation,’ says Northam, ‘and the way in which his awkwardness with women was hidden by a terrible arrogance.’ Arrogance is not a quality with which Northam appears to be over-endowed. He says that he revels in being able to walk down the road unrecognised (a privilege he may not enjoy for long) and his conversation is peppered with self-deprecations (he describes himself as unfunny, impractical and badly read). I suggest that in the acting profession he must encounter some rather larger egos than his own. ‘Not really,’ he says. ‘The only prima donna I’ve ever worked with is myself.’

By now its lunch-time and Jeremy, by way of refreshment, produces a tin of sunflower seeds (during the course of the interview he has subsisted on a diet of coffee and nicotine). I ask for a tour of the flat but he is reluctant (‘it looks like a bomb-site’), so I leave, unable to assuage the curiosity of his German admirers’ as to the colour of his lavatory seat.

**date of birth has been corrected from 1962 to 1961**

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