Jeremy Northam, Oily English Villain (Sept 1995)

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Jeremy Northam, Oily English Villain (Sept 1995)

Post  DebraRatt on Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:33 am

Empire, September 1995
Jeremy Northam, Oily English Villain
by Jeff Dawson

Let’s call it the Lou Cypher syndrome. In American thrillers there’s a simple rule: never cop off with someone whose name is a cheap literary symbolic device, especially when it’s a symbol of something satanic. Take note Sandra Bullock, who loses her heart and her bikini bottoms to one Jack “Devlin” in this month’s techno-thriller The Net (her name’s Angela, geddit?), but then we’d have missed the spectacle oily English villain thing in his first Yank picture. How is it, Dennis Hopper aside, Hollywood villainy seem to be the sole perverse of gentlemen from Albion?

“I’ve asked this of people and the answer I’ve got most is that people hear that the English are reserved and in that reserve there is something to be mistrusted,” ponders Northam, on a break from a night shoot on Santa Monica pier, filming one of The Net’s key chase sequences.

“Because we’re not perceived to be very open people, that we’re holding something back,” considers Northam. “I think that’s something to do with it.” (“It wasn’t because he was English, but because he was incredibly good and sexy,” coos Bullock in contradiction.)

Though he now has two other film in the bag – the Cannes favourite Carrington (as one of Emma Thompson’s suitors) and Voices From a Locked Room, the story of the composer Peter Warlock “who had a double personality and committed suicide in 1930” (both of him?) – the 33-year-old Northam’s sensibilities are very much rooted in theater.

After a stint at university in London and drama school, Northam spent a year pulling the ropes in the playhouses of his home town, Bristol, before graduating to the boards of RSC, picking up an impressive Olivier Award for Outstanding Newcomer in 1990. But his performance of Hamlet in which, as an understudy to Daniel Day-Lewis, he was suddenly thrust into the breach when Danny Boy cried off midway through a performance.

“I was playing Osric originally, who stands around for nine-tenths of the play and listens and doesn’t speak until act four,” he remembers. “And then I ended up going on for Daniel. It was wild.”

Ironically, the lead role in The Net was almost as accident too, with Northam turning up to read for desperate director Irwin Winkler at a time when most of the mooted actors had gone off on their Christmas hols.

“It was amazing because I’d come straight off a film in Canada (Voices From A Locked Room), which I’d been waiting most of the year to do,” he explains, puffing on a king-size snout in the cold night air. “And the rest of the year I was working full-time in the theatre. I came over here to meet an agent who had sent me a lot of scripts, this was one of them, and I read it on the plane the day before I came in. I was fucked. I was wiped completely, and that’s probably why I got it because I didn’t go in desperate to do it. I never thought I’d work here.”

Despite a starring role in one of the summer’s many hi-tech thrillers, Tinseltown is still not tempting. London’s Finsbury Park will remain, very much, home. In fact, not even the opportunity to romp in the sack with the likes of Bullock can convince him to cash in his chips with Hollywood…yet.

“What are you suppose to do? Brush your teeth and do some extra press-ups?” he chuckles on his onscreen grapple with America’s favourite schwing-mistress.

I mean, who needs all that when you can stay at home in London N5?

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