Jeremy Northam: The Suave Seducer (8 August 1996)

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Jeremy Northam: The Suave Seducer (8 August 1996)

Post  DebraRatt on Wed Jun 27, 2012 9:13 am

Jeremy Northam: The Suave Seducer

The San Francisco Examiner
8 August 1996
By Jane Ganahl

Stuffy British actor? Not a chance...

BEVERLY HILLS -- I have to admit, I wasn't looking for laughs when I set
up an interview with Jeremy Northam, the romantic lead in "Emma"
opposite Gwyneth Paltrow.

The journalists assembled for this purpose at a Southland screening
agreed: These classically trained English actors can be a bit, well,
stuffy. At worst, a crashing bore. But my interest in him was justified,
boring or not -- he does brighten up the screen as one of Jane Austen's
most gentlemanly characters.

The next morning, he's late to the interview. When he finally trots into
the room, youthfully grungy clothes askew, eyes wild, he breathlessly
shouts, in a meticulous Cambridge accent, this excuse:

"I'm sorry I'm late but I went to my very first game of American
baseball last night! It was marvelous! Between the Los An-gel-eez
Dodgers and the San Fran-cis-co Giants. And the Giants stuffed 'em!
Their pitching man, Sean Estes, was quite a wonder! Struck out 11 men. I
loved it -- the sounds of the stadium and the random acts on the field.
And the hot dogs! Like eating two pounds of rock salt. By the end of the
evening I felt like Popeye, with my face swollen out to here. . . ."

He puffs his cheeks up like a blowfish, then abruptly plops in a chair
and offers an outstretched hand.

"Anyway, hello, how are you?"

Is this goateed, spiky-haired extrovert really the man who will make
women sigh as the dashing Mr. Knightly? Indeed he is, and despite the
odd package, the charisma seems intact.

The 34-year-old son of a Cambridge professor was in fact classically
schooled in the theater, and was a successful stage actor before turning
to the silver screen. In 1990, he won the coveted Olivier Award (the
equivalent of the Tony) for his role as Edward Voysey in "The Voysey
Inheritance"; earlier he received accolades for his performance in the
Royal National Theatre's "Hamlet."

He bridged the gap between theater and film by taking roles in Brit-art
movies like the remake of "Wuthering Heights" with Ralph Fiennes, in
which he had a secondary role; in "Voices From a Locked Room," which
starred him as British composer Peter Warlock; and "Carrington," in
which he played one of Emma Thompson's young lovers. (Which one?
Remember the scene below deck on a sailboat, up against a dresser? Yow.)

The break into more mainstream Hollywood fare came with Irwin Winkler's
"The Net," in which he played a bad guy (English of course) who wooed
and then tried to kill Sandra Bullock. And now, "Emma," composed of
American and British actors, featuring Northam as both Paltrow's mentor
and the man who finally causes her to fall in love.

With his swashbuckling physicality and increasing number of roles as a
suave seducer, Northam has been called "a thinking woman's pinup." But
the very idea makes him buggy.

"God you can't be serious. I'm an ugly bastard!" He blushes, tries to
bury his face in his hands. So why is he cast as a romantic leading man
opposite lovely women?

"I don't know! I really don't. I suppose that's because I'm a good
reactor, rather than a good actor. I suppose that's why it works."

In fact, Northam spends a great deal of time as Mr. Knightly responding
to the machinations of Emma, whose character is 15 years younger than
his and light years less mature. He lectures her, shouts at her, coddles
her -- everything a big brother would do. And then he realizes he's
feeling differently toward her.

"He eventually gets that he's interested in her sexually and
passionately, a shift from being protective toward this person he's
always viewed as just a silly girl," Northam smiles. "Up until that time
he's been one of the few people who will tell her where to get off."

The building chemistry between the two makes for some delicious tension:
a classic Jane Austen foil. Is he aware how much the audience is pulling
for them to get together?

"No, not really, because I've only seen the film once, and not under
ideal circumstances. They flew me to Cannes for the premiere but nobody
was in the least bit interested in seeing it because it was a charity
event! Really bizarre. People were there to look at other people in the
audience. 'Oh look, there's Sharon Stone!' You know. I look forward to
seeing it again, because the first time you see a film you're in, it's
not quite hopping behind the sofa time, but nearly."

Of shooting star Paltrow, Northam says, "Technically she's brilliant,
but she was also a lot of fun to play with. There were wonderful
subtleties -- sidelong glances, physical interactions -- that made
working with her exciting."

And in return, Paltrow in an interview says: "Jeremy's a wonderful actor
and a very sweet guy. Our approaches were very different -- he's very
schooled in the theater, which is not my background. So that alone
provided a lot of stimulation. He's also really funny, isn't he?"

He's even funny about the fact that his life isn't exactly a fairy tale
these days. "I split up with my girlfriend of nine years recently -- I
guess I don't have Mr. Knightly's altruism. And I've never been more
unemployed as an actor. But at least I can take some time for some fun!"

To do what? He furrows his brow, then brightens.

"Go to more baseball games! Eat more hotdogs!"

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