Cambridgeshire Life, April 2003

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Cambridgeshire Life, April 2003

Post  DebraRatt on Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:22 am

Cambridgeshire Life, April 2003
Toff - Talker in a Class of His Own
by: Kim Smith

Jeremy Northam is always cast as the type of Englishman who was not so much born with a silver spoon in his mouth, more like a whole canteen of cutlery. So it comes as some surprise that the Cambridge-born actor is from a family who loathe the class system

Jeremy Northam smiles when he remembers his professor father’s comments on class, considering that the star of leading films such as Gosford Park and Enigma is almost inevitably cast as an upper class Englishman.

“My dad’s roots are firmly working-class. He was a scholarship kid,” says Jeremy. “I remember him saying to me that he thought after the second world war, ‘Hold on, where’s the brave new world?’ There was a huge popular swing towards a different kind of society, and yet the old forces were reasserting themselves.”

Jeremy’s father, John, was a professor of drama at Clare College, Cambridge, when he was born in 1961. The star of such hit films as The Net and The Winslow Boy, as well as Enigma and Gosford Park, remains proud that his dad did his bit to undermine the university’s reputation as a private club for the privileged.

“As a senior tutor in the 1960’s, he urged Clare to broaden its intake of students from all backgrounds; which was not traditionally the way that the university had done things. He wasn’t the only person to do so, but he made great inroads in making that idea an ethical necessity.”

The youngest of four children, Jeremy fondly remembers the home as being presided over by his domestic science teacher mum, Rachael. “It was idyllic, full of books, conversation and music,” he adds.

He went to grammar school and get exasperated when people assume he was a public schoolboy. “It’s always a source of some disturbance to me. My school did become an independent, but that’s as near as it gets. I have never thought of myself as part of a crusty world,” he says.

Jeremy opted for an acting career when the family moved to the West Country in the 1970s; his head was turned by the productions he saw at the famous Bristol Old Vic. A year’s work as a stagehand on everything from pantomime to Shakespeare sealed his fate. After reading English at Bedford College, London, he returned to Bristol and the Old Vic theatre school.

Following a couple years in rep, he found himself starring in a string of plays at London’s prestigious National Theatre and got his big break when he was asked to take over from a troubled Daniel Day-Lewis halfway through a performance of Hamlet. “I hadn’t rehearsed the part of Hamlet for months as I’d been on stage playing Osric, who doesn’t have a lot to say.

“Suddenly, Dan’s dresser walked into my dressing room and flung all his costumes down without a word. Then I heard an announcement saying Hamlet would be played by Jeremy Northam. I couldn’t get a drop of saliva to form in my mouth. It was the most horrifying night of my life!”

The production was directed by Richard Eyre, who was so impressed that he next cast Jeremy as the lead in the revival of 1905 play, The Voysey Inheritance. This earned him a West End theatre equivalent of an Oscar, an Olivier Award, as Promising Newcomer. He was on his way.

Jeremy’s move into films was equally seamless: days after arriving in Los Angeles in 1994, he was cast opposite on of Hollywood’s hottest stars, Sandra Bullock, in The Net. He played the malevolent Jack Devlin, thus establishing his image as a suave English cad.

“It was a fantasy come true to do an American thriller, which was a genre I thought entirely distant and other-worldly,” he says. “Suddenly, I was being sent scripts I never knew existed and it gave me the chance to evaluate what was around.”

A big-screen foray into costume drama followed, with Jeremy playing the handsome Mr. Knightley opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in Jane Austen’s 18th-century matchmaking comedy, Emma. He has remained almost resolutely in the past ever since, by playing legal eagle Sir Robert Morton in Terence Rattigan’s pre-First World War drama, The Winslow Boy; politician Sir Robert Chilton in Oscar Wilde’s Victorian comedy-drama, An Ideal Husband; sinister government agent Wigram in Second World War-set Enigma, and Ivor Novello, in the more recent 1930s country house murder mystery, Gosford Park.

Next up is a remake of Dennis Potter’s 1945-based The Singing Detective, which will see him recreating Patrick Malahide’s role from the TV version, Mark Binney.

Because of those films, you could forgive Jeremy for getting confused about which era he’s living in. And he admits he would like to break the pattern. “I keep on going up for things that are contemporary, and not getting them. Boo-hoo,” he says with self-mockery. “I do worry about typecasting though, but at the same time, if people are offing me work then I’d be a fool to turn it down.

At 42, Jeremy is still a bachelor, a solitary state that he lays firmly at the feet of his hectic schedule. He admits he’d love to emulate is parent’s marriage. “They’ve been together for more than 40 years and they’re still in love,” he says. “Two people making a commitment to each other, whether it be in a church or a register office, is something I find exciting.”

So ultimately, where does the 6ft 2in hunk see his future? “Acting is undoubtedly a good life,” he says. “But I’m getting older and I still don’t have a family. Sometimes I think, ‘What will I be doing when I’m 50?’”

I’m sure his many female fans would be only too willing to provide him with a few options.

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