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Dominic West: "I just love being camp"

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Dominic West tells us about playing very much against McNulty type

Your new film, Pride, is based on the true story of gay activists who supported the 1984 miners’ strike. It’s a very real evocation of the Eighties – did it bring back fond memories for you?

I didn’t really enjoy the Eighties. I was a teenager. I grew up in Sheffield at the time of the miners’ strike, and it wasn’t a very pleasant time. In terms of the clothes and music, I preferred the Seventies and the Nineties. Which made it interesting, in that I had to do a big disco dance scene for Pride.

Ah, yes – the scene where your character flamboyantly dances for hundreds of miners in a working men’s club. How do you prepare for something like that?

I thought I was born to dance, but then I had to do three months of extensive training, learning the steps and so on. By the end of it, I had an impression of myself as being like John Travolta [in Saturday Night Fever], but then I saw the film, and the truth was rather less glamorous.

Were you nervous?

I was absolutely terrified about it, but that was the reason I took the part. In the script it said something like, “Jonathan executes the most brilliant disco dance, to the astonishment of everybody there.” Naturally, I thought that sounded like fun. I knew it would be difficult, but why not?

Was the political element of the film important to you?

What’s frustrating is that at the time the miners were vilified in the press. The miners were saying this was the destruction of their industry and their communities were being ripped apart, and in hindsight they were right. The film is a timely reminder of what they were fighting for. And there’s a lot of overlap with the experience of the gay community, who were shut out on the margins as well. You can’t believe the headlines in those days, especially about gay people – and it’s not that long ago. People were talking about the gays being given too much money, there was huge ignorance about Aids – it’s astonishing to read today. They were the underdogs and public enemy number one.

You play a flamboyant gay character – were you wary of going into caricature?

I just love being camp. I’ve played gay a few times, and the first time I was a bit worried about that, because I enjoy it: being camp, being flamboyant. But you don’t want that to be a cliché or a generalisation, because the guy I was playing [in Pride], who I met, is alive and well and a great guy, so you don’t want to take anything away from them.

You went to Eton – what was the reaction to the miners’ strike like there?

It’s interesting – you know Jacob Rees-Mogg, the MP who’s always on Newsnight? Frightfully posh? I was at school with him, and I remember at the time we had a public debate. He defended Mrs Thatcher, and I was the only person at the entire school who knew anything north of Watford, so it fell to me to defend the miners. I lost, of course, given the nature of the school, but there you go. And I went on to become an actor, and Jacob’s a politician.

Pride has a predominantly young cast – did you become a mentor figure to the rest of the actors?

Maybe I should have done, but it was more Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine who performed that function. I was more of an idiot uncle at a wedding, the one who dances too much.

Is Bill Nighy as effortlessly cool as he seems?

This film is the first time I’ve spent a good amount of time with him. He’s the coolest man alive, mainly because of how he dresses, but also he’s a curious and interesting guy with lots of passions. If you get him on Sixties or Seventies R&B, he’s even cooler than you can imagine. I was slightly ill-disposed towards him because you can’t get funding for a film in the UK without him in it and not me, but he was a great guy.

Actors often get typecast – is that why you haven’t played a character like McNulty again?

I did avoid cops after The Wire. I rather feel I’ve done it, so I consciously avoided it. I don’t think I could get a police character that well written again. I think I’ve probably done my ‘cop’.

Do you still keep in touch with Idris Elba?

I saw Idris recently. We’re both in the sequel to Finding Nemo, so we were recording that. I’m in pretty regular contact with a lot of guys from The Wire – a lot of them are godparents to my kids, so I love them dearly.

Did you realise how special The Wire was when you were working on it?

You never know with any job. I spent a lot of my time on The Wire trying to get out of it and get home because I was missing my daughter. Little did I know it would become what I’m best known for. Amazingly, people still come up to me on the street saying that they’ve just come to it and started watching it, which is pretty amazing seven years after the show finished. It has had an incredible afterlife. I think it’s unlikely I’ll luck out as much again.

Pride is at cinemas nationwide from 12 September

(Image: All Star)

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