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Dominic West interview

The Wire star adds alcoholic and a serial killer to CV

Dominic West interview
22 May 2011

ITV’s drama about Fred West, Appropriate Adult. So, more alcoholics, womanisers and dangerous characters in the Jimmy McNulty mould. Not that he’s worried about being typecast...

So how would you describe your new play, Butley, to the uninitiated?

Well, it hasn’t been done since 1972 when Alan Bates starred in it — the main reason being that the writer [Simon Gray] couldn’t really imagine anyone doing it as well as Bates. And he was quite right. I was a bit daunted by its size and legacy, but it was just too good a chance to pass up. It’s partly about a midlife crisis and about a guy who’s being jilted by his wife and his boyfriend. [Butley is] a bitter, drunk gay man and in that way we’re identical [laughs].

As you say, you’re playing another hard-drinker. Are you starting to take it personally?

[Laughs] Well, I suppose I should be really, but you’ve got to take whatever comes. I used to play romantic heroes, then I got to a certain age, a certain look and probably a certain intake of alcohol and it all changed to drunks and villains. I seem to specialise in them.

We’re guessing that you don’t take a method approach to such roles…

Actually, we did have a few scenes in The Wire where we were a bit p*ssed, but it tended to be when there were no lines. In the last episode we were all hammered — we were just passing whisky around. There were occasions like that but it tended to be when you didn’t have to do anything except lie around or sit there. Drinking and acting don’t really mix.

When was the moment that you knew The Wire [pictured above] had found a devoted cult following?

The first time I realised that it was getting quite big in England was deeply unfortunate because I was in a bad mood in a road rage incident. I rolled the window down and started hurling abuse at this guy, then he went, “Oh my God, it’s McNulty.” I suddenly thought, “Oh, crikey. I can’t be rude to people any more.” It was the first time I’d been recognised, which was very embarrassing, but fortunately he managed to forgive me.

Do you have a Christian Bale-like temper on set, then?

Not on set, no. I tend to get angry when one of my children throws porridge at me, or something. If I’m stuck in a traffic jam for a while, I boil up. I’ve hopefully got most of that under control, though.

So apart from line-learning retreats, how do you escape and unwind?

If I’m really lucky I can get away and do some paragliding — I’m really into that. I’m not very adventurous or very good at it and nobody lets me get into too much danger, but it’s pretty hair-raising and that’s what’s wonderful about it.

You’re also in new BBC drama The Hour. Is it easier using your natural voice or do you occasionally slip into McNulty?

[Laughs] No, it’s much more comfortable [than speaking in a US accent]. The trouble with something like The Hour is that I can persuade myself that it is my own accent, when of course it isn’t — it’s a Fifties accent. It’s quite hazardous.

You went to Eton. Do you think that your perceived poshness has ever hurt your career?

Definitely. How you’re perceived is usually an obstacle that everyone has to overcome in every walk of life. It’s probably true to say that I might not have got a part like McNulty in England. But it’s helped me as much as it’s hindered me, and I’m conscious that everyone has to overcome the way they sound or look when it comes to being versatile.

What’s your strangest audition experience, then?

One of the first ones I ever did out of drama school was for John Cleese. It was him and about five of his friends in his house, and he said, “Can you do any animals?” I said, “We just did animals in drama school, actually, and I was a Senegalese bushbaby.” Next thing I know, I’m leaping around the flat. I didn’t get the part, but I think I gave him a laugh.

Does it make you squirm when you see fellow Old Etonians in the current government mocked for their poshness?

I think it’s hilarious [laughs]. That brilliant thing in political cartoons where they dress Cameron in tails and have Clegg as his fag is just priceless. It’s like George W Bush having Tony Blair as his poodle.

You’ve talked about knowing David and Samantha Cameron quite well in the past. Have you been invited for a barbecue at No10 yet?

I haven’t, no. I’ve done my best, but the invitation doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.

Are UK drama programmes finally in a position to challenge the supremacy of the big US shows?

I don’t actually watch a lot of TV drama, so I’m certainly no expert on this, but I think that what happened in the US with The Sopranos and The Wire could very easily percolate over here. It raised everybody’s game in the US. I’m no great fan of Rupert Murdoch, but even Sky is putting a lot of money into [producing] dramas now.

How exactly did this Fred West drama come about?

It was brought to me. I think Sam West [Van Helsing actor] couldn’t do it so they went for me [laughs]. I’m in the middle of researching it but I’m not really supposed to talk about it. We’re filming it this year, but I have no perspective on the monster.

Finally, what’s your most embarrassing onstage moment? Ever completely missed a cue?

In my first professional job in the theatre, I fell off the stage. I was doing this play where I had to lift up this girl’s skirt before she pushed me away, and it was on a stage that had a big slope. My brother was there as well, which made me quite nervous, and I flew off the stage into the audience about 8ft below. I remember this deathly silence broken by this lone chuckle, which of course was my brother. It was deeply humiliating.

Dominic West stars in Butley at the Duchess Theatre in London from 31 May-27 August;