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Last Updated: Monday, 5 September 2005, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Star takes pride in new Prejudice
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Actor Matthew Macfadyen explains what attracted him to the Mr Darcy role in the new film version of Pride and Prejudice, which receives its UK premiere in London's West End on Monday.

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice
Macfadyen (l) appears with Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice
Millions of viewers, many of them female, swooned at the sight of Colin Firth and his soggy shirt in the BBC's 1995 version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

How could any actor hope to follow in his iconic footsteps? Step forward, Spooks star Matthew Macfadyen.

"People are very proprietorial about the BBC version," says the Rada-trained 31-year-old.

"But it is a great part to play. It's like anything - you'd never play Hamlet if you worried about all the people who'd played him before."

It helped that Macfadyen had never seen the Firth version, or the 1940 Laurence Olivier film that preceded it.

Indeed, he hadn't even read the book before accepting the role - an oversight he attributes to "just laziness, really".

"I've read it since and I don't think I would have done anything differently," he adds defensively.

'Sympathetic character'

"Matthew was the only man for me," says Joe Wright, the acclaimed TV director who makes his feature debut with Working Title's film adaptation.

"I had no interest in casting just a pretty boy. Darcy is much more interesting and complicated than that.

"Matthew incarnated Darcy as a layered person who isn't easy to love, yet who is a good person with a sense of honour and integrity."

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice
Colin Firth played the Darcy role in the BBC version of the novel

As seen through the eyes of 'Lizzie' Bennet (Keira Knightley), Mr Darcy initially appears stand-offish and aloof.

Macfadyen suggests this is because the character is in mourning for his parents and is "still working out who he is in the world".

"I find him a very sympathetic character," says the actor.

"He's a young man who thinks very deeply about everything and can appear callous without meaning to be.

"Like all of us he rushes to judgement, as does Lizzie. We like to pigeonhole people so we feel better about ourselves."

So did any of the character's arrogance rub off on set? Macfadyen thinks hard before answering the question.

"I'm much less contained than Darcy," he says eventually. "I hope I'm less haughty. But Darcy's character probably spilled over a little bit."

Typecast

Colin Firth has found it hard to shake off the Darcy image - although that may be because he subsequently played a modern version of the character in the Bridget Jones films.

But his successor says he is not concerned about being typecast as a frock-coated Regency gentleman.

"I would worry if it were all consuming and you were stuck with the character, but I haven't really worried about it.

Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes in Spooks
Macfadyen married his Spooks co-star Keeley Hawes (r) in 2004

Having received rave reviews for his work in New Zealand drama In My Father's Den, finding work is not something Macfadyen has had to worry about recently.

Indeed, he has spent the summer at London's National Theatre, playing Prince Hal in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 opposite his Perfect Strangers co-star, Sir Michael Gambon.

If all else fails, though, he could always - like every British actor of a certain age - put his name forward as a potential 007.

Despite his role as a M15 agent in Spooks and his admiration for Matt Damon's Jason Bourne thrillers, however, Macfadyen will not be drawn on the subject.

"Being Bond would definitely change your life," says the actor, who has a one-year-old daughter with his Spooks co-star, Keeley Hawes.

"People talk about it, but it's not something I've thought about a great deal."

Were someone to offer him something in a more contemporary vein, though, his response might be more enthusiastic.

"It would be great fun to do a thriller like The Bourne Supremacy," he says.

"The car chases were fantastic. They make James Bond look ridiculous!"

Pride and Prejudice opens in the UK on 16 September.


SEE ALSO:
Knightley graces Prejudice debut
05 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
Spy drama star is 'new Mr Darcy'
14 Jun 04 |  Entertainment
Austen fans boost visitor numbers
14 Aug 05 |  Berkshire
Firth warned off Mr Darcy role
14 Oct 03 |  Entertainment


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