ALL IN A DAY’S WORK (1999)

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ALL IN A DAY’S WORK (1999)

Post  Admin on Wed Nov 07, 2007 8:51 pm

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK
Sunday Times, Johannesburg, South Africa (8/8/1999)

While Jeremy Northam still can’t believe he makes a living from acting, his female fans wonder when he’s going to become an A-List leading man, writes Marianne Gray

Why isn’t Jeremy Northam a Hot Brit in Hollywood like Wean McGregor, Liam Neeson, Rufus Sewell and Joseph Fiennes?

He got lost in cyberspace with Sandra Bullock as a bad guy in The Net, smouldered sexily as Mr. Knightley with Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma, and played a virus-controlling scientist with Mira Sorvino in Mimic. He was in Carrington, Amistad, and will soon be seen in An Ideal Husband with Cate Blanchett and Minnie Driver, Gloria with Sharon Stone, The Misadventures of Margaret with Parker Posey and Happy Texas, a comedy about two American Convicts who steal a combi camper and go for it.

He may not be a radically ground-breaking actor – his dark good looks prevent that – but Northam’s done well enough on the patch both sides of the Atlantic. While audiences wonder when he is going to be an A-list leading man and earn himself a “thinking woman’s pin-up” tag he wonders when it’s all going to end and he have to find “a real job.”

Of everyone concerned, I think I am the most surprised that I have made a living from acting anywhere,” Northam says cautiously. “Each year I say to myself: “I’ll give it another year and then see what happens”, and each year I’m still here. Amazing, isn’t it?”

“I do love acting, love being able to interpret characters, I’m technical and academic rather than emotional. I’m an interpreter rather than a creative person, I’m quite rigid and precise, not laid back and spur-of-the moment. ‘This Brit-in-Hollywood thing is quite touchy,’ Northam says in his polite British way. ‘Perhaps deep down it is that I have a morbid fear of being one of those actors hanging around London in a leather jacket and a fake suntan. I don’t want to do extra push-ups and have my teeth bleached. I definitely don’t want to do mediocre American films just to get noticed.”

‘Doing The Net was sort of fantasy come true, a thriller shot in Los Angeles. I lucked out, but it has hardly the vehicle for a classically trained actor to emerge in. But you wouldn’t be interviewing me now if it wasn’t for The Net, and I wouldn’t have had a lot of movie scripts sent to me.’

Northam’s newest film as far as South Africans are concerned is The Winslow Boy, which opened on circuit this week. It is a screen adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s powerful 1946 play of the same name, directed by David Mamet and co-starring South African-born Nigel Hawthorne and Rebecca Pidgeon
(aka Mrs. Mamet). Northam is 38, civilisedly masculine rather than overtly macho in black chinos, stubble and silver bangles. He has a wolverine face that has the hint of the hunter beneath his old-fashioned handsomeness.

‘I’d read the play several times and never expected it to be flexible enough to be opened out as it has in this film,’ he says. ‘The story covers the real-life legal proceedings that took place in 1909 when a 13-year old cadet at the Osbourne Naval Academy was expelled for allegedly stealing another boy’s five-shilling postal order and cashing it.

‘His father, however, believed his son was innocent and hired a lawyer, Robert Morton, (here played by Northam) to sue the college – which was traditionally protected from such action since it was an extension of the Crown, which could not be sued.

‘This is a theme that is universal – accusation and innocence. Look at the contemporary thematic similarities between the Winslow affair and the Clinton case. One of the questions involved in The Winslow Boy is the same question that the women who accused Clinton faced. Assuming what they said was true, is it worth it?

‘At what point does proof of your having told the truth cease being courage and become intractability or arrogance? And, again, it’s an open question. What have you won when you’ve won? What’s the cost of holding a principle?

Arrogant and intractable Northam is not. Like Morton, he plays his cards close to his chest, always speaking articulately, somehow demonstrating feelings and thoughts well, yet there’s a slight reserve and a slight sheen of nervous sweat on his forehead. While he might appear effortlessly charming, should you wander into the wrong territory, he shuts down - nicely but firmly. He has said, groaned, that he finds interviews are like a form of ‘public masturbation’, but it comes with the territory.

Clearly a clever bloke, Northam studied Latin and Greek to a university-entrance standard. He was born the youngest of four. His father taught literature and is a theatre professor. His mother also taught (home economics) and made pottery.

‘I wish I could tell you that I had a hard childhood or went to jail or had a nasty substance abuse problem to make your story better, but I didn’t. My childhood wasn’t boring but it felt conventional, in Cambridge and Bristol. I went to a school in Cambridge called King’s College Choir School which was a great place and very musical. Not snobby; we were spoiled rats.’

He spent a year pulling the ropes in the playhouses of Bristol before graduating to the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company. For years everyone him best as the understudy thrust into the breach to take over from Daniel Day-Lewis midway through a performance of Hamlet.

‘I hadn’t rehearsed Hamlet in months,’ Northam recalls. ‘I’d been on stage playing Osric, who doesn’t say a lot. I rushed into the dressing room to see if I could find a copy of Hamlet. I couldn’t. Then Dan’s dresser walked in with all his costumes and flung them on my bed without saying a word. Then I heard an announcement saying that the part of Hamlet would be played by Jeremy Northam and the sound of seats popping up as people left. I couldn’t get a drop of saliva to form in my mouth. It was the most horrifying night of my life. I learnt that you are never safe.’

And so, what else has he learned from his acting? “Well, I thought that after making The Net I’d be able to find my way around the Internet, but even if Bill Gates were holding my mouse, I don’t think I’d even be able to get onto it,’ he replied. ‘Actually I think the Internet’s a bit frightening. I suppose it is exactly that techno-fear that anoraky Internet people prey upon.’

See Northam next in the movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. He plays a very proper gent, ecstatically married to Cate Blanchett until superbitch Julianne Moore comes onto the London scene and rips his social standing to pieces.

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