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Rufus Sewell wants comic role
The Times of Malta  August 28, 2002

Fiona Galea Debono

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Agamemnon plays computer games on his laptop, whiling away the time before he is called to step back into a technology-free era and slip into the role of the power-hungry king. Before long, he is perched on a rooftop on the Helen of Troy set at Fort Ricasoli, brandishing a sword and bellowing his lines in true stately style.

It is twilight, but the glint in the trademark green eyes of actor Rufus Sewell pierces the semi-darkness like a dagger and the expression on his face is deep and dramatic as the role requires.

Effortlessly swaying through the ages, it looks like he is enjoying himself. The sword fighting may be hard work, but Rufus (A Knight's Tale) does not even try to convince anyone that he is a martyr, knowing full well that nobody would buy it.

After all, there is no actual work in acting "except the hanging around". Quoting Michael Caine, he says: "The acting is free. It's the waiting around that you get paid for" - useful words that stop him complaining when he has to resort to computer games in his trailer.

"Anyway, no one wants to listen to actors moan because, when they do, it is usually to people who have woken up three hours before them and go to bed three hours later, have much less money and have no one asking them what they would like to drink."

So, Rufus tries not to... until he is, again, left twiddling his thumbs between takes. "It's the only part that feels like work," he confides. Otherwise, he is playing at war, with the props, costumes, weaponry and extras to render anyone's boyhood fantasy a reality, not to mention the talent to enthral audiences.

Rufus appears to have a down-to-earth and humorous approach to his 'job'. Obliterating any prima donna traits and traces of self-importance, he nevertheless strives to achieve his goals, which he constantly shifts further and further away, always seeking a challenge.

Comfortable poking fun at himself, he strips off any romantic notions surrounding actors and acting, although that is not to say he does not take his job seriously.

Starring in the USA Cable TV mini-series, Helen of Troy, which is being shot in Malta, the 34-year-old readily admits to having only read the pocket 'Iliad', with its "big and easy print".

Nor does he wax lyrical about Malta. Diplomatically, after a lengthy pause, Rufus says it is..."better by night" (not because you cannot see anything, but because "the towns are dry and dusty, which in some ways is quite beautiful and in others very urban").

In between filming, Rufus leaves his mythological character behind and steps down into the real world to talk about his five-month-old son William, who is in Malta at the moment.

When he is not acting, Rufus still tries to be creative and is into photography and music - "anything but country and western and 1980s rock".

"I stopped being in bands when I became an actor because I didn't want to be an actor/musician. It's sad!  A bit desperate too," he states, almost under his breath.  "Established actors, who then release singles, embarrass me slightly. I'm embarrassed for them and want them to stop it, whether they are talented, or not."  The crux of the matter is that people always want what they don't have!

Rufus is currently attempting to write a script: "I've started many and am beginning to get excited about the idea. Dialogue seems to come easily to me". But, as regards "actual strands of storyline that hold it together", that is another story!  Nevertheless, he is optimistic that they would somehow gel and, in the meantime, keeps tapping away.  Would he star in it himself if it were to materialise? "Well if you cannot write yourself a great part...   "Having said that, "sometimes, by the time you've finished a project like that, you're too old for it anyway".

About the appeal of Helen of Troy, Rufus believes that "audiences like historical drama. The fact that it is set in the distant past renders it, in a way, more accessible because they can relax into watching the story and do not always want to be confronted with their own world.

"What renders a story universal and eternal is the fact that it is about lust... about the quest for power... about men and women and what they want to do to each other.

"It is about a woman who drives men to do some crazy stuff, which is just as topical now as it was in the past.  If you go to St Julian's at 2 a.m., there are plenty of mini Helens everywhere."

The reason the story of Helen of Troy is still being told is because it is about "basic humanity - greed, lust and what drives us - which is the same as when we were living in caves. It is about wanting to possess and not wanting to share".

Rufus is known to move effortlessly between stage and screen, comedy and drama. He has the dual ability to either portray the deranged villain, or the romantic leading man.  But, he feels that he is most in his element in comedy and has his heart set on a comic role.

However, having been seen as "the baddie" of late, he feels it may not be easy for him to be cast as the funny guy.

"As soon as you establish yourself in one role, it can be hard work to pull away from it. The past few parts have played were bad guys, so I can't do another.  Apart from being boring, it would start to feel like a business. The fun part is doing something I have never done before."

Rufus knows that "the trick is not to fall too much in love with money and comfort. A few years ago, it was romantic, Victorian dramas that I had to turn down. The first time I accepted the role of the bad guy, it was because I was breaking an old mould. Now, I have to do it again."

So, if audiences next see Rufus in a bad-guy role, they can be sure he has earned himself a packet.

"If I were driven by money, I'd get lazy and play the same role again and again. If I am ever stereotyped, it would be my fault alone."

His film work has been equally varied and acclaimed: from the junkie in Twenty-One to the sweet bus driver in A Man of No Importance, the volatile artist in Carrington and the lustful son in Cold Comfort Farm, the star-crossed suitor in Dangerous Beauty and the bitter, acidic, alcoholic in Martha Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence.

Rufus works for the moment and refuses to get "too involved in the way a film could turn out. Otherwise, you could get damaged. It's easy for your hopes to get caught up in what awards you could achieve. It is best to forget about that and concentrate on getting your satisfaction from the work".

The actor, who was nominated for an Olivier Award and received the Broadway Theater World Award, "might" be soon seen in the "fantastic" Chekhov play, The Three Sisters, although he has no idea whether, as has been reported, he could be taking Ewan McGregor's place. "They don't even know which role I'm playing, so I don't know how they can say that."

About other upcoming projects, he prefers to remain vague and stops at merely mentioning "a film" he might be doing in January. "I can't tell you about it unless I do it. What if it doesn't happen and someone else ends up doing it? That does happen, you know.

"For every one job I do, there are 25 I am rejected for... However, I decided a long time ago that I'd rather get my hopes up every time and have to face the disappointment, rather than never be excited about wanting something. I'd rather be up and down all the time."

Underlying the light-hearted approach to his job, Rufus does harbour a streak of ambition. He aims "to do something great one day. At the moment, I don't think I've reached my potential. Most parts I've played, despite being good, have been a compromise in comparison to parts I want to play. I haven't yet started getting into the roles I really want - roles that demand more dimensions. I want to be stretched a lot more."

Pleased that he is not playing the part of the "wholesome hero" in Helen of Troy, Rufus's Agamemnon is, nevertheless, "not your clear-cut villainous king".

The actor has given his character his own slant: "As an ambitious person, Agamemnon wants to be a good king, and to be a good king he needs to acquire wealth and power. And that is what he does. A good king is unstoppable in his quest for power for the benefit of his subjects, while a weak king is not," he reasons.

Although "you cannot play a part unless you understand it", Rufus does not over-analyse his characters. Nor does he meditate on and warm up to his role in between takes.

Instead, he takes the opportunity to take a nap... Either that, or more computer games.



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