‘MY CAREER HAD STALLED’
Ioan Gruffudd shed his shirt to rebuild his career
HE has the foppish good looks of Hugh Grant, the mannered intellect of Benedict Cumberbatch and just a little of Jude Law’s smouldering sex appeal thrown in for good measure.
So why has it taken this long for the US networks to discover the leading-man delights of Welsh heart-throb, Ioan Gruffudd – the hot lead in Nine’s murder mystery series, Forever?
The man made famous to UK and Australian audiences as the swashbuckling hero Horatio in the long-running historical epic Hornblower is the first to admit his career seemed to sink a little after the high-seas series ended in 2003 – only to be thrown a decent lifeline some 10 years later, with a guest role on Seven’s US whodunit Castle.
Gruffudd (Welsh for Griffith, whose first name is pronounced Johann) is quite candid about his professional rebirth on the small screen – playing medical examiner Henry Morgan, “who studies the dead in criminal cases in order to work out the secret to his own immortality”.
“It was just one of those things …[my career] had stuttered and stalled a little bit and I needed to change things up. The producers of [ Castle] wrote me a letter and said, ‘Listen, we’re a great fan of yours and we’d love you to come in and play this part’,” he tells TV Guide.
That role, as magnetic millionaire Erik Vaughn, was written as a romantic distraction for the show’s central lovebirds, Kate Beckett (played by Stana Katic) and Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion).
But what it did, he says, was help studio executives see Gruffudd as “strong leading man material … to be seen in a sexual light”. Modestly, Mister Fantastic from the Fantastic
Four films, says: “The characters I have played in the past have been probably more earnest and likable but never really this lustful in his essence.”
Following a similar template to Castle, the 41-year-old stars in Forever opposite Alana de la Garza’s ( Law & Order) attractive but complicated detective Jo Martinez.
While their chemistry is the key to one of the critical relationships at the heart of the series, it’s their characters’ shared pain rather than just sexual tension which should lure viewers.
She’s a tough-talking New York cop who drinks away the grief of losing her husband, while he’s mourning his wife Abigal (MacKenzie Mauzy) who left him sometime after 1965 (whether she is alive or dead remains a mystery).
This intrigue adds layers to the typical police procedural, Gruffudd says, and makes the drama more interesting to play for the actors.
There was just one twist Gruffudd baulked at when filming began – the quirk that when his character dies in the course of certain murder investigations he must be reborn in water and in the buff.
On the page it sounded like an interesting idea, but the reality of getting naked in the months after one of NY’s worst winters on record last year, the actor said, was a leap too far.
“We shot the pilot here in March or April and it was still bloody freezing and they had this idea of putting me in the East River and I said, ‘Well, there’s no way I’m doing that because a) it’s filthy but also b) I’ll die! You’ll find I’m not so immortal and we’re only on the pilot’.”
They used green-screen technology to make the scene, but he still had to look like he was emerging from the murky depths – all in -4C weather.
His choice of Pamela Anderson-style ugg boots on set earned him some ribbing from the cheeky crew, Gruffudd confessed.
“Everybody just gave me crap about that when I walked on set wearing those. They’d go, ‘Do they do those in men’s sizes as well?’ But I guess there comes a point where vanity goes out the window and there’s just a necessity to keep warm.”
Bare essentials: Ioan Gruffudd’s Forever character is regularly reborn in