Dominic West is known for his dark, sexy characters, but in real life is happiest at home, writes Chrissy Iley
There is something about Dominic West that is so purely, ridiculously male. Women, especially, love him in The Affair, the dark and gripping drama series for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination. There’s lots of sex in it too, so it’s quite odd to be going to meet somebody you last saw on screen in just their boxers.
I arrive at his house in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, to find only his wife, Catherine FitzGerald, and youngest daughter, Christabel, 2, at home. He hasn’t told Catherine about the interview. She gets on with making Christabel’s breakfast, unfazed by the stranger in her kitchen. She seems unflappable and you can tell instantly that she suffers no fools. As well as looking after their four children — Dora, 9, sons Senan, 7, and Francis, 6, plus Christabel — she also has a garden landscaping business to run.
It’s not long before West arrives back from dropping off the other three children on the school run. He’s instantly attentive and makes me a coffee. While the garden is remarkable, the house inside looks like any other busy, lived-in family home. It’s West’s work rather than his domestic set-up that’s been extraordinary.
His Richard Burton in Burton and Taylor was magnetic. As the alcoholic detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire he was sensational. In his latest film, Finding Dory — the animated sequel to Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo — he’s reunited with his The Wire colleague Idris Elba. They play lazy, bad-boy sea lions with English accents and get all the funniest scenes.
“The two sea lions Idris and I play like to sit on a rock and carp on about things. We live in the Marine Life Institute and get fed sprats every day. It was great being fed sprats and being with Idris. It was very nice we got to reunite,” he says, smiling, and for a minute looks like his smug, lazy sea lion character.
He’s whiskery today, a dark beard etching out his trademark wicked grin. He is often summoned to play dark characters. He played serial killer Fred West in Appropriate Adult, where even the real Fred West’s daughter thought the likeness uncanny. His wife was revolted by it. His sisters freaked out that people would think they were related to Fred because they shared the same surname. More recently he was the creepy Walt Camby, the greedy banker in Money Monster with George Clooney and Julia Roberts. How is it that he does evil so well?
“Errrr, don’t know — just got an evil face,” he smiles sweetly. He’s charming, that’s for sure, but he’s not in the least bit flirtatious. I thought he loved all women and flirted with the lot of them. In a recent interview he said: “I think women should be more indulgent of affairs, I really do. It’s daft to kick someone out over a fling. Isn’t it? Everyone should turn a blind eye to men’s behaviour between the ages of 40 and 50. Let it all blow over.” It was unclear whether he was joking. He doesn’t want to elaborate today. He looks a little embarrassed, maybe because we’re in the family home. Maybe that’s why we’re here — so he can guard his own mouth.
He was born 46 years ago in Sheffield, the sixth of seven children. His Irish father owned a plastics factory that did rather well. He has five sisters and thinks this, and the fact he is now surrounded by so many females, makes him something of a feminist. As well as his four children with Catherine, he has a daughter, Martha, now 17, from a previous relationship with Polly Astor (the aristocratic granddaughter of Nancy).
Much has been made of the fact he went to Eton. Did he feel that he was a bit of an outsider as everyone else was so posh? “No, it wasn’t like that at all — it’s such a big school. And a great school, actually. It helps you find what you’re good at, and once you’ve found it, life becomes easier. I found acting almost immediately.”
He wasn’t homesick? “Yes, very much so for the first year, but acting saved me. I became known for it and respected for it. It’s not a bullying school or a particularly tough school. It’s a place that respects people’s differences.”
You can tell he’s the sort of man who likes a solid base. He met his wife at Trinity College Dublin and they were together until he went to drama school, then it ended. “It was geographi- cal; it was just that I was moving away. We always kept in touch, then we found we were both living in London and things had moved on ... Meaning that I wasn’t with the mother of my daughter any more and she wasn’t with her husband. So we hooked up.”
They married in 2010 at Glin Castle, her family estate in west Limerick. He wore a shamrock-coloured waistcoat and their children were baptised the next day. Glin Castle has been in the FitzGerald family for 700 years, but is now on the market. Catherine is the daughter of Desmond FitzGerald, the 29th and last Knight of Glin, who died in 2011 with no male heir.
West was raised Catholic. Is he still? “Culturally more than anything else. We were brought up going to mass every week. I don’t do that any more, but I enjoy the liturgy, the music, the culture.” He relished a period of closeness with his father when his parents separated and he moved back to Ireland. “When they split up, it turned out to be a great opportunity for me to spend the last 10 years of my father’s life getting to know him very well.” There are quite a few pauses where you feel West reeling himself in. He’s wary with the interview process.
When I first met him at a jazz night a few years ago, he spent the whole evening talking about how he had been filleted like a kipper by an interviewer and how it had given him sleepless nights worrying about the other people who had been embroiled.
In the past he said it was he who initiated the break-up with Astor because he wasn’t ready to settle down. He doesn’t want to expand on that, but he is very proud of their daughter. When she was younger, Martha played Charles Darwin’s daughter in the film Creation, but he’s pleased she’s taking her studies seriously, too.
Soon he’ll be going to upstate New York for another series of The Affair. For someone who loves home so much, he spends a long time away: “It’s the most important factor in my decision about work. This year I’ll do The Affair and my family will come out for the summer and autumn half-term, then I’ll be at home for the rest of the year. It’s all very carefully thought out because they are at an age now where I don’t want to miss any of it. It’s the most important thing in my life at the moment.”
I heard recently that his wife had never watched The Affair. Is that because she didn’t want to see him naked and shagging? Catherine, who has been wafting in and out, corrects me. She has now managed to catch an episode — on a plane — and says the sex doesn’t bother her because it’s just his job. “And that’s my attitude, too,” says West. “If you’ve got 30 people standing around sticking microphones in your face, it’s not an erotic experience at all.”
He pulls a face and goes on to tell me how much he doesn’t like being on top. “If you’re on the bottom, you don’t have to take your clothes off.” He doesn’t think women should take their clothes off for sex scenes either. “Of course there are circumstances where [the part requires it], but often it’s just not true and that’s why, from the age of 45 to 50, it’s difficult for women — Hollywood is no longer interested.”
A few years ago he trekked to the South Pole for the charity Walking with the Wounded. Prince Harry, whom he describes as hilarious, was on the expedition. West remembers him drinking champagne from a prosthetic leg. Next West plans a pilgrimage along the Western Front. “My grandfather was blown up there in 1916,” he says, the moment of sadness punctuated by his little girl gurgling and laughing.
“What amazes me is how my parents managed with seven of us. My mum always said once you have three they look after themselves, which I’m yet to witness, because at the moment they are all just trying to kill each other. My parents gave us a very, very happy childhood and I’m hoping to do that with mine.”
I’d imagined West to be a lot darker. Domestic is the last thing I would have imagined him to be. Before I leave, I watch him playing again with his daughter. It only adds to his allure. is out now; screening on Presto. season two is
Dominic West; with Ruth Wilson, below left, in The Affair; Finding Dory, below