WILD WILD WEST
Dominic West looks back on his many sex scenes, and days at Eton
Dominic West has got so good at having sex with other women that he doesn’t want his wife to know anything about it. She watched him make love to his mistress once. They were on an aeroplane with their kids at the time, but after that she said she’d seen enough, and he was greatly relieved. Obviously, I’m talking about his sex scenes in the TV show The Affair. Now in its fourth series, West plays Noah, the middleaged man who leaves his wife and family for a mysterious waitress, and his real-life wife, Catherine, had managed to avoid watching it until that long-haul flight. ‘God, they’ve all blurred into one now,’ he says, sitting in a pub near their family home in Shepherd’s Bush, London, discussing all the shags that Noah has put him through. ‘Ruth [Wilson] and I have got really good at them because we’ve shot so many. We used to call out to the crew for position
suggestions, and the sound guy would cry, “Reverse cowgirl,” and we’d go, “What the hell is that?”’
Was he embarrassed not to know? ‘I still don’t know. He’s the one who should be embarrassed. But sex scenes all broke for me after I did a scene with two strippers in The Wire – just the absurdity of the whole thing. Everyone’s nervous, the director goes, “Er, well what do you think we should do?” and this girl just goes, (he puts on a streetwise American accent) “‘Okay, he lies down, I’ll get on top of him, she can blow him and I’ll sit on his face.’”
Dominic West is a funny man. A hearty giggle runs through him as he speaks, even at lunchtime in a deserted pub where we’re knocking back sparkling elderflower cordials. The giggle threatens to get him into trouble – I’m not entirely sure he should be telling a journalist how much he questions his character on The Affair, but he does.
‘I don’t like Noah. I don’t understand him. I try to get involved and tell the writer, Sarah Treem, what I think – I shouldn’t really, but I do, constantly. I hugely admire her, and she’s very open and collaborative, but at the end of the day, I just question whether a man in his position would behave like that. Whether you’d give up your wife and four kids for a waitress who then has your baby – well, a baby. What’s the point of that?’
But people do do things like that. ‘This is exactly what Sarah says – people don’t behave in rational ways. They do crazy things. And everyone has a strong opinion on adultery – and a lot of people have experience of it, I’ve discovered! A hell of a lot.’
What? Do people approach him as their adultery confidante nowadays? ‘They do a bit, yes. I’ve had it a few times. Where people have said,
“It did our marriage a lot of good”, or “it finally put an end to our marriage”. You know, it’s a really hot topic. I didn’t quite realise that, at a certain age, we become obsessed with adultery and affairs. Either wanting to have one or thinking about having one. I don’t know, it hasn’t happened to me, thank God. Well, not yet,’ he laughs. ‘I mean, in many ways, acting is a catharsis or an expiation. So it’s quite nice playing at having an affair, because it means I don’t really have to have one.’
West grew up near Sheffield, one of seven children in a Catholic family with a mother who played every Shakespearean heroine in local am-dram productions, roping her children in for crowd scenes, which is where he got the bug. ‘The thrill of being backstage in a draughty old church, with the greasepaint and nutty people – this wonderful old lady called Irene, who was Irish and had all these Guinness bottles lined up – the lights, all my cousins there, too. It was brilliant.’
His father made some money running a plastics factory and sent West to spend his teenage years at Eton, which caused a ‘total culture shock, very dislocating. I wasn’t very happy for a couple of years. I was very homesick, a sense of being a fish out of water. I’m still evaluating it now. But it was a brilliant education. And I now relish going into situations like The Wire where I am totally alien, a fish out of water again. I got used to being uncomfortable and I think I now seek it out.’ (West played Jimmy Mcnulty, a white detective investigating mostly black criminals in Baltimore.)
At Eton, as well as honing his acting skills, he
‘ETON WAS A TOTAL CULTURE SHOCK’
found himself debating Jacob Rees-mogg about the Miners’ Strike in 1984. ‘I was from Sheffield and so therefore I… well, I didn’t really know anything about it. We were just preposterously self-important 15-year-olds. But it was in the theatre, he was always very conscious of theatre, and he came in to the tune of Land Of Hope And Glory and said Margaret Thatcher was marvellous. He was exactly the same as now; he’s never changed, which is both admirable and dodgy. Despite the sober exterior, he’s a showbiz tart – and so am I, so it was quite an interesting match. I think I was trying to put the miners’ point of view across to these adolescent Etonians, who all came from south of Watford. I’m pretty sure I lost.’ (West would later play a gay miner in the film Pride.)
After Eton, he studied English literature at Trinity College, Dublin, where he met Catherine Fitzgerald, daughter of the Black Knight of Glin, an Irish family title. They got together but ultimately she married someone else, and he had a child (Martha) with his girlfriend Polly Astor. But after those relationships broke down, the university sweethearts were reunited and are now married with four children of their own. The day I meet him is actually their last day in London. They are moving to Wiltshire where, three years after buying a cottage attached to a disused brewery, the refurbishment is finally complete.
His kids don’t want to leave the city but he can’t wait to get them into tree-climbing and animal-keeping. Catherine is a professional gardener and grew up in Glin Castle in Ireland. Her father recently died and the couple have been figuring out how to make Glin pay for itself – it supports a village and needs maintaining. ‘It’s not an affluent area in other ways, so a place like this is a wealth creator.’ They did consider moving there but, ‘I don’t want to live in my wife’s castle,’ he says, that giggle breaking out again. So they plan to rent it out for private lets. ‘It is incredibly beautiful. Places like Glin, with its beautiful art and furniture all made by Irish people, are really important. So much was pulled down in the 1960s; so much of other Irish heritage has been lost. So we’re taking it on because it would be turned into a deeply unpleasant golf club otherwise.’
He’s also been thinking of his own Catholic background – he christened his children and took them to church when they were smaller, ‘when they absolutely have to do what you tell them’, but now wonders if their modern lives are lacking in the rites of passage that religious ceremonies provide. ‘One of my sons in particular is really upset about leaving our London house. And so the importance of ritual, to make sense of the interior, to physically manifest what’s going on inside – I thought, “What can we do today that says thank you and goodbye?”’ I suggest a bonfire, but he says the garden is so dry that the fire brigade would be straight round.
In any case, his kids will be getting new experiences – they’re not even staying in Wiltshire for the full school year. In a few months, the family are off to LA, so West can film ‘what I think is the final season of The Affair’. He says, ‘We’re going to hang out on Venice Beach like we did last Christmas, which we all love. Then we’re going travelling. The kids are now the perfect age. I wanted to do some travelling where they have to do something, be a bit more useful, either on horseback or on a boat, and my wife said, “If you think I’m getting on a boat with you at the helm, you’re out of your mind.” So I thought, “Oh God, we could take a tall ship! America by ocean liner! Wouldn’t that be great?” So they’ll go to school for this new winter term and then we’ll head off. That’s the plan.’
If you’ve read this far and you still don’t long to be adopted by Dominic West’s family, then I’m not sure you have a pulse. I know he’s not into affairs, but I’m fully considering how to become the third person in their marriage, like Camilla Parker Bowles. I make the mistake of telling him that
I had been planning to take my own child all the way to Greece by rail and ferry for a forthcoming holiday, but in the end I gave in to pressure from other people and bought tickets for easyjet.
‘But the train through Italy would be heaven,’ he insists, practically pounding the table with his fists. ‘Heaven! You must NOT listen to them. SELL the plane tickets! Get on that boat!’
He may not have won the school debate, but I think Dominic West has just won me over. So if any Red readers would like to buy two aeroplane tickets, get in touch.