SEX AND SENSIBILITIES
Jane Austen’s new hottie has fans appalled and enthralled but admits he’s loving the fuss, writes Kerry Parnell
Forget Colin Firth in a soaking shirt — Theo James has well and truly blown Mr Darcy out of that lake to become the new Austen hottie. The Divergent and Downton Abbey actor put his all into the role of leading man Sidney Parker in the controversial new adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon.
And when we say all, we mean it, including a full-frontal scene that British viewers are still recovering from.
From start to end, the series has caused British costume drama lovers to get their knickerbockers in a knot, with Austen fans equally appalled and enthralled.
Writer Andrew Davies (who wrote the screenplay to the Colin Firth Pride And Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary) has adapted Austen’s partially completed novel and nothing, including the ending, follows her usual formula.
James spoke to Insider in London a couple of days after the series ended with a bombshell, and he still hasn’t recovered.
Asked if he had dared to go out yet, he laughs: “Yes, friends have been texting me saying what the f...? But I enjoyed it, I have to say.
“It’s always nerveracking because you don’t know how any production is going to turn out
— you can have as many chats with the director as you like, but in reality, you are beholden to the whims of production,” he says.
“But what I liked about it from the beginning was the idea of the evolution of Jane Austen. We have had a lot of adaptations of her works — a lot of good ones and a lot of less good ones — so it felt interesting to do one that hadn’t been done before and that was going to push in a slightly different direction.”
James is dark and broody Sidney Parker, who meets the young, idealistic and impulsive
Charlotte Heywood, played by Rose Williams.
His character is a kind of cross between Mr
Darcy, Mr Knightley and
“I thought there was a tone of
Heights to it, as the pair go back and forth between love and hate,” he says, but adds he hadn’t intentionally invoked Heathcliff, although he would love to play the Bronte anti-hero one day.
“I would love to play him, it is a great, iconic part,” he says.
James says ironically the restrictive costumes and polite conventions of period dramas mean you have to work harder as an actor.
“There is something really satisfying for an actor to have those anchors — the clothes, the way that men and women hold themselves, the social etiquette — then use that and play everything underneath. It is quite rewarding and rich,” he says.
“I wanted to do something British and period because I hadn’t done it properly,” he says.
He is being somewhat disingenuous, as his first foray into period drama may have been small but had an enormous impact.
James played Kemal Pamuk, the devilish but doomed Turkish ambassador in the first season of Downton Abbey.
“I had done quite a lot of stuff in the US and wanted to do something different,” he says.
“There is something interesting about the characters in Jane Austen and period drama that are quite different to what I had done before.”
Despite the suggestion from fans in the UK that Sanditon’s ending had been set up in such a way that there would be a second series, James doesn’t think so. “I don’t think that was the idea — I
think it was to have it as an enclosed single thing, but who knows.”
The 34-year-old Hugo Boss ambassador has so far mixed up his roles with everything from action in the Divergent trilogy to humour in The Inbetweeners, and drama in
The Benefactor and London Fields.
A big reader, he says he’d love to do a War And Peace adaptation, but most of all, wants to play a real baddie.
“I am desperate to play a sadistic villain, but nothing has come up in the sadistic villain parts yet. I have a hankering to do someone totally, uncompromisingly bad.”
James, who lives in London with his actor wife Ruth Kearney, is currently reading Australian philosophy professor Peter
Godfrey Smith’s Other Minds — and is also busy creating projects via his fledgling production company Untapped.
Launched with Andrew D.
Corkin, one of their first projects is sci-fi movie Archive, in which he stars, and the TV series Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm? inspired by the true story of the discovery of a woman’s body in the hollow of a tree.
“It is kind of a mystery and horror. I like the darker, more subversive stuff. We have basically no comedy on the slate,” he says with a laugh.
James also says he would love to film something in Australia, as he has family here. His grandfather moved from Greece to New Zealand and many of his relatives are in Australia.
“I have lots of Aussies in my family — one of my brothers lives in Sydney and one of my sisters is in Perth. I’m heading over there for Christmas and New Year,” he says.
And although he’s not planning on relocating to Australia, directors take note — he’d definitely like to do a project here — and the darker the better.
“I got obsessed with (The Australian newspaper’s) podcast
The Teacher’s Pet,” he says, “That was harrowing but interesting.”
Sidney in Sydney — we’d like to see that.
SANDITON, 8.30PM, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1, FOXTEL’S BBC FIRST
“Friends have been texting me saying what the f...? But I enjoyed it, I have to say.
Theo James as Sidney Parker in Sanditon, and (right) with Divergent costar Shailene Woodley in 2014.
Theo James and Rose Williams in a scene from Sanditon.