SEX AND SEN­SI­BIL­I­TIES

Jane Austen’s new hot­tie has fans ap­palled and en­thralled but ad­mits he’s lov­ing the fuss, writes Kerry Par­nell

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

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

Heath­cliff.

“I thought there was a tone of

Wuther­ing

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.

Pic­ture: Getty

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.

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