Do­minic West looks back on his many sex scenes, and days at Eton

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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


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.

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