James Purefoy talks to marieclaire.co.uk ahead of his main role in Frankenstein
After years of playing dashing gents in period dramas, James Purefoy finally hit the big time as Mark Antony in the miniseries Rome. Now, he’s back on the small screen as a scientist in ITV’s modern reworking of Frankenstein.
We’re used to seeing you fencing and fighting. What drew you to the role?
I liked the way the 19th century story seemed to translate easily to the modern world. The idea of using stem cell researchers, instead of building a monster out of human body parts, is a neat fit. But the opportunity to work with that particular cast and crew was a huge pull; the director, Jed Mercurio, is hugely talented and Helen McCrory (who plays James’s love interest) is a fantastic actress. We worked together years ago at the RSC. In fact, she makes me look pretty shoddy.
Were you any good at science in school?
Nope. I was OK but, put it this way, I won’t be doing my masters degree in stem cell research or be taking it up as a second profession. I didn’t really like school.
So you were a bit of a monster?
I definitely wasn’t well behaved. I went to boarding school in Dorset and hated it. When you’re unhappy, you tend to play up, don’t you?
Is it true you left and went to work on a pig farm?
That was just a holiday job. It was pretty grim stuff but it lined my pockets for a few cider and Vimtos.
What’s the biggest porkie you’ve ever told, then?
I’ve told some huge porkers in my time, but I can’t tell you what ? then I’d be discovered.
Not even a hint?
No way! Someone asked me the other day what the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me was. Why would I want to share that?
Surely baring all in Rome left you slightly red-cheeked?
I don’t mind full-frontal nudity if the part requires it. Saying that, my first job in Equus meant I had to spend the first six months of my career naked on stage. That was pretty terrifying and, yes, probably one of the most embarrassing times of my life. I was only 17.
Rome has boosted your profile in the US. How are you handling new-found fame in your forties?
It’s great for my career ? producers feel safer casting you in bigger productions ? but if you achieve celebrity later on in your life, you’re more equipped to deal with it. My 10-year-old son, Joseph, and old friends who aren’t in the business, keep me grounded. I like a glass of wine – in fact, I’ve got a fuzzy hangover today – but I’m level-headed. You won’t see me doing a Paris or a Britney. James Purefoy will keep his pants on in public at all times ? when not working.
Have you received any weird fan mail?
I got a letter which simply read, ‘Dear James. I really like your work. Please send me a photograph. Of your legs. I like your legs’. Very bizarre.
Rome cost $10million an episode to make. It must have bumped up your bank balance. What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve bought with your earnings?
I love art, so I add to my collection whenever I can. Oh, and I treated myself to a silver 1986 Mercedes 500 ? an old Bobby Ewing-style car. It’s cool, but I still cycle if I can.
What’s next for you after Frankenstein?
In two weeks’ time, I’m off to shoot a TV drama called Rough with Anjelica Houston ? one of my favourite actresses ? and Derek Jacobi; we get to film in South Africa, Canada, London and the Arctic. Travel is one of the great things about acting.
Any more nude scenes planned?
Don’t get overexcited! I don’t go looking for it. I don’t think, ‘Hmm, crap movie but there’s nudity involved so I’ll go for it’.
Well, a girl can dream?
If the part requires it, I’ll think about it. How’s that?
Frankenstein is on ITV1 in November.