Rufus Sewell is delighted to be taking on a London baddie, after years of playing the brooding, anguished aristocrat…
“I've never, ever, ever been allowed to play a Londoner before,” he tells HuffPostUK.
“Much to my irritation over the years, the only time it would seem in this country, any curiosity about my availability is for period drama, middle class or higher.
“So when it takes a first time director to think of me for a role like this, I jump.”
Rufus Sewell is delighted to be playing a modern-day Londoner - a bit sociopath - in 'All Things To All Men'
‘This’ is the role of Parker, a completely bent cop in ‘All Things To All Men’, a London gangland thriller, also starring Gabriel Byrne and Toby Stephens. While they all share undisputed demons, it’s Parker who has the least contrition for his actions…
“What was attractive about this character was that he was an absolute sociopath,” adds Sewell.
“It was a stylistic exercise, a certain type of fantasy, I didn’t want to give tells about the crying child within.”
It’s true we do know Mr Sewell for a certain type of haunted, sometimes lovelorn aristocrat, ever since his big break, straight out of drama school, into the BBC’s big-budget ‘Middlemarch’. Has he changed, or…?
“Well, that’s what I looked like, I wasn't like that at all,” he exclaims. “I was always that actor (the bushy eye-browed scene-stealer we saw recently in ‘Parade’s End), I’ve just had to struggle to get the opportunities to be it. Now, if I was to get a role like 'Middlemarch', I wouldn't consider it a straitjacket, I'd enjoy the colour and freedom I'd have the nerve to put into it, but at the time I saw it that way. I just don’t want to get stuck, and for a while it looked like I was going to.
“If I wanted to do a big film, it was always that kind of role, I had to play some level of w**ker. I've got no idea why, and I was actually lucky enough to be in American films, but I was a little bit frustrated.
“And then, finally, in my late thirties, I was lucky enough to land in… myself, find my own skin.”
He laughs easily. “I’m hoping that a lifetime of compromise and disappointment will read as extra depth and layers in my work.”
'It did seem as though I was only ever cast as a w**ker'
Sewell tells a good story about being landed in a US series (‘Eleventh Hour’) and sticking with it for the year until it was dropped, despite knowing he’d made a big mistake.
“So when I had that opportunity to escape it, I realised what a gift that was. I never wanted to be in a position again where I settled on something based on someone else’s description, where I accepted what other people told me I wanted, because I was lost. As for the promise of regular riches alongside dissatisfaction, I would trade that in in a millisecond for penury and uncertainty and a little bit of hope for the rest of my life.”
Fortunately, he won’t have to for a while yet, with roles coming up in this, his current run on the London stage and the forthcoming ‘The Sea’. But he has known his time in the wilderness, most often, he explains, straight after a big hit… “that’s just how the universe seems to work”.
Fans of his character Aurelio Zen were disappointed when the Roman detective disappeared from BBC4 after only three 90-minute shows, but Sewell was happy to “cut and run – if I’d been told it would be 20 years, I’d have run a mile. As it is, I can be very proud of the three stand-alone shows we made, even if I didn’t know I was going to be out of work for the eight months afterwards.”
But surely he’s accepted penury and uncertainty now? “As an idea, not a reality,” he bellows. "As a day to day thing, it’s hard. But yes, that’s true. Would I have swapped it to be back in 'Eleventh Hour'? No.”
Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw in the BBC hit 'Middlemarch' - the epic drama that made his name
But these days he’s definitely ready to mix it up, even if it means we’ll have to get used to trading his cheekbones and flashing gaze for less chiselled characters. ‘The Sea’ will afford him the opportunity to use both his looks AND personality, apparently, hence his enthusiasm – a merging of old and new Sewell. “He’s rather dapper with neck tie but not cast according to his looks, which are described as goat-like in the books,” he explains of his character Carlo Grace.
As for the straitjacket of the leading man he escaped after drama school, Sewell is more relaxed about wearing one these days…
“I’d happily play those roles as well. As a person I’m perfectly vain, I’m just vainer as an actor about my ability. My acting vanity trumps my human vanity.”
Evidence, then, that Rufus Sewell now knows himself as well as any of his increasingly broad roles.
'All Things To All Men' is in UK cinemas from Friday. Some stills from this London gangland thriller below...