Belfast Telegraph

The West way: We catch up with movie star Dominic

 

Playing a Baltimore cop in The Wire made Dominic West a star, but The Affair turned him into a sex symbol. He talks to Jonathan Heaf about nude scenes, playing Alicia Vikander's father ... and why he's happy to be a sex symbol.

Early morning in Shoreditch and Dominic West and I are trying not to burn our lips on coffee as hot as molten steel. We're in an old pub that, quite clearly from the decor (big game hunter's lodge crossed with Soho House), has gone the way of so many of the edgier places out east and been upcycled into a members' bar.

"Bloody gentrification," West mock-grumbles. "This was once my old stomping ground. I went to Guildhall School of Music and Drama - I was here before the trendy haircuts and bike shops. I was thinking about this on the way here in the cab: back then it was a total dump."

West, I'll soon realise, has very little in the way of a verbal filter. The 47-year-old star of The Wire and The Affair is also an absolute riot, even at 8am, and will talk about sex with more candour than perhaps anyone I've ever interviewed, including Mickey Rourke - which may be just as well, given the amount of time he spends stripping off on screen.

In accepting her Golden Globe for The Affair, his co-star Ruth Wilson dedicated part of her speech to him, saying, "Your a*** is something of great beauty."

Shooting the sex scenes in the show - in which he plays a writer who has an affair with a waitress, played by Wilson - is, he says, "absurd".

"In your supposed moment of passion, you have a guy with a boom going, 'Could you just move slightly to your left, mate?' Then you've got some other poor sod putting make-up on your bum."

It doesn't sound very sexy, I say. "It's not, it's very agricultural. It's like giving birth. Or like a vet delivering a new calf. Sort of. I mean, it can be sexy sometimes." Today, he is wearing dark blue jeans, a blue shirt and on his wrist there's a sparkling watch from Tiffany. ("I don't go for accessories - I don't even like wearing my wedding ring, to be honest with you. In fact, I think I might have lost it, but this is really rather beautiful.")

When I ask if he minds being objectified - the role has, after all, won him an army of female and gay male fans - he reacts gleefully. "Are you kidding? I love it," he says.

Has he always been so uninhibited? "No. I remember soon after drama school I did A Midsummer Night's Dream, where I had to do a love scene with Anna Friel. For some reason, I had got it into my head that the thing experienced actors do on set - someone like Richard Gere for example - is to walk around naked. So that's what I did, like an idiot. I remember this props guy came up to me and said: 'Didn't realise it was so cold in here, Dominic.' I didn't do it again."

The sixth of seven children (five girls and two boys), West was born into a Catholic family in Sheffield. His father owned a plastics factory and his mother was an actress.

West was educated at Eton and, as a result, he's often been lumped together with Eddie Redmayne and Damian Lewis, and been accused of being too posh. "Well, I always find it staggering that people think I'm jumped-up - I'm middle-class and from Sheffield."

Has it ever annoyed him?

"It did. But I quickly realised people have a lot worse things to worry about than being pigeonholed as a public schoolboy. It's up to the actor to show your talent is bigger than that. And being typecast as an Etonian is no worse than being typecast as something else. Even though I have never played an Etonian."

Indeed, his breakthrough role - as the brilliant maverick cop Jimmy McNulty on the seminal HBO drama The Wire from 2002-2008 - couldn't have been further away from that stereotype.

Despite roles alongside the likes of Julianne Moore (in Surviving Picasso and The Forgotten), Michelle Pfeiffer (A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Julia Roberts (Mona Lisa Smile), it was The Wire, followed by leading parts in period drama The Hour and as Fred West in Appropriate Adult, for which he won a Bafta, that made him a star.

The Affair has been renewed for a fourth series and The Square, an art world satire in which he stars opposite Elisabeth Moss, recently picked up the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Next year, he'll be seen alongside Oscar-winning Alicia Vikander in the hotly anticipated reboot of Tomb Raider.

I tell West I was surprised that Tomb Raider had been green-lit for a reboot; and gobsmacked when it attracted such acting talent as Vikander and himself.

For most, the video game turned movie franchise conjures up images of a cartoonishly sexualised Angelina Jolie - all very Loaded magazine.

"Well, I was wondering about that before we began filming," agrees West. "They have definitely modernised it. It's not so chauvinistic, which may come as a disappointment to some."

The film sees Vikander play Lara Croft before she becomes the Tomb Raider as we all know her. "This Tomb Raider is cool, rather than being objectified," says West.

West doesn't play the romantic lead, but Croft's father. It's the second time he has been cast as Vikander's dad, also appearing in Testament of Youth. Does it prick his ego when he's not cast as the heroic lover?

"Yes, it hurts. It does and anyone who says it doesn't is lying. Although it's a great privilege that someone as beautiful as Alicia should be descended from me."

Off-screen, he has four children with film producer Catherine Fitzgerald, a woman he dated at university then fell in love with all over again after a break. He also has a daughter, Martha, from a previous relationship.

Though he says being in his 40s is "much better" than being in his 20s ("You have more money, for a start"), he admits his slight panic at the sort of roles he's being offered.

"Next up, I am playing Keira Knightley's husband (in Colette). Great, I thought, a chance for my youthful, leading man swagger to come back a bit.

"I went to the costume department expecting to get something snappy and I was fitted for a fat suit and a bald cap.

"I thought: 'How unfair.' You know, the way one sees oneself is at times in contrast to the reality."

Perhaps West is being too modest. After all, he says he does still get wolf-whistled, which he describes as "wonderful. It's The Affair, of course, I won't take the credit. The breadth of people who are into it is staggering.

"We were filming in New York recently and this bunch of doddery 70-year-olds streamed past us and one of them shouted, 'Keep it up!'

"It's amazing what the older generation get up to in those nursing homes nowadays.

"If I'm relieving the boredom, I'm glad I can help out."

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