Jamie Dornan: 'Nobody sane wants to be famous - I do it because I love the job'
Jamie Dornan may be bringing Fifty Shades' Christian Grey to life on the big screen, but before that he stars in TV drama New Worlds. The Co Down actor and his co-stars talk to Susan Griffin
Having landed one of the most talked-about film roles in recent years – depicting Christian Grey, the leading man in EL James' sexually explicit Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy – you'd think Jamie Dornan was ready for super-stardom.
The movie is set for a Valentine's Day release next year, but the 31-year-old physically squirms when the project's brought up, even when asked how life's changed since being cast.
"Um, yep, life is good ... I don't know what to say," says the former model from Holywood, Co Down, who put in a critically-acclaimed performance as a disturbingly good-looking serial killer in last year's The Fall.
A few days earlier Jamie had let slip to another interviewer how he gets in the mood for filming sex scenes – by watching episodes of Sex And The City.
He'd told how he roped in Joe Dempsie, his co-star in new TV drama New Worlds to watch Carrie and her pals with him. "Joe and I watched all the Sex and the City box sets – twice. That helped," he said.
Maybe it's because he's worried he'll drop a clanger about Fifty Shades – all details about the movie are being kept firmly under wraps – but infuriatingly today Dornan is obviously keen to keep the conversation strictly on New Worlds, the new Channel 4 Restoration.
And then there's also his clear discomfit with much of the rigmarole that goes with being a modern celebrity.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph at the weekend, Dornan made clear his bafflement at anyone who wants to be famous just for the sake of being famous.
"Nobody sane just wants to be famous," he said. "I hate it when people say that you're asking for it just by doing films. No, I'm asking for work, and I'm asking to get paid for something I love. I'm not asking to be followed down a street by some f***ing pap."
His experience while dating film star Keira Knightley only served to drive home how miserable being a star can be. "Being with Keira was an insight into how rotten the whole thing can be," he said. "A young girl is being followed around the street, there is nothing positive to say about that."
Dornan is now married to singer songwriter Amelia Warner and the pair became proud first-time parents to a little girl last December.
Though his great aunt was the actress Greer Garson – he never met her – his own upbringing was far removed from showbusiness. His father Jim is one of our best-known obstetricians and his late mother, Lorna, was a nurse. Her death from pancreatic cancer when he was 16, followed a year later by the deaths of four pals from his school Methodist College in a car crash, clearly impacted profoundly upon the young Dornan.
In the interview at the weekend, he said: "There's no easy time to lose a parent. But it's a very transitional time being that age, and a very impressionable time. It was a horrific period in my life."
Losing his friends in the car accident was, he added, a "totally hideous, life-changing circumstance that you carry every day, I guess, and that's not going to change. These are the events that form your identity, I think".
It was Dornan's stepmum Samina, also an obstetrician, who encouraged him to try modelling as a career. Soon he was working on campaigns for Armani, Dior and, perhaps most memorably, Calvin Klein. The pictures of him in their pants prompted the nickname 'the Golden Torso'.
"What does that mean?" he pondered. "Is it a colour reference? I think it is meant to be a compliment. I hope it is."
So what can viewers expect of New Worlds, the requisite period 'romp'? (After all, recent hit shows like The Tudors and Game Of Thrones have certainly taken a no holds barred approach ...)
If Dornan is a little reticent on some matters today, fortunately three of his young co-stars – the aforementioned Dempsie, Alice Englert and Freya Mavor – are on hand to help take the pressure off.
"We all felt perhaps we shouldn't give you the sex, so you'd have to listen to the conversations," replies Englert (19), whose mother is Oscar-winning screenwriter Jane Campion (The Piano).
Then, grinning, she adds: "You'll have to wait and see!"
Love scenes aside, hair, it turns out, was a hot topic on set. "I was quite happy when I was told I'd be wearing a wig, as I thought it meant I could keep my hair the way I like it," says Liverpool-born actor Demspie (26), a familiar face thanks to his Game Of Thrones role. "I'd spent the year constantly getting my head shaved for parts and looking a bit like a nutter."
Unfortunately, the first day of filming proved a little manic.
"They were trying to glue my hair out of the way and it wasn't really happening, so the make-up designer just turned and said to me, 'How attached are you to your hair?' I just went, 'Sod it', and in five minutes, I was bald again."
As for Dornan, the thought of his hairpiece is enough to induce embarrassed laughter. "Mine? Oh Jesus. It was actually my own hair on top and then we added a sort of Eighties rock thing around the back and sides."
Written and created by Peter Flannery and Martine Brant, New Worlds follows on from their 2008 Bafta-nominated series The Devil's Whore. Set in the turbulent 1680s, the drama captures the political struggles in the aftermath of the English Civil War both here and in Massachusetts, New England, where the Puritans were colonising land.
"Through the course of the series, Ned goes on the longest journey, for want of a less drama school term, and becomes the moral compass of the piece," explains Dempsie, who plays young colonist Ned.
"In episode one, he's very much being groomed to take over his father's landowning business in Massachusetts. He thinks his father's infallible and doing the work of God, and that starts to change. His conscience gets the better of him and leads to the question of whether the enclosure of land is the right thing to do.
"Then he gets involved in the revolutionary cause in England and starts spreading the word in the States. He gets about!"
Englert, who was brought up in Australia, plays fellow colonist Hope.
"Her world is divided by what's right and wrong, good and bad – a simplicity that has always been prevalent in the American Dream," she says. "But Hope realises the old world is inexplicably intertwined with the new, and she must navigate the complexity of being a child in a country where too much blood has been shed on both sides to ever be the dream it aspires to be."
The actress, who came to prominence in 2013's Beautiful Creatures, was particularly interested in how the brutal nature of the era magnified the fleeting nature of life. "I think that's why there was such courage and heroism in those days, because you all died really soon and generally painfully, so you had to do some living."
In England, viewers re-join Angelica (Eve Best) from The Devil's Whore, now Countess of Seacourt, who's striving to protect her daughter Beth (Mavor) from a country yet again on the brink of chaos. All seems well until Abe (Dornan), an outlaw and idealist, breaks into Beth's sheltered world.
"It definitely takes Beth a while to grasp the seriousness and reality of the political situation," reveals Mavor (20). "She's been living in a very sheltered environment, but then through an encounter with the rugged Abe, she has this awakening. Her eyes and heart are opened to this new world. It's cheesy but true," adds the Scottish star.
"Is it too late to get that on a poster?" Dornan asks, grinning.
"Love is essential to a story, everyone relates to it," he adds. "It highlights the difference in Abe and Beth's worlds and that classic star-crossed love situation that some guy wrote about once."
Given the brutality of the period, all four were required to get handy with a gun, something some found easier than others. "I managed to hit myself on the head with my own gun," admits Dempsie. "I think doing action stuff's really fun for about half an hour, and then you're looking forward to sitting in a well-lit room saying some words with another actor.
"The pistols are quite long, so if you've been holding it up for about a minute, you start shaking."
He recalls the gun expert warning him that there might be a second or two delay when the old pistols were fired.
"I asked, 'In theory, does that mean if someone shot at you back then, you would have had time to get out of the way?' And he said, 'You did, but it would've been ungentlemanly to do so!"'
There's a lot of banter between the four actors. At one point, Dempsie jokes that Dornan, who is currently filming series two of The Fall with Gillian Anderson, had to channel his inner Russell Brand to play renegade Abe.
"Yeah, we had a ball, it was good craic," Dornan admits.
"You sometimes don't luck out with casts. You (end up with) people who aren't on your wavelength and it's a struggle, but we genuinely got lucky.
"We were getting the work done but allowed to have fun," he adds. "I'd stop doing it if it wasn't fun."
Could that be a hint of how that Fifty Shades shoot is going?
IT'S TIME TO BUCKLE YOUR SWASH
e New Worlds bodes well for its young cast. It was co-created by Peter Flannery, who wrote Our Friends In The North, the 1996 series which made stars of Daniel Craig and Christopher Eccleston.
e During filming, historical buildings outside Bristol were used; familiar territory for Mavor and Dempsie, who both shot the E4 teen drama Skins nearby.
e Filming also took place in Romania, which Englert enjoyed bar one fact: "We were so high in the mountains, it was hard to breathe at times."
e Among the recommended books to help them prepare was Cavalier: The Story Of A Seventeenth Century Playboy by Lucy Worsley, and Dornan and Mavor competed to see who could finish it first. "My copy was more subtly on my iPad, but Freya constantly lugged her copy around everywhere," says Dornan.