JAMIE Dornan is the hottest Northern Irish actor working in Britain at the moment.
Hottest in every sense.
The former model-turned-actor lit up British TV screens last year with his spine-chilling performance as serial killer Paul Spector in surprise BBC hit The Fall, a drama which terrified 3.5 million viewers.
While men commended a nuanced performance — which he will revisit as season 2 begins filming in Belfast — women swooned at the so-called ‘golden torso’ who made his name as a Calvin Klein underwear model.
Knees were further weakened by the 31-year-old Co. Down native’s casting as playboy Christian Grey in the film adaption of E.L. James’ smash hit book series Fifty Shades of Grey, a role that should make Dornan a household name and complete his transition from the catwalk to the casting couch.
What a journey it marks for the hard-drinking, rugby-playing, Man United supporter who was previously best-known for dating waif-thin actress Keira Knightly.
Dornan’s first acting gig came in 2006 with a small part playing Kirsten Dunst’s love interest in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. He auditioned for hundreds more roles in the five years that were to follow but couldn’t catch a break.
“You’re an actor who used to be a model who never trained,” he recently told London’s Evening Standard. “There are not many directors queuing up.”
Then in 2012 he got lucky, landing a part in The Fall opposite Gillian Anderson after the producers “took a risk” in casting him. Playing serial killer Spector worked two-fold for Dornan.
It proved he had the acting chops to carry a major role, while it also killed off any pre conceptions of him simply being a pretty-boy. Not that he’s turned his back on modelling completely.
This season he is being paid handsomely to front Italian suit label Zegna and upmarket trainer brand Hogan. “I’ve never felt massively satisfied from standing there while someone takes my photograph,” he said recently.
“It’s never given me a thrill.” So why did he do it? “It would take a very foolish man to turn down the stuff that was offered to me. You’re in your twenties, and people are going to give you a silly amount of money to lean against a wall with your head down. F*** me, you’ve got to do it,” he says.
Now resident in London’s Notting Hill with his expectant wife Amelia Warner, 31, who is an ex of Colin Farrell’s, Dornan’s career will only rise in the coming 12 months.
Season two of The Fall and Fifty Shades will mark his most anticipated projects to date, while his biggest completed role yet will air on Channel 4 next week.
Four-part series New Worlds begins on Monday and is Channel 4’s follow-up to their acclaimed 2008 drama, The Devil’s Whore. Set in 1680, the plot revolves around the reign of King Charles II and his grip on his colony in Massachusetts, New England.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s broadcast, we caught up with Dornan to discuss the series:
Steve Cummins: You play Abe Goffe in New Worlds, can you tell us a bit about how you saw his character?
Jamie Dornan: Abe is a young, idealistic renegade who is very determined in his fight to make England a true republic and end the tyrannical rule of the Stuarts throne.
It is a similar fight to that taken up by his father William Goffe who was a real historical figure and one whom Abe idolises. He is trying to uphold the mantel of his father’s campaign and muster up support among others.
He is headstrong, too much so at times, and is often quick to use his fists but he learns during the course of the drama that there are better paths of action.
SC: Your character in The Fall was such a dark, violent one, was it hard to get into the mindset of someone who was such an idealist, almost a Che Guevara type character — they couldn’t be more different?
JD: Of course there are no comparisons between the two of them but I like playing characters who are passionate about something. It is appealing as an actor to play characters who take care, precision and put commitment into something they are passionate about.
In the case of Paul Spector that is the act of hunting and killing and covering up his crime and obviously it is a very different motivation with Abe but he is equally a focused man with what he sees as a very clear objective. It is exciting to play such strong characters.
SC: Do you think young audiences today will relate to Abe’s struggle?
JD: I think the themes of New Worlds are all ones that young people watching the drama can relate to. Young people still feel enraged about the same injustices, although I like to think in England people now are treated with greater decency and things aren’t as brutal and bloody as they were at that time.
SC: Did you do much research into the period?
JD: A couple of books were suggested to us, there was one book Cavalier by Lucy Worsley that I know Freya [Mavor — who plays Beth] and I both read and was recommended to us by Martine Brant. It became a joke competition between Freya and I to finish it, my copy was more subtly on my iPad but Freya constantly lugged her copy around everywhere with her as I teased and tested her knowledge!
Because I went to school in Belfast the English Civil War wasn’t high on the curriculum so to some extent I had to learn from scratch. I had no idea that it was such a barbaric time and to discover that was quite something. We don’t want it to be a four-part history lesson but I think audiences will certainly learn something from watching New Worlds.
SC: What did you enjoy most about the filming?
JD: Being an outlaw was great fun, I am probably stuck in some transition period from boy to man, but I loved all that running through woods with guns, arrows, unwashed hair and your band of mates indulging your inner Robin Hood! Everyone got on really well on set so we had a good laugh.
SC: Some of the locations around South West England that you used to shoot in were stunning — coming from the North of Ireland did you know that area?
JD: I have lived in Britain for over 11 years so I did in fact know the countryside around the Bristol area quite well but the historical buildings especially those used for Fanshawe house were beautiful and that sense of the period and atmosphere along with costume all really help when you are getting into character.
We were very lucky to spend the hot summer in those parts of the country and it seemed every day we were in a new stunning spot.
SC: Abe is a romantic character but he seems to fight his relationship with Beth and not want the distraction in his life, why?
JD: Although Beth was born into a family embroiled in the turmoil of the Civil War and she has this rebellious blood running through her veins especially from her father Edward Sexby who is another one of Abe’s heroes, she has been protected by her mother Angelica and Abe initially finds her naivety frustrating.
Abe resents that she has grown up in such a protected, safe way in this commonwealth environment created by her mother when he has chosen to face the much tougher realities around them. He doesn’t understand how she can’t see her life is an illusion.
They are classic star crossed lovers to start with but ultimately they can’t help themselves — as we all know love is a very powerful thing! I have to say it was nice to play a romantic hero especially after The Fall where I had to apologise to pretty much every actress after each shot was filmed…
SC: What drew you to this role?
JD: Essentially it was the script first, then the character that I felt I could play, felt intrigued by and would hopefully interest an audience, and then I hoped I would get on with the director and everyone else involved. On all these counts I have been so lucky with New Worlds.
Peter Flannery and Martine Brant have worked so well together on this drama and I don’t think Peter has ever written a bad script so you know you are getting the best. I really enjoy good TV drama, I was gripped by Broadchurch and thought Southcliffe that Joe (Dempsie) was in was brilliant. I am a big Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development fan and more recently have been watching Homeland. We are so spoilt for choice with good television these days.
New Worlds will broadcast on Tuesday, April 1, 9pm, Channel 4